What a treat!
We had headed out to Merimbula Airport, a small, single-runway regional airport in coastal south-eastern NSW, to see ‘Connie’, the Lockheed Super Constellation VH-EAG (Southern Preservation).
The development of these large, four-engined propeller-driven planes was financed and influenced by Howard Hughes, who wanted them for his airline TWA. Lockheed built 856 aircraft in the Constellation range between 1943 and 1958. As well as being sold to TWA and a number of other commercial airlines (including QANTAS), they were U.S. military air transport and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Air Force One.
Constellations were the world’s first pressurised commercial airliner. With their roominess and range, the 40-passenger transcontinental Connies revolutionised air travel in the 1940s and 1950s. Qantas used them on their famous Kangaroo Route between Australia and Great Britain from 1947. By 1954, Qantas had moved up to Super Constellations: “On 14 January 1958, two Super Constellations took off from Melbourne to inaugurate a pioneering round the world service. One travelled via India along the Kangaroo Route, while the other flew eastward on the Southern Cross Route via the United States.“
When we arrived at the airfield, the restored Connie – the last Constellation still air-worthy – was sitting on on the tarmac preparing for visitors. The Roulettes, the Royal Australia Air Force aerobatics team, on the other hand, were in the air.
As the Ron Goodwin song (with inspiration from Lorraine Williams) puts it: “Those magnificent men in their flying machines… enchant all the ladies and steal all the scenes!” As it happens, the Roulettes’ flyers were all men, and they and their Pilatus PC-9/A two-seat single-engine turboprops certainly commanded the attention of the crowd.
The Connie was pretty much ignored until the Roulettes were parked and de-planed.
The Connie is lovingly flown and shown by members of HARS, the Historical Aircraft Society, who found the derelict ex-US Airforce plane in 1990. They spent a lot of money and volunteer-people-hours restoring it before flying it to Australia, in bunny-hops, in 1996.
Dear old Connie!
Representative of a rich and varied history, and still fuelling the dreams of those magnificent men and women who maintain and fly her.