Forgotten Aviation History Vol. 1 - The Lockheed Constitution

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Goleta Air and Space Museum

Forgotten Aviation History Volume 1

The Lockheed Constitution


I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the famed Lockheed Constellation airliner of the 40’s and 50’s.

Well, this isn’t a Constellation. In fact, this is her sister ship, originally proposed in the 1940’s as a higher-capacity alternative.

Without further ado, let’s delve deeper into the rich history of this lumbering giant.


In the year 1942, the world was in a state of panic and disparity. The Second World War, known as WWII, was the largest and deadliest war to this day.

Despite the war efforts, Lockheed, an airplane manufacturer, had a rather “large” idea.

Later in 1942 a proposal was given to PanAm that would entail an airliner with even greater capacity and range than the Constellation. This aircraft was to be built under the name “Lockheed Model 89”.

The U.S. Navy also expressed interest in the idea, to replace their aging fleet of flying boats.

With that, Lockheed began the production of this one of a kind airplane.


The first flight of the Constitution (dubbed as such by the company’s president) occurred on November 9th, 1946, from Burbank (construction site) to Muroc Army Air Base. The first prototype carrier BuNo 85163.

By then, however, PamAm decided it had different priorities, and pulled from the project. The Boeing 377 had picked up the majority of commercial aviation contracts postwar, leaving the Constitution as a military-only aircraft.

Not to mention the Navy had scaled back its original order… from 50 to only 2.

BuNo 85164 was the second prototype, constructed in 1948 with it’s first flight shortly after.

Throughout flight testing, the aircraft had been underpowered. The engines were also having cooling issues, resulting in the need to fly with the cowl flaps open, creating drag and decreasing the range further.

The craft also had some new innovations, such as a twin bogey landing gear, featuring electric motors that would spin the tires up to landing speed prior to touchdown. Despite the innovative beginnings of this idea, it impaired the pilots ability to feel when their aircraft touched down, making landings partly unsafe.

Regardless, both prototypes eventually served with VR-44 out of NAS Alameda. When this group was de-established in 1950, they were transferred to NAS Moffett to be utilized by VR-5. They were also used for JATO (Jet Assisted Takeoff) experiments.

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By the 1950’s the Navy could no longer afford to operate the type. The final nail in the coffin was Lockheed’s inability to develop the Wright Typhoon Turboprop, which could have sparked a turboprop variant fixing the types previous issues.

There were no airlines interested in taking the Constitutions after their 1953 retirement from the Navy. Both were stored at NAS Litchfield Park, in Arizona.

They were both sold (along with 13 spare engines) for a little under $100,000.

BuNo 85163 was ferried to Las Vegas, and used as billboard for Alamo Airways. It was later scrapped when Howard Hughes acquired the property it was parked on.

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Goleta Air and Space Museum

Here is the display commemorating BuNo 85163 at McCarran Airport’s entrance.

BuNo 85164 was flown to Florida, where it was stored at Opa Locka Airport. It was damaged by a fire in the 1970s, then was towed off-airport several miles to an empty lot. There was plans to convert the plane into a restaurant, but overwhelming pressure from the city to have it removed eventually resulted in the second Constitution being scrapped.

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Goleta Air and Space Museum


I hope you enjoyed this little mini history lesson! Would you like to see more of this series?

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That’s all I’ve got for now. All the images have credits or are mine. Let me know what you thought!

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That’s really good history of Lockheed. Can’t wait to hear about the Electra. Which is used here in the North still

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