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Monthly Archives: April 2018




In 1939 Trans World Airlines was becoming a major competitor with Pan American Airlines for the emerging overseas route service.  While TWA contracted with Lockheed to develop an aircraft to rival the performance and capacity of the Boeing Stratoliner, a major stockholder of TWA requested Lockheed to build an even greater plane-one which would ultimately define both an airline and an era of aviation.

Though Lockheed had been working on the L-044 Excalibur since 1937, Howard Hughes, the majority stockholder of Trans World, requested Lockheed develop an even more capable aircraft with a forty passenger capacity and a range of 3,500 miles.  The new design, the L-049 Constellation, was a radical departure from previous airliners.  The tripletail configuration kept the aircraft’s height low enough to fit in existing hangars.  The wing layout was similar to another Lockheed plane, the P-38 Lightning.  The L-049 featured such innovations as hydraulically boosted controls and a de-icing system used on wing and tail surfaces and mounted tricycle landing gear.  The Constellation had an impressive performance for its day, being able to attain a maximum speed of 375 mph. with a cruising speed of 340 mph. – faster than many fighters of the era, with a service ceiling of 24,000 ft.

While intended for use as an airliner, the L-049s which entered service for TWA in January 1943 were quickly converted to military transports with the USAAF ordering 202 aircraft.  The military designation, C-69, was used primarily as a long-range troop transport.  Though the C-69 was successful in its role, only 22 aircraft were produced during the war.  A number remained in service with the USAF into the 1960s, ferrying relocating military personnel.  Lockheed even had plans to develop the L-049 as a long-range bomber (XB-30), but the design was never pursued.




Following World War II the Constellation began its heyday.  USAAF C-69 transports were completed as civil airliners with TWA accepting its first aircraft in October 1945, initiating its first transatlantic flight from Washington DC to Paris in December of that year.  During the late 1940s, the Constellation was upgraded several times to increase fuel capacity and speed.  Finally, in early 1951 the Super Constellation was introduced.  The Super Connie was extended 18.4 ft. over the L-1049 (L-049).  to expand passenger capacity to ninety- two seats with a cruising speed of 305 mph. and a range of 5,150 miles.  With auxiliary wing-tip fuel tanks, the Super Constellation could fly non-stop between New York and Los Angeles.  Some pilots used to shorter runs began to complain about long days.  An early problem with the 1049 Model was excessive exhaust gas flaming-sometimes past the trailing wing edge.  Once the exhaust problem was corrected, the Super Connie became a highly successful airliner.

In 1955 the Constellation underwent additional updates.  Though still called the Super Constellation, the Model 1649 aircraft was first designated the Super Star Constellation, finally evolving into the Starliner name by Lockheed.  The Starliner was the most extensive modification of any Constellation models.  The Starliner had features such as fully reclining seats for long flights, a more precise cabin temperature control, and ventilation, as well as state of the art noise insulation.  The Starliner had outside improvements which included a longer and narrower wing, nearly doubling the capacity of the original Connie with twice the range at maximum payload-enabling it to reach any major European air hub non-stop from US airports.  The Model 1649 also has the distinction of being the fastest piston-engined airliner flown at ranges of over 4,000 miles.

The Constellation served a number of military roles, in addition to a troop transport.  In 1948 the USAF placed an order for ten Constellation transport aircraft (C-121).  Several of these were deployed in support of the Berlin Airlift later that year.  Six of the planes were later reconfigured to VIP transports (VC-121), one of which was used by Dwight Eisenhower as NATO Chief Of Staff.  Eisenhower was so impressed with the plane, he named it Columbine.  When he became President he was assigned another VC-121, which he named Columbine II.  In the early 1950s, the US Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps ordered C-121s mounted with radar domes on top to provide long-range radar for surface ships, as well as surveillance radar for command and control of aircraft.  In the early 1960s, EC-121s briefly performed an anti-submarine role for the US Navy.

By the end of the 1950s, the Constellation became an aviation icon.  It was in service with more than a dozen airlines, quickly becoming the flagship of Trans World Airlines.  The Connie was in service with both the US military and several other government agencies, with duties ranging from tracking smugglers to hurricanes.  Though expensive to build due to its tapered fuselage, the Constellation was a graceful aircraft.  While being rapidly phased out by the major airlines in 1961 in favor of newer jetliners such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, the Connie was still in use with a number of regional airlines with 856 examples built.  Howard Hughes gamble in 1939 had paid off in a big way.





