Credit to Manfred Poznanski for the beautiful Breitling Super Constellation video at the end of this clip.
In the late 1930s, TWA was garnering attention and passengers with its new fleet of Boeing Stratoliners. The planes could travel coast to coast in only 14 hours - quick enough for most passengers, but not for TWA majority stockholder Howard Hughes. Hughes wanted an even more powerful plane - one which could fly faster and further. He turned to Lockheed Aircraft to build the new plane, the Constellation. Hughes' one stipulation was that the project remain top secret throughout its development.
To achieve the unprecedented power required by Hughes, Lockheed designers sought a more dynamic engine. The engine they chose, the 18-cylinder Wright R-3350, was outfitted with propellers over fifteen feet in diameter. To integrate these powerhouse engines into the plane's overall design, a very unique airframe took shape. Adequate ground clearance for the long propellers necessitated extraordinarily tall landing gear struts. To mitigate the front-gear length, the fuselage sloped slightly downward at the nose. For better control, a large tail surface was required, but the height of a single, large tail would not fit most airport hangars of the day. A triple-fin design solved the problem.
Development remained secret until World War II, when commercial planes were requisitioned for wartime service. The aviation industry was shocked to see how technologically advanced the Constellation was. In 1944, Howard Hughes would demonstrate the plane's prowess, piloting a Constellation across the country in a record-setting six hours and fifty-seven minutes. Even fighter planes of the time couldn't match the Connie's top speed of 340 miles per hour.
Production of the Constellation went into high gear during World War II in its initial military configuration, the C-69. In 1945, the Constellation, or the Connie as it affectionately became know, began its commercial passenger service with TWA. The Constellation was the first airliner able to fly nonstop coast to coast. It could carry 54 passengers, travel a distance of 3,000 miles, and cruise at 280 miles per hour. The Constellation's pressurized cabin allowed it to fly at an unheard of 20,000 feet. At that height, the plane could fly above most turbulence, offering passengers a more comfortable flying experience.
With its unrivaled speed and luxury, TWA's Constellations ruled the commercial market, much in the way the DC-3 had dominated the skies before it. In the 1950s, an even more powerful version of the Constellation would take to the skies, the Super Constellation. In 1955, the Super Constellation became the first plane to fly nonstop from California to Europe, crossing over the North Pole. But as the 1950s drew to a close, a new type of plane was waiting in the wings - the commercial jetliner. Howard Hughes' cross-country speed-setter, the Constellation, would soon need to make room for an even faster commercial plane, the Boeing 707.
First Flight: January 9, 1943
Wingspan: 123 feet
Length: 95 feet, 2 inches
Height: 22 feet, 5 inches
Weight: 82,000 pounds
Top Speed: 340 miles per hour
Cruising Speed: 280 miles per hour
Flight Altitude: 35,000 feet
Range: 4,300 miles
Engines: 4 engines Curtiss-Wright Cyclone 3350-749C18BD1 2,
Accommodations: 4-5 crew, 54 passengers