Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


IN AVIATION DESIGN, form must follow function. And has there ever been a more aesthetically pleasing airliner than the Lockheed Constellation?

Lockheed L-749 Constellation. Illustration from World Aircraft Commercial 1935–1960.

Here’s a collection of Connie tidbits, gleaned from Airliners from 1919 to the Present Day, by Kenneth Munson, illustrated by John W. Wood et al, Peerage Books, 1972; and World Aircraft Commercial 1935-1960, by Enzo Angelucci, illustrated by Paolo Matricardi, Rand McNally, 1979. I did my usual Internet sleuthing as well.

Part 1 today covers Connie’s birth, influenced by Howard Hughes, but also just in time for World War II. Tomorrow in Part 2, she finds peacetime work, even with a U.S. president.

Howard Hughes Gets What He Wants. Lockheed had been working on the L-044 Excalibur since 1937, but in 1939 Howard Hughes called for more speed at higher altitude and greater range than the Excalibur’s design specs.

Hughes was a major stockholder of Trans World Airlines, and thus he got what he wanted: The L-049 Constellation had a maximum speed of more than 375 mph (faster than a Japanese Zero fighter plane), a cruising speed of 340 mph (100 mph faster than the Excalibur) at 24,000 ft. (1000 ft. beyond Excalibur specs), and could cross the U.S. non-stop.

The Constellation project was led by Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson, destined to lead the company’s Skunk Works, and Hall Hibbard. Its design had a sleek dolphin-shaped fuselage with no two bulkheads alike, wing contours similar to those of Lockheed’s famed P-38 Lightning fighter at a larger scale, and a triple tail, this last feature dictated by hangar height limitations.

USAF C-69, the military version of the Constellation. This is the seventh production aircraft, #1967. Note its triple tail, P-38 Lightening wing shape, and first-generation round windows.

World War II Intervenes. The L-049’s first flight came on January 9, 1943, well into World War II, and subsequent production was initially devoted to military service. A total of 22 C-69s were produced; not all went into military service, though several continued into the 1960s as part of the U.S. Military Air Transport Service.

A later variation, this C-121 had duties in the Military Air Transport Service. Image from Aviation Heritage.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Connie gets demobbed, goes transatlantic, travels ’round the world, and even carries a U.S. president. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Andy Robinson
    February 24, 2019

    DH91 Albatross. Had the shape.

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