Sunday, May 19, 2013

Constellation secret no longer Secret

For months before the June 22nd meeting in which Hughes decided to buy 40 Constellations, he spoke with Jack Frye constantly about the build and design details of the aircraft. Things such as the interior d├ęcor, the seats, the cockpit layout and throttle levers all the way down to the curtain zippers being replaced with buttons!

Shown above is a Western Union telegram Hughes sent Jack regarding
his communication with Lockheed on the throttle levers.
There have been many accountings written that Howard Hughes ‘designed’ the Constellation. There is no support of this report. Hughes liked to argue the point taking credit for the basic design. When after all, it was Kelly Johnson who actually designed the airplane as I mentioned on another post. It was Jack Frye’s original concept in 1938 that Howard latched upon in 1939 for only its ‘conception’, not the design. Bob Gross did concede that HH had a lot to do with the cockpit layout, the hydraulic boost system on the flight controls and a number of interior details. Other than that the Connie was a brainstorm from all 3 genius aircraft men – Frye, Johnson and Hughes.
By 1940, Jack Frye had ordered another fifteen new DC-3’s with 24 passenger seats instead of 21. Frye was in a constant state of modernization of his flying fleet. This all the while the new Constellation’s were being manufactured in Burbank. Unfortunately in 1940, the governments new Priorities Board mandated restrictions on the delivery of commercial transports to all the airlines. By the end of 1940 only 4 of the 15 DC-3’s were released to TWA. Due to this new government direction of transport management, the secrecy around the Constellation was about to collapse!
During the secret building of the Constellation, Johnny Guy was the direct liaison to Jack Frye and Howard Hughes over all things Connie. At Paul Richter’s direction, he would interface with the key Lockheed employee’s after he promised not to quit TWA. He was then to go to Burbank and rent a house with no Lockheed employees in his vicinity so he wouldn’t be noticed at the plant. He couldn’t tell even his wife and family about the Constellation project, and he had to remove the word Lockheed from his vocabulary. He would work weekends and at night while performing DC-3 work at Douglas Aircraft some 20 miles away as his cover.
To the house Johnny Guy rented on 938 Cyprus Street, Lockheed would send him all the drawings and engineering documents addressed care of the Hughes Tool Company. He would remove any Mention of Lockheed on these documents should somebody break into his house and steal them. He also used only initials for names. ‘Dear H’ or ‘Dear F’, and signed his letters with ‘G’. He would then mail them to Hughes specified post office box for his review. The constant back and forth correspondence must have been overwhelming at times. And what did his wife think when he would come home late from a clandestine meeting with a Lockheed rep at Griffith Park or somewhere off the beaten path. Guy has been quoted as saying, “This was like working for the CIA".
Hall Hibbard broke new news to Johnny Guy that a military task force would be visiting all aircraft factories to access production capabilities! The secret was about to get out. Knowing he couldn’t keep the Constellation under cover from TWA’s competition via the military, Howard Hughes in advisement of Jack Frye made a deal with Bob Gross, president of Lockheed. He would allow Juan Trippe’s Pan-Am International airline into the Constellation project. In kind he would require Lockheed not to sell any Constellations to any east-west airline routes that competed with TWA. They agreed but the whole deal went awry when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred. Six months prior to the attack, Jack Frye literally enlisted TWA into the Army Air Corps. A brilliant move by Frye virtually solidifying a new TWA effort hired by the government training inexperienced Army Air Corp’s pilots and navigator’s to fly across the ocean. Within weeks, the new school was based in Albuquerque and named ‘Eagles Nest’ employing several TWA pilots off the line for instructors.
On December 24, 1941, Jack Frye signed one of the most important documents in airline history. DAW 535 ac-1062 which directed TWA to hire and train all personnel, procure necessary facilities, materials and supplies, and to secure necessary certificates of convenience of necessity, licenses and permits essential to providing air service on a worldwide basis for the United States Army. The contract was a direct result of meetings Frye had held as early as December 1940, when he saw both General Hap Arnold and Robert Lovett, Assistant secretary of war for air. In that first meeting, Frye had told them if war came, TWA’s Stratoliner’s would be available to the government.
     Robert Lovett                                       General Hap Arnold

On the same day the War Department contract was signed, Frye established the International Division (ICD) of TWA to operate the services required under DAW 535 ac-1062. Thus, under wartime pressures and the uncertainties of a global conflict yet to be fought and won, Jack Frye laid the foundation for his airlines future as an international carrier. Another Frye first in the long history of the airline business.

The Constellation secret was now broken. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the fuselage was completed and the wings and tail half finished. When the Air Corp ordered it for use as a military transport, it was designated C-69. Flight tests began early in 1943.

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