The Lockheed L-1649A Super Constellation was known as the Starliner by Lockheed, the Super Star by Lufthansa, the Jetstream by Trans World Airlines and the Super Starliner by Air France. It was the thoroughbred of Lockheed’s Constellation line. Lockheed manufactured these planes in Burbank, California. Their Specifications were outlined by Howard Hughes, who at the time owned controlling interest in Trans World Airlines. During the 1940s and 1950s most of the world’s major airlines owned and operated some of the various models of the Constellation line. The first Constellation was a C-69 that flew in 1943, then came the L-049 in 1945, the L-649 and L-749 in 1947, the L-1049 in 1951, with (A) through (H) models to follow. The last Constellation model, the largest, the fastest, the longest range, was the L-1649A Starliner. It was considered the “Queen of the Sky” in the airline industry. Many of the earlier Constellation models were used by both the Navy and the Air Force, but the L-1649A Constellation Starliner was used exclusively as a commercial airliner. There were 856 Constellations built, but only 44 of them were Starliners. All of these were delivered in 1957 and 1958. In 1958, the first jet airliners made their debut and as luxurious as the Starliners were, they could not compete with the faster jets. By 1960, the Starliners were stripped of their plush interiors and converted to cargo planes with the addition of two cargo doors.
Each of the Starliners have four piston powered Curtiss-Wright, turbo-compound engines, designated as R3350-98TC18EA-2. They were some of the most powerful and advanced engines ever built. Each radial engine has two circles of cylinders, one in front of the other, similar to two large wheels with the cylinders radiating from the center like spokes, making a total of 18 cylinders per engine. Each cylinder has its own ignition coil and two spark plugs. The Flight Engineer, with an ignition analyzer, keeps track of the 18 coils and 36 spark plugs on all four engines. Using 115/145 octane fuel, the engines can produce 3,400 horsepower each. They have two-stage super-chargers, direct fuel injection, manual spark advance, an auto-feather system for the propellers and three power recovery turbines on each engine, which in effect make the engines hybrids; part piston powered and part turbine powered.
The Starliner has a fuel capacity of 9,844 gallons, which is contained in its 150 foot wing span. With high octane fuel, it is capable of flights up to 6000 miles lasting 24 hours and can travel at speeds up to 350 mph at a 22,000 foot altitude. The Starliner holds 245 gallons of oil, has a gross take-off weight of 160,000 pounds and carries up to 40,000 pounds of cargo or 99 passengers.
The flight crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, sometimes a radio operator and navigator, plus several stewardesses. On flights that went non-stop from the west coast over the North Pole to Europe, there was an extra crew on board due to the length of the trip. It took 18 to 20 hours and each crew would fly part and sleep part of the trip. the longest lasting flight on record was a TWA flight from London to San Francisco. Flying into a head wind, it took 23 hours and 19 minutes.