Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Historic Constellation Flight, April 17, 1944

The Constellation makes History
“She Flew Like a Dream”
(Jack Frye headline quote after landing)

Around 3:00am, a tall husky man walked up among the watchers. It was Jack Frye, wearing the same tan jacket and trousers he had all week as he and Howard Hughes put the Connie through her final pre-flight trials. He shook hands, glanced at his watch and started up the ladder to the cockpit. As he reached the top, a photographer called to him and snapped a picture. With a wave, he disappeared in the inner darkness of the plane.”

In what would change Transcontinental and International air travel forever, Jack Frye and Howard Hughes devised a secret plan to shock the world by allowing a first glimpse of the new super airliner, the Constellation via a record flight across the United States. Adorned in full blown TWA colors with the words - ‘The TRANSCONTINENTAL Line’ painted and displayed above the passenger windows in bright TWA red, the secret plan was set. The first commercial flight of the Connie did indeed produce shock and awe. The Army Air Corps had already taken possession of the new fleet of aircraft on paper for the war effort and quite frankly were expecting this #2 plane to arrive at National Airport DC, in Army drab colors and markings. Much to their surprise (furious!), Connie #2 appeared gleaming in all its polished glory on the tarmac as Jack Frye taxied her to the terminal among a large crowd of dignitaries, civilians, military reps and the press. The damaged ego’s didn’t last long for soon after the landing and greetings, the Army boys were all smiles greeting and congratulating Frye and Hughes profusely.

Caption above reads:
This was a big moment in the life chart of the Constellation. Shrouded at Burbank in the darkness of the night, the photo was shot at the moment her wheels left the black runway and she rose into the air for her first trip across the continent. On she went following the Great Circle route across America. Six hours and 58 minutes later she was reflecting the bright sunshine along the Potomac. Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, co captains were the first to leave the ship at the National Airport in Washington.

Actual video of the historic flight courtesy AIRBOYD

Jack Frye lands and taxi’s Constellation #2 at Washington D.C.,
April 17, 1944, The Historic record flight of the ‘CONNIE’

The record flight was completely successful with co-captains Howard Hughes on the stick the first leg and Jack Frye the second to DC. Lifting off the runway at 3:56am Monday morning, April 17th, the record time to DCA was 6 hours 58 minutes nonstop. The flight crew was Bolton, Glover, Proctor, Chiappino and De Campo. R.C. Loomis was the radioman. Passengers were Olson, Minsor, Baron and Spruill. Lockheed observers were Stanton, Thoren and Watkins. Government personnel aboard were Lt. Col. Shoop and Mr. Solomon of the Air Transport Authority.  The flight route first passed over Kingman, AZ, then onto Taos, NM headed to Wichita, KS. Then onto St. Louis, MO, to Cincinnati, OH through to Washington DC. Average speed of the historic flight was 332 mph. Jack Frye in the anticipation of demonstration flights and for photographic publicity purposes had Ida Staggers and eight other hostesses at National Airport to greet the plane.

Hughes (L) and Frye (R) disembarking the Constellation after its historic flight.

Caption reads:
The Constellation, new queen of land planes, zoomed across the girth of the nation this month in 6 hours, 58 minutes, setting a new transport record on her maiden flight from Burbank, California to Washington D.C. Jack Frye, left, and Howard Hughes, right, co-captains of the trip are shown immediately after their arrival in Washington. Jesse Jones, center, secretary of Commerce, was the first to greet the two pilots of the record flight.

Caption reads:
Among the persons who congratulated Jack Frye upon arrival of the Constellation at the Washington National Airport were, left to right, Col. Frank H. Collins, Commanding Officer, ATC, Washington National Airport: Oswald Ryan, (Jack Frye) and Josh Lee. Ryan and Lee are members of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Letter from Frye and Hughes to TWA employees. It is this writer’s opinion Jack is the actual author of this letter. It just has that Jack Frye flavor we have read in other notes to his employees.

Some images courtesy WHMCKC

After this historic flight, the Constellation became the worlds star airliner. It was the biggest, the fastest and the most beautiful airliner ever built. It’s sleek and slippery shape ushered in a new understanding of what global air travel can become (Frye, Hughes & Johnson already knew this). The glamour of it, the speed in which one could travel from New York to Europe overnight in record time and comfort put into the minds of the public new horizons never before imagined. The plane literally threw a fast ball propelling air travel into the coming jet age we now enjoy. At this point in Jack Frye’s illustrious career the Connie had become his crowning achievement.

This magnificent feat and genius of Jack Frye and Howard Hughes remains one of those special moments in history that serves as a milestone marker in the world of aviation. From this writers opinion if it weren't for the Constellation’s conception, the vision from a single man, Jack Frye, the man who saw into the future more than any other airline executive of his time, its my opinion the airline industry would have looked different in some respects and probably less safe and secure until other men could have caught up to Frye’s unwavering dedication in this respect. By then and I wouldn’t wish it, many more airline accidents and the loss of life could have occurred. Remember, one of Jack Frye’s foundational treatises with determined focus since the 1920’s was ‘Safety’. He was the man who brought this commandment to the forefront of American airline aviation, and he forced the issue everyday he sat in the presidents seat. I can imagine him sitting with himself thousands of times in some office or cockpit seat alone thinking, “Did I do enough to ensure our passengers safety.”

I have served in the US Navy on carrier flight deck duty launching and retrieving jet aircraft, probably the most dangerous workspace in the world. And I am the safety coordinator in my business career of which I have witnessed some horrific accidents militarily and in the private sector. I know how important safety measures are to curtailing injury or worse. So in a sense I think I can relate to Jack’s genuine concern about safety. It had to be his top concern.

I hope you can appreciate by now on this blog through all of the notable firsts, articles and recollections of Jack Frye just how much he impacted the airline industry. I am in awe every week more and more as I learn about him and I find myself often attempting to get into his head to know the man more. This may be due to him being my cousins husband as there is a connection there that tends to inject a little more importance from my perspective of Jacks legacy, his career and his personal traits. Nevertheless, its easy to understand his drive and conviction to assuring everything was given great attention to detail on the Constellation project in all aspects of the design. It is true this great plane would not have happened without Jack Frye’s vision and Howard Hughes money.

Unlike Hughes, Jack Frye has not received the notoriety he deserves for his contribution to the airline industry and aviation at large, not even a tenth. This we know because he was a humble and gentile man with a big hearted personality beaming with confidence. He didn’t seek the limelight, he proved his worth and effectiveness in the cockpit and the board room. He is not a household name, he is a silent public figure that is begging to break out. His story has yet to be told to America in a big way, and for this reason he should now finally be put on the pedestal of greatness for all to see in the 21st century. This accolade he at least deserves, and the Constellation he conceived surely helps to place him in his proper historical seat.
He wasn’t superman but he came damn close!

To follow along with the 2014 Flight of the Connie re-creation, click this link.
Eric Johnson
Jack Frye Aviation Pioneer blog

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