09/21/2011

Connie the show stopper

093.JPGOn the Saturday of the Sion Air Show, the Breitling Super Constellation taking off at the end of the day was, for many people, the highlight.

 


Even though most of the 40,000 aviation enthusiasts who were at Sion on the Saturday were still wet from the midday downpour, many waited quite a fair time at the end of the day to see the departure of the Breitling Super Constellation. The pilot duly obliged by flying low over the runway twice in each direction so that we could admire aviation as it once was.

The Super Constellation was a variant on the original Constellation, built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 in California. It was used during the war as a military transport aircraft, and also after the war for carrying cargo into Berlin during the Berlin airlift. After the war it was popular as a civilian transport aircraft.

Its actual design began in 1939, before the entry of the USA into the war, and a prime mover was the well-known recluse, Howard Hughes. It was intended for Trans World Airlines (TWA, sometimes unjustly interpreted as "Try Walking Across" or "That Was Awful"). At that time it was known as Excalibur: the same name as the sword which was supposed to have been given to King Arthur (of the knights of the round table!) by the Lady of the Lake. Legend has it that Arthur's dying request was that Excalibur be thrown back into the lake: when Sir Bedivere did finally do as he was asked, a hand rose out of the lake, caught the sword and waved it three times before sinking below the water. The definitive book on this is "Le Morte d'Arthur", by Sir Thomas Malory.

The Super Constellation was the name given to the model L-1049. and was intended as a competitor to the Douglas DC6. It really is a striking aircraft, with the triple tail fin: some people consider it as the most beautiful piston aircraft ever built. The one at Sion, which ias registration HB-RSC, was built in 1955, later, in 2004, being acquired by the Super Constellation Flyers Association, together with Breitling (sponsors of the Sion Air Show).

083.JPGI was standing next to it shortly before it was pulled on to the runway, taxied to the end of the runway, turned and, one by one, started and later tested each of the four engines. The sheer size of it is hugely impressive, as was being next to the runway as it came past on its takeoff run.

This aircraft has been here in Geneva just once this year, about a week before the Air Show, so you might have seen it. However, the regular spotters at the airport did not miss the opportunity to photograph it: maybe the only chance this year as its schedule does not show it coming here again.

Next year!

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