Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Jack Frye and his 'CONNIE'

The Lockheed Constellation & Jack Frye

Walter Hamilton, Jack Frye, Paul Richter
The Lockheed Constellation was the greatest propeller-driven airliner ever conceived and flown around the globe. The plane was cutting-edge in its time during the frantic 40s & nifty 50s, ferrying over 60 passengers from LA to DC and beyond to the Orient at well over 300 mph. The plane opened the world up to new frontiers in passenger travel and changed the way we live. This was a grand time in passenger aviation that served its customers in a most luxurious and glamorous way and it was TWA that led the way. So who led TWA? Jack Frye! The 6’2” gentle, burley man had a keen sense of vision and bravado to trail blaze airline aviation by introducing new technology just as he had done the previous 25 years. Beginning with his first company, Aero Corporation of California during the 1920s, then with Standard Airlines, the two companies merged with a third, Western Air & Express and became Transcontinental & Western Air Inc. or T&WA. Headed by Jack Fry, the three companies would eventually be called Trans World Airlines (TWA).

Now for The Rest of the Story, as famous radio announcer Paul Harvey would lament before every one of his thought-provoking broadcasts. It is a little known fact or should I say, a large four engine fact, that Jack Frye was an integral part, if not the lead in the concept and thrust behind the Constellation. Yes, I said Jack Frye - not Howard Hughes who is often incorrectly attributed as being the lead conceiver of this great aircraft. It was Jack Frye at his best in thought about this new airliner that would serve the world in a whole new way. And this just as he had done with the Douglas DC-1 about ten years earlier, which by the way in its later variant, the DC-3, is still considered the greatest air cargo plane ever invented - a point which cannot be emphasized enough to Frye’s historical credit.

The Constellation was Jack’s airplane. It is well-known that Howard Hughes was an aviator who loved flying and designing. But as a new partner in the company when the Constellation hadn’t yet experienced birth pains, Hughes did not know much about transporting passengers or designing airliners. This was Jack Frye’s expertise. Jack knew years earlier before Howard that the company needed more larger airplanes which could generate more revenue miles with more routes. Jack had already secured bid proposals on the new airliner before Howard came on board as TWA’s prime shareholder. This was a global vision Jack had since conceiving the first transcontinental airline with the Fokker & Ford Tri-motor aircraft out west for his company, Standard Airlines in 1927. Yes, Jack Frye was in for the long haul with airline aviation and the new Constellation was in his sights before pencil hit paper. The globalization of air travel as a whole in 1942 was about to go big with our favorite airline president leading the way.

Some noted articles and notes of Jack Frye’s early influence on the L049 Constellation.

Here is the text of a respectful but pointed response from Jack Frye to the editor of LOOK magazine clarifying the facts of Howard Hughes role in the Constellation project.

"As a reader of LOOK, I have noted with personal interest the references made to me and TWA in your current series of articles - The Howard Hughes Story.

A number of my friends in the aviation field have called my attention to, and I have recognized as much myself, several gross errors appearing in the article which refers to Mr. Hughes's introduction to TWA and that part concerning me...

The references concerning that part Mr. Hughes performed in connection with the Boeing Stratoliner and Constellation are grossly exaggerated . . . TWA had already secured bids from one manufacturer on the airplane in question that ultimately evolved into the Constellation - before Mr. Hughes ever showed interest in TWA or became its principal stockholder.

In conclusion, I would like to say that Mr. Hughes deserves credit for having the courage to financially support the purchase of the Stratoliner and Constellation after he purchased a stock interest in TWA."

Well, this former TWA president pretty much settles any questions as to ‘who’ and how the Constellation came into being...

Flight Magazine announces the new Constellation, June 19, 1942
Though Lockheed’s Hall Hibbard and his team of engineers were given the task of designing the aircraft for manufacturing in the Burbank plant, Flight Magazine recognized Jack Frye and Howard Hughes being the ‘developers’ of the Constellation. A very important historical detail often glazed over in favor of Hughes and not Frye in many other write ups, websites and the like. We can thank Hughes for having the money to support the project and some detailed sub-assembly input but Frye had the overall vision and concept of the plane solid in his sights before Hughes joined TWA.

