Friday, May 24, 2013

Maiden Flight of the Constellation

I am a radio control glider designer and flyer for some 25 years now. It has been and continues to be a great interest of mine being able to conceive, build and fly silently at some of the most beautiful sites in the country. You see, we have to launch our gliders off mountain tops or suitable slopes that face into the wind. It is called slope soaring. The glider size ranges from 1 to 4 meter wingspans and are controlled by sophisticated computer mixing radio systems that nearly duplicate what an Eagle or an Albatross performs naturally. Every flight control system on a real airliner is duplicated on these radios for sport. The only item missing is the propulsion system which is not required with a glider. Kinetic energy management is how we fly the models. It’s a very exciting sport that offers many types of competition formats or if one just enjoys leisurely slope soaring, that too fills one up with total satisfaction.
The most exciting aspect of slope soaring is the maiden flight, and more importantly, the maiden launch of a brand new glider. These models can run into thousands of dollars to make ready for the slope. Not having an engine to pull the airframe into the sky to a safe level on the first launch is quite harrowing to the inexperienced. In fact this often can be disastrous leaving one with a badly broken up glider. But as one climbs the ladder of experience, he begins to know exactly where the balance point is and how to trim the glider for a non eventful outcome meaning, a perfect maiden launch without incident. That is the goal and it takes years of trial and error. I just wanted to briefly share the excitement we have on maiden flights as I can easily imagine how the crew on the first Connie felt on her maiden flight. It must have been exhilarating and energy charged!
Finally after a three year period of near total secrecy, on January 9, 1943, the Constellation made its maiden flight. This occurred at the Lockheed Airport runway in Burbank California among a throng of company employees and spectators. This first Connie was supposed to be decked out in all of the interior luxurious appointments for passenger travel, but as we have already covered, the plane was outfitted and painted in Army camouflage colors ready for war service.
January 1943 issue of The Skyliner Magazine announcing the maiden
flight results that occurred on January 9, 1943

The prototype XC-69 before it was designated C-69.
Notice the P-38 Lightening’s in the background.
(Lockheed image)

First Constellation painted in Army drab designated C-69
ready for maiden flight.
(Lockheed image)
The first official flight test for the Constellation was re-designated C-69. It was a plane beautiful in form as well as function. The rounded and tapered shape of the fuselage resembled a wing airfoil for low drag. First flight went so well that five more flights were performed the first day. Below is the test crew that spent months at the Lockheed assembly plant getting familiar with the new super planes systems and all the required details during its production. After the maiden flight this crew spent weeks flying the plane on the West Coast.
The First Connie crew included – Captain Lawrence J. Chiappino with more than 2.25-million air miles to his credit. He was a line pilot for TWA since 1930 and graduated from the University of California in 1927. He went directly to Army flying school at Brooke and Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. He returned to California in 1928 and became a flying instructor at the Palo Alto School of Aviation and later was a pilot for Western Air Express. Captain Robert L. Loomis was the first officer, a TWA employee since 1940. Edward T. Bolton was the chief navigator who in his younger days circled the globe 8 times at sea. Once he came ashore he studied aerial navigation and eventually became assistant chief navigator in September, 1942, the same year he joined TWA. Orville R. Olson was the second officer. He joined TWA in 1937 and advanced to assistant chief clerk. He received his flight training under the CPT program and became second officer with the International Division in 1942. Chief Flight engineer Richard de Campo joined TWA in 1935 as a mechanic at Newark, NJ and also was a flight engineer on TWA’s fleet of Stratoliners. Flight engineer R.L. Proctor joined TWA in 1935 as a mechanic and also became flight engineer aboard Stratoliners during their commercial operations. Radio officer Charles L. Glover joined TWA in 1942. He had flown 250,000 miles aboard the Stratoliners during their operations for the Air Transport Command.

Above is a description of the flight from two TWA employees that were aboard from Burbank to Las Vegas. They were Kenneth R. Rearwin and Jay M. Jackson, both thrilled. Jackson states that after riding DC-3’s he felt he was in another world aboard the Connie with its smooth ride.


At the time, the new Constellation with its four 2000hp Wright engines could propel the big 80,000 pound plane over 340 mph at just 65% power at 19,000 feet, faster than any war bird of its time. And it could land on runways shorter in length down to 77 mph!
Jack Frye (left) and Paul Richter (center) are looking pretty happy about the new Constellations performance after landing in the #2 plane in Las Vegas. By the following Monday Jack will have piloted the Connie on its historic non-stop flight to National Airport in Washington DC.
Next up – The Historic first commercial Flight of the Connie

Images courtesy WHMCKC

1 comment:

  1. I KNOW "Uncle Howard" pulled a fast one on he Army Air Corp having the XC-69 painted in TWA colors, SUPRISE! (HE was deeply involved with Lockheed on the design, his baby so to speak. BUT...was the registry Military or Commercial. Can't find it on the net..