Aviation Historian 28
P.Marson - Howard Hughes & the Constellation
Typical of TWA’s fleet of Model 049s was N86516 (c/n 2043) Star of Ireland, Fleet No 508, which was delivered to the airline in February 1946 and operated in both First Class and Coach configurations before being retired from service in May 1957, having accrued more than 40,300 flying hours.
Howard Hughes (left) and TWA President Jack Frye descend the makeshift steps built by TWA personnel at Washington DC after the pair had flown Lockheed 049 Constellation c/n 1962, allocated registration NC38936 (although it was never applied), from California to the capital in record time on April 17, 1944.
More Constellations were operated by TWA than by any other airline in the world, the company acquiring examples of every model and every sub-variant built. Seen here at San Francisco is Model 049 N86526 Star of Greece, which was purchased by the Hughes Tool Co in 1949 after a brief period of service with KLM as PH-TEO. Some Connies carried a small placard by the starboard door on delivery to TWA with the words “Leased by the Hughes Tool Co to TWA”.
Hughes and General Henry "Hap" Arnold (furthest left) at Washington DC after the former’s record-setting transcontinental flight on April 17, 1944. Arnold appears to be doing a good job of hiding his considerable chagrin at finding the Constellation painted in TWA colours, rather than the austere olivedrab camouflage he was expecting.
In May 1947 Hughes used Model 049 NC90817 (c/n 2079) Star of the Adriatic to publicise his company’s Terrain Warning Indicator (TWI) device. Flying from Burbank, Hughes undertook a series of flights in which he would demonstrate the device to members of the press by flying at mountains, as seen here; such an adventure may not be so easy to arrange today!
Showing the type's magnificently elegant dolphin-like profile, Constellation c/n 1962 is handed over to Transcontinental & Western Air at Las Vegas on April 16, 1944. Overlaid on the gleaming bare-metal airframe is TWA’s restrained colour scheme, with the legend “The Transcontinental Line” running the length of the fuselage.
Another of Hughes’s cast-offs was Model 749A c/n 2671, which Hughes registered as N6025C but never flew and kept under armed guard at Burbank. Fortunately, it was released for sale and joined the BOAC fleet as G-ANNT Buckingham in July 1954. It is seen here at Hong Kong in November 1955.
The prototype Constellation, c/n 1961, serial 43-10309, was originally powered by Wright GR-3350 Duplex-Cyclone engines, but in September 1945 was fitted with Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasps instead, as seen here. Hughes acquired the aircraft in mid-1946.
TWA was the first airline to order and take delivery of the Constellation, and Hughes was determined to make hay from the resulting publicity, despite the USA rapidly shifting on to a war footing at the time. After its handover at Las Vegas, Constellation c/n 1962 was extensively photographed in its TWA scheme, as seen here.
One of the Connies acquired by Hughes and subjected to his often bizarre behaviour was Model 1049G c/n 4619, which remained unregistered and never flew during his ownership. The pristine aircraft was sold back to Lockheed and on to Capitol Airways, with which it operated as N4903C, seen here at Richmond, Virginia, in 1961.
ABOVE In July 1957 Hughes "borrowed” Starliner N7304C (c/n 1005), seen here at New York-Idlewild later that year, for comparative engine noise tests. The aircraft subsequently flew TWA’s inaugural New York-Lisbon Jetstream service and made the last scheduled piston-engined passenger flight from New York to London, in 1960.
Hughes’s relationship with the Constellation concluded with his purchase of Model 1649A Jetstream Starliner c/n 1012, N7310C, which was acquired by the Hughes Tool Co in May 1957 and used by the millionaire on his honeymoon in the Bahamas, before joining the TWA fleet that December. It is seen here at Paris-Orly in 1959.
A sad ending for an example of the epitome of the classic American propliner - Starliner N7310C, Hughes’s honeymoon aircraft, is seen here in 1965 in a parlous condition at Seattle, where it was scrapped the following year. Hughes maintained his interest in aviation, despite his increasingly erratic behaviour.