Though flying an rc model can be a fun activity, certain safety considerations must be observed in order to make the flight both a safe and enjoyable experience.  During this blog, we’ll take a look at buying an rc plane or helicopter from the safety standpoint, as well as techniques to promote safe flying.

Real aircraft must undergo a pre-flight checklist, which is also a good philosophy for radio control aircraft.   The pilot must make sure the rudder, ailerons, and elevators are functioning properly, with both the receiver battery and radio fully charged. The problem with rc planes, as opposed to rc helicopters, is the center of gravity. The center of gravity is a point at which the plane needs to balance in order to fly well.  The center of gravity for a plane with a tail can be as far back as 32% from the nose of the plane of the plane, though the operator may still have to make it balance.  While placement of the battery and radio can compensate for any CG imbalance, it’s always desirable to have both a light nose and tail section of the aircraft, with adjustments made at the center of the fuselage.  A properly balanced plane will be more responsive to commands and use less fuel/battery charge.  Flying wing designs have a common center of gravity at 23% back from the nose.

Before launching the plane, be sure the correct propellers are installed.  The thickest section of the prop should be facing toward the front,  The rc pilot can determine the front of the blade by manufacturer lettering.  The plane will still fly with the prop(s) mounted backward, though at about a third of the power of a front mounted blade since the thicker front section displaces more air.  Better quality props are more rigid, and thus more stable in flight – especially at high rpms.  They are also less likely to flatten out over extended use.  Getting a good launch of the aircraft is more difficult than it appears.  Inexperienced rc pilots have a tendency to spin the plane, often a cause of crashes.  If one wingtip is moving faster than the other, it will have more air over the wing, so the plane will roll towards the slower wing.  The correct procedure is to release the plane when both wings are level and moving in the same direction at the same speed.  If the model is launched at too steep an angle, it will experience an immediate stall.

Transmitters are an important element of rc flight.  Many rc pilots have a tendency to fly their planes by their thumbs.  Clutch the transmitter sticks on the side with the elevons or elevator-ailerons control.  This offers the rc pilot more than one orientation to the controls and prevents accidental maneuvers of the rc plane.  Don’t jerk the control sticks, but rather use a gradual motion from which to control the model.  Proper antenna angle is another factor, since there may be local interference, which affects signal quality.  Fly the plane at a close distance, using different antenna angles to determine the optimum signal.  While more recent rc planes are equipped with a homing device, which returns the plane to the transmitter if the model experiences signal or line of sight interference, it’s always best to fly your rc plane no farther than your field of view.  A three channel transmitter with throttle, rudder and elevator controls is usually the best for a beginner.  Speaking of planes, the most important decision facing beginning rc pilots is choice of aircraft.  The hard fact is the plane will experience a number of crashes until the pilot becomes more proficient. Foam is a relatively inexpensive material and easy to repair if the rc plane is damaged. While a foam aircraft construction is not the most pleasing to the eye, it provides the rc model beginner with a practical means of getting into the air. RC models may be purchased in either ready to fly (RTF) or in kit form, which must be assembled.  Building your own model has the advantages of learning the parts and operating systems of the plane, as well as a lower cost.  RC model planes may be powered by either gasoline engines or lithium polymer (LIPO) batteries.  The use of lipo batteries has increased drastically in radio control use over the last ten years.  They offer near gasoline engine performance while being more compact, with little or no maintenance.

The use of radio control aircraft, quadcopters and drones have increased exponentially over the last fifteen years.  Near collisions between drones and passenger aircraft now run into the hundreds each year, with the FAA receiving in excess of 100 reports per month.  While most drones weigh less than ten pounds and have a limited altitude, heavier and more capable machines are the rise.  For example, even a collision between a lightweight drone and a jetliner could result in millions of dollars if the jetliner sustained damage to either the engine or control surfaces.  Though the FAA has a regulation in effect for four years making it illegal to fly a drone within five miles of an airport and limiting the altitude to 400 ft., many operators who use drones in their business pay scant attention.  A year later the FAA enacted a five dollar registration fee for all drones weighing more than half a pound.  While ineffective at tracking drones, it may get the attention of some operators.  For all the electronics and regulations, perhaps the best source of rc model safety is common sense in their use.