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Ed Dartford

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2010
Reaction score
Western Massachusetts

Was the Lockheed Constellation a reliable plane over its service life? How long was it operating?

Well, let’s just say that they had a reputation for engine failure. So much so that they earned the nickname of ‘world’s finest trimotor’ (or some variation thereof). However, large piston engines are fiddly things by nature. And the Constellation was really no different in this respect from other large piston airliners.
But what about the rest of the plane? Consider one particular variant of the Constellation, the L-1249.

No, you’re not imagining things. Those actually ARE turboprops powering this Constellation. Specifically Pratt and Whitney T34-P-6 turboprops with 5531HP each - more than 2000 more than the most powerful piston engines used on the Constellation. Those engines made the Constellation a hot rod, with a cruising speed of 440MPH and a top speed of 479MPH! This is over 100MPH FASTER than a typical piston powered Connie! What’s even more amazing is that this plane set some speed records, averaging around 500MPH on transcontinental flights (one from Texas to Maryland, and another from California to Maryland). All in a plane that was NEVER intended to travel at these kinds of speeds. The fact that the airframe could handle this speaks volumes of its integrity.
Of course, the L-1249 didn’t fare so well in terms of production. Only four were built as experimental planes. And Lockheed ended up scrapping the idea for the cheaper to build L188 Electra. The Electra had FAR less power than the L-1249 and couldn’t fly nearly as fast. Design problems also caused a number of crashes, which basically killed it as an airliner. But Lockheed eventually made improvements, and the plane was successful as the P3 Orion. The P3 also got more powerful engines than the Electra. The power rating was similar to the L-1249, which gave it speed similar to the L-1249.

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