By Stewart Bailey, curator
If you ask any aviation enthusiast to rank the top ten most beautiful aircraft ever built, chances are the Lockheed Constellation will appear on that list.
Developed by Lockheed just before World War II, the Constellation owed much of its early capabilities to its lead customer, TWA, and the airline’s major stock-holder, Howard Hughes. With the outbreak of World War II, the Constellation first flew as a military transport and served as the C-69, but after the war it returned to its roots as an airliner. Because the Constellation was designed to have intercontinental range, many were built for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy as early warning radar aircraft. They served for more than 20 years, keeping track of targets in the air and on the surface of the ocean during the Cold War.
While most Constellations long ago had a meeting with the scrapper’s torch, a few survived and today are prized pieces in the collections of museums or private individuals. In May 2009, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum joined those ranks when it was awarded a Lockheed EC-121T early warning Constellation by the Government Services Administration (GSA) Federal Surplus Program. The aircraft, serial number 52-3417, served as a maintenance trainer for the University of Montana’s aviation mechanics school at Helena, Montana for the last 28 years. Excess to the college’s needs, it was offered up for disposal through the GSA, and of the several proposals, Evergreen’s was declared the winner.
Because of the excellent condition of the aircraft, a decision was made to make it flyable for a one-time ferry flight to its new home in McMinnville. Despite its condition, there is still plenty of maintenance to do, and starting in October, properties director Terry Naig along with volunteers from the Museum began the work.
Their first task involved cleaning out 28 years of debris from birds nesting in the aircraft, and after two weeks, the “Connie” is reported to have smelled much better. The crew is also installing material to keep the birds from getting back in, as well as cleaning the years of grime and oil off the aircraft so its structure could be inspected. The next step will involve moving the old veteran to the Helena Airport, where further maintenance can be performed and the engines can be tested.
For more information about this project, check out this article on the Helena Independent Record web site.