Saturday, August 10, 2013

Disaster grounds the Constellation!

Of all airliners ever built in America, the career of the "Constellation" has to be amongst the most colorful. A more beautiful airliner was never built, with its sensuously curved fuselage and superb streamlining. It simply looked like something futuristic, fast, exciting and beautiful!

As the first pressurized airliner in widespread use, the Constellation helped to usher in affordable and comfortable air travel. Operators of Constellations included first, TWA, then Eastern Air Lines, Pan American World Airways, Air France, BOAC, KLM, Qantas, Lufthansa, Iberia Airlines, Panair do Brasil, TAP Portugal, Trans-Canada Air Lines (later renamed Air Canada), Aer Lingus, VARIG, Cubana de Aviación and Línea Aeropostal Venezolana.

Then something happened to the Constellation that interrupted its flight course...

The Constellation had two accidents in the first 6 months of service, temporarily curtailing its career as a passenger airliner.

  • On June 18, 1946, an engine of a Pan American Constellation caught fire and fell off. The flight crew made an emergency landing with no loss of life. The same aircraft made a return flight across America in 11½ hours for repairs using only three engines.
  • On July 11, 1946, a Transcontinental and Western Air Star of Lisbon fell victim to an in-flight fire, crashing in a field and taking the lives of five of the six on board.

The accidents prompted the suspension of the Constellation's airworthiness certificate until Lockheed could modify the design.

Electrical Problems:

'Star of Lisbon' NC86513

TWA Constellation Star of Lisbon was the no.3 Connie off the assembly line of which during a training flight at Reading Municipal Airport, PA., experienced a cockpit fire shortly after take-off at 3,000 ft elevation. The cause of the accident was determined to be at least one of the generator lead-through studs in the fuselage skin of the forward baggage compartment. Intense local heating of the stud assembly made of dissimilar metals resulted from electrical arching causing the aircraft insulation to ignite, filling the cockpit with heavy smoke to where the flight crew were unable to navigate the aircraft to a safe landing killing 5 of the 6 crewmen on board. The accident ultimately grounded all Constellations with all airlines.

Initial news release

The wreckage

Needless to say, this was a very serious matter for not only TWA and the grounding of its brand new fleet of Constellations, and other airline companies, but a very sad day for the families that lost their loved ones. As a result of the grounding by the Civil Aeronautics Board, Jack Frye's company and Lockheed went into overdrive to remedy the situation to instill confidence with the flying public.

 A letter from the President:

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