Flight in a Connie
Flight in a Connie
Constellation Ride - Sunday, August 29th 2004
I received an e-mail from the Iowa DOT on Monday the 23rd about some upcoming events. The one that interested me was the possibility of getting a Ride on a Lockheed Constellation that will be in Iowa City this upcoming weekend. Iowa City is about a 1 hour flight in my 172. I made a few calls to get more information on the flight, the deal was for $250 we get to fly on the plane and get about 10 minutes of stick time. Before I hung up the phone I knew I was going to do it!
The flight was originally scheduled for Saturday the 28th but because the weather wasn’t that good the decision was made on Friday to have the flight on Sunday. I had been watching the weather all week hoping for a break in it over the weekend. The mornings have been filled with fog and low cloud layers. Saturday came and it was pretty bad for flying.
Sunday morning I got up at 7am and checked the weather. Ankeny was under a 300’ ceiling and fog. Iowa City was reporting clear. I checked some AWOS sites along my intended route and I got a DUATS weather briefing and found that the weather was below minimums for me for the first 30 miles of my trip, around Newton it improved greatly. I had to make the go no-go decision by 10am, if I couldn’t go I was going to get into my Truck and drive the 100 miles to get to Iowa City. 10am came and the conditions improved a lot. Ankeny was now under a 1500’ broken ceiling and getting better. I figure if I depart at 11am I should be fine.
I get to the airport about 10:45am and check the weather one last time. The ceiling is broken at 2900’, plenty for me to safely get out and find a hole so I can get about the broken layer of clouds. I depart at 11am and climb above the clouds. I contact Des Moines approach for flight following to Iowa City. While listening to the other traffic I hear a Comair flight tell Des Moines that they need to break off the approach and troubleshoot a problem with the leading edge slats. I’m on the frequency for another 10 minutes and the last thing I heard before Des Moines handed me off to Chicago Center was that the Comair flight was still having problems with the slats. There is nothing on the news as I type this so they must have landed without incident.
The trip to Iowa City to 1 hour, I cruised out at 5500’. About half way there Chicago Center called out traffic to me, it was 12 o’clock and 6000’. I did not see the traffic until it passed off of my left wing only a couple of miles away and he sure looked like he was at my altitude, not 500’ higher! He did have me in sight so I felt a little bit better about it but it was a little nerve racking to have another plane coming right at you and you can’t see it.
Once got to the airport I discovered that there was a flight breakfast going on and the airspace was really, really busy! As I got into the pattern I inadvertently cut off a North American T28, D’Oh! I didn’t realize he was coming in where I was, I was making radio announcements about what I was doing, he had stated he was going to make a low pass but neglected to state he was staying in the pattern. I landed and got off the runway and parked the plane and looked around at the planes on display for about 20 minutes.
I got a hold of the gentleman putting this together via cell phone and we met for a few minutes and he said to be back by the plane at 1pm for a preflight briefing and a 2pm takeoff . At 1pm they decide the briefing will be at 2pm with a 3pm take off time so I wander around the airport and talk to several aircraft owners about their planes.
2pm rolls around and I’m back at the plane. About 2:30 we all board the Connie for our flight. Once everyone is situated the captain (a man who flew Connies when they were new for Eastern Airlines) said anyone who wanted to come up front while they went through the preflight check list could. About 15 of us went up and huddled around the cockpit entrance to see what was going on. The three man crew is very busy at all times. The co-pilot was calling out items from the check list and either the Pilot or the Flight Engineer responded as things were checked.
Engine start was really neat, first engine 3 is started and then engine 4, then engine 2 and finally engine 1. The start procedure is to spin 10 blades, engage the magnetos and after a few more blades the engine will start with a loud roar, a vibration throughout the airframe and a puff of smoke. Once all four engines were running I was grinning from ear to ear, what a feeling to feel the rumble and vibration of the four Curtiss-Wright Cyclone engines each producing 2500 BHP!
The flight controls are hydraulically boasted with a cable system for backup. The pilot stated that it takes two men to move the controls when flying by the cables, they are that heavy. He also mentioned that during al ILS landing engine 2 and 4 are adjusted speed wise to control the crab angle and engines 1 and 3 are adjusted to control sink rate. It sounded like once they had the plane trimmed for the descent they used engine control to keep it stabilized.
The takeoff was quick; when power was applied to the four engines the cabin got really LOUD and you were put back into your seat a bit. After what seemed like only 10 seconds we were climbing out and away from Iowa City’s 4300’ runway.
The flight lasted a good hour and once we were up we were able to move around the cabin. I took a lot of pictures; several were taken out of the emergency exit window (it was removed during the flight so you could hang out of the plane). I waited up by the cockpit for my turn to fly this magnificent aircraft. I finally got up in the right seat and took the controls. She is HEAVY and loves a lot of rudder in the turns. I flew for about 10 minutes or so and it was time to move out and let the next pilot in. After an hour it was time to land, our time in the air together was coming to an end and it was far too short! The landing was firm and after all wheels were down the props were put into reverse pitch and the engines revved up to aid in braking. Once the plane was stopped we all gave the Captain/Pilot a standing ovation for we all knew what a special treat this flight was and very few people in the world will get this chance. I will always cherish those 10 minutes as they were very special to me. There is only ONE Constellation flying in the world and this it is, this aircraft is based in Arizona. There are three Super Constellations flying, one based in Kansas City, one in Australia and the last is in Switzerland. This was a rare opportunity indeed.
After we all took a group photo I headed back for my plane and got loaded up for the return trip home still riding high on what I just did. I took off and headed west climbing to 6500’ to get above the cloud layer. The trip home took 1.1, it was a little longer because I climbed higher and had to do some turns to get through the holes in the clouds to get on top.
The landing was uneventful and I put my plane away back into it’s hangar and went home. Today was a good day!
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