The Lockheed C-121G Super Constellation is a much requested aircraft by PlaneTags collectors, and one that MotoArt owner Dave Hall is especially enthused to add to the PlaneTags Encyclopedia of Aircraft. N420NA began its service with the U.S. military, with both the USN and USAF, but it also spent many years with NASA, testing and calibrating ground tracking stations systems that were used to remain in constant contact with spacecraft in orbit. Read more about this plane, then get one of our Lockheed Super Connie PlaneTags for your collection
The Lockheed Super Constellation is a four-engine, propeller-driven airliner produced by the Lockheed Corporation between 1951 and 1958. The Super Connie was a larger and improved version of the earlier Lockheed Constellation, and was one of the most advanced commercial aircraft of its time. 579 were built; 259 went to commercial airlines and 320 went to the US military, with 204 to the U.S. Navy alone, making the Navy the largest Super Connie operator.
The Super Constellation was designed to fly long distances, and was equipped with powerful engines and state-of-the-art avionics, making it one of the most technologically advanced airliners of its time. Features such as a weather radar and autopilot system made the Super Constellation well-suited for long-haul flights, particularly over the Atlantic Ocean, where it quickly became a favorite of airlines such as TWA, Pan Am, and Air France. It was also extremely fuel efficient, and with an optional fuel tank in the wing center section its range increased even further. It was capable of carrying up to 92 passengers and had a range of over 4,000 miles.
The Super Constellation became popular in the early days of transatlantic air travel. Its distinctive shape, with its triple-tail design and elegant lines, became a symbol of luxury and sophistication. Passengers loved the spacious cabins, reclining seats, air conditioning, and extra bathrooms.
Navy MATS Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation (R7VS Bn 128438) from Moffett Naval Air Station CA. By United States Air Force - United States Air Force, Public Domain
The Super Constellation was also adapted for military use, with several variants operated by the U.S. Navy and U.S Air Force. It served in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, as transport or as a surveillance aircraft. The Super Constellation remained in production until the early 1960s, when it was gradually replaced by newer, jet-powered airliners such as the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8.
The development of the Super Constellation began in the late 1940s, to meet the growing demand for long-range, high-capacity commercial airliners, and as a response to the successful Douglas DC-6. The Super Constellation was designed to be a larger and more powerful version of the earlier Lockheed Constellation, which had been a successful commercial aircraft during the post-World War II era.
The first Super Constellation prototype, designated as the L-1049, was based on the XC-69 Constellation prototype which had been stretched by 18 feet. It took its maiden flight in October 1950, packed with several improvements over the Constellation, including a longer fuselage, more powerful engines, and a triple-tail design that improved stability and control.
Over the course of its production, the Super Constellation underwent several design changes and improvements. One of the most notable was the introduction of the L-1049G model, which featured a stretched fuselage that allowed for greater passenger capacity and cargo space. Other variants of the aircraft included the L-1049H, which was equipped with more powerful engines, and the military-oriented EC-121 Warning Star, which was used by the U.S. Navy for early warning and surveillance operations.
This Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation promo film from 1952 is a window to the past. Watch this and try not to fall in love with the Super Connie.
The U.S. military version of the Super Constellation was the C-121, which was used extensively during the Korean War, Vietnam War, and throughout the Cold War years, for a variety of purposes, including surveillance, search and rescue, medical evac, and transporting personnel and cargo. The aircraft's long-range capabilities and high payload capacity made it an ideal platform for transporting troops, equipment, and supplies to and from combat zones around the world.
The Super Constellation was also used to support scientific research, including the Operation Deep Freeze program in Antarctica, which began in 1955 and involved transporting personnel and supplies to Antarctica. The Super Constellation was one of the few aircraft capable of flying the long distances required to reach Antarctica, and it played a critical role in establishing and maintaining the research bases on the continent.
The EC-121 Warning Star, a modified variant of the Super Constellation, was designated for early warning and surveillance operations. It was equipped with a variety of advanced sensors and avionics, including a large radar dome on top of the fuselage. The radar system was capable of detecting and tracking aircraft at ranges of up to 200 miles, making the EC-121 a key component of the Navy's air defense system during the Cold War.
The EC-121 Warning Star was also used for maritime surveillance, and was equipped with additional sensors and cameras that allowed it to monitor shipping and other activity on the open sea. The aircraft's long range and endurance made it well-suited for these missions, and it was used extensively during the Vietnam War to track North Vietnamese shipping and to conduct electronic surveillance. The E-121 saw action in several conflicts, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Super Constellation remained in service until the mid-1970s, when it was retired and replaced by newer transport aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules and the C-141 Starlifter.
In 1958, as a result of the Secretary of Defense decision to designate the USAF Military Air Transport Service (MATS) as the principal agency for airlift missions, the R7V aircraft were transferred to the USAF and redesignated C-121Gs. This Super Connie became S/N 54-4065 “City of San Francisco” and was assigned to Western Transport Air Force (WESTAF), MATS until 1963.
In September 1963, this aircraft took on a new mission when it was leased to NASA. Now coded NASA 20 (later registered as N420NA), it and another C-121G, NASA 21, were assigned to the Goddard Space Flight Center , in Greenbelt, MD. They were used to calibrate ground-based tracking stations in support of numerous space programs in the the late 1960s and early 1970’s. The two NASA Super Connies were specially instrumented for testing ground tracking stations, and equipped to conduct simulations to prepare ground station operators for future space missions. They were also instrumented in Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Agena spacecraft equipment and test gear, with a task to perform engineering evaluations and operations readiness tests at manned space flight tracking stations.
Between 1965 and 1972, the NASA Super Connies traveled to or were stationed in Australia, in support of ground tracking stations established as part of the Apollo space program. The planes performed engineering tests, delivered cargo, conducted simulations for several Apollo missions (8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16), and other tasks in support of the deep space network.
Three Deep Space Network locations, photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech
In order to track spacecraft continuously, a Deep Space Network (DSN), a network of deep space stations, was constructed, each of which had to have at least three equidistant receiving points on the planet. The placement of the sites allows constant communication with spacecraft as the planet rotates. NASA had already set up its first location in California in 1958. The other two stations were required to be ⅓ of the globe on either side of the first station, in Australia and in Spain. See this article NASA Super Connies for photos and history of this mission.
This video explains more about how the DSN works.
It was withdrawn from NASA service in January 1973, and transferred to the US Army Proving Grounds and used as a target during testing the effects of explosive devices on aircraft. It was later sold by the Department of Defense in 1978. Its forward fuselage was sold to Andy Wade of Wade Salvage.
Don’t miss other NASA PlaneTags - check out the MLP-2 PlaneTags made from the TSM on the now demolished Mobile Launch Platform 2.
MotoArt acquired the forward fuselage from this Super Constellation from Wade Salvage in 2022. “Wade Salvage is an incredible place,” recalls MotoArt owner Dave Hall. “We got the skin for our A-10 Thunderbolt II PlaneTags from Andy Wade’s collection. Finding a Super Connie, especially such a noteworthy one, was such a thrill.”
The following photos were taken in December 2022 by Hall and the team.
"It's always fascinating climbing around the inside of a derelict aircraft," says Hall. "It's a whole different perspective and you never know what you'll see."
The Super Connie PlaneTags are a very limited release of 2,250 . They will be available at noon PT Thursday, April 27, 2023 on planetags.com.
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