Announced March 1942 by the Skyliner Magazine, the new
Lockheed Constellation is ready for its maiden flight.

Caption reads:

'The Lockheed Constellation designed and built for TWA, will be test flown at the Lockheed plant in Burbank, Calif., this summer, it has been announced by Jack Frye (right inset), who with Howard Hughes (left inset) conceived the ultra-modern transport. Here are the first pictures of the airliner, built to fly from LA to NY in 8-1/2 hours at altitudes above 25,000 feet and at cruising speeds of nearly 300 miles an hour. The plane carries 57 passengers and a crew of seven. The above is a wind tunnel model'.

A point I want to reiterate that may seem petty, antagonizing or even disrespectful in some circles, is that Howard Hughes has been portrayed as the sole ‘ideas’ man behind the Constellation as some authors, TV shows and a certain movie have recorded. Frye at carried at least half the weight, if not more of TWA’s development with Lockheed on the Constellation before Howard came on board. This includes all of the behind the scenes company management on the project that is unseen in the public eye. Jack needs to be recognized for his contribution. Howard was the technical partner who later enjoyed the actual nuts and bolts of the build. As we know, Howard Hughes was a clinically-detailed, deep-thinking individual who wrapped himself up to the inth degree of cerebral gymnastics. He was perfectly suited for this share of the project, however haphazard he may have been. But he didn’t know airliners and neither did Lockheed for that matter. Jack Frye was a contributor to the entire concept of a large airliner which could provide the speed and comfort he desired for his customers. Jack knew what would sell tickets for which he and his engineering crew developed many aspects of the airplane based on comfort, safety and efficiency for the flight crew, the ground crew and the passengers. He knew what people needed and wanted and worked very hard without the need to be ‘out front’ in the limelight like the narcissistic Hughes. Jack Frye was the rock behind the project, the clear and solid thinking aviator who would define the meaning of ‘practicality’ when it came to designing the Constellation. I am sure Jack Frye had a great rapport with designer, Hall Hibbard and his team of engineers, fending off Hughes’s idiosyncrasies and indecisions which have been well-documented in all aspects of his bizarre life. To give Howard credit for the whole Constellation project is nauseating and simply not true.

Jack Frye (sitting) and the Lockheed Martin staff, 1945

On this blog space it is time for Jack Frye to be awarded full recognition and a job well done for developing one of the most advanced propeller driven airliners in history, the L049 Constellation. As stated earlier, this was Jack Frye’s airplane through and through and it’s time someone publically set the records straight.

As we unfold more Constellation stories and articles, Jack Frye is integral to all of the Constellation’s history-making travels at home and abroad during his time as President of TWA. So much so, he and his new airplane opened up the globe to travel routes never considered until he, yes Jack Frye, introduced another new first for his company and the airline aviation story that would change the world. Stay tuned.

Special Note: Hall L. Hibbard who built early fighters and commercial airplanes. Born in Fredonia, Kansas, he grew up in the Philippine Islands (where his father was a missionary) and studied at the College of Emporia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began his career as a draftsman for the Stearman Aircraft Co. in Wichita, Kansas and three years later became a chief engineer. In 1932 he joined Lockheed, where he was quickly promoted to Vice President and Chief Engineer because of his work on the Electra, the world's first 200mph commercial plane. During World War II, Hibbard was responsible for designing and developing the Hudson bomber, P-38 Lightning fighter, P-80 Shooting Star fighter, C-69 Constellation transport and XR-60 Constitution. Later he helped develop several military versions of the Constellation. He rose to Senior Vice-President and director of Lockheed and was a trustee of the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Eric Johnson,
Jack Frye Aviation Pioneer blog

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