In 1996, Amoco Corporation purchased a lot in Penndel, Pennsylvania, which contained a restaurant topped by a Lockheed C-121 Constellation aircraft. Realizing the historical significance of the plane, Amoco offered the plane to the Air Mobility Command Museum. It was transported to the museum in December of 1997 and is now completely restored.
The Constellation was the first commercial transport plane to travel at 300 mph and was the last of the great American propeller-driven airliners.
Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to fly while in office in 1945 on the C-54 “Sacred Cow,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to fly on an aircraft using the Air Force One call sign. This aircraft was the VC-121A “Columbine II.”
The military adapted the plane for its further use in the 1950s and 60s by modifying it for radar and using it as an aerial extension of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, and in aiding in the rescue of downed aircraft in Southeast Asia. In addition, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) used a fleet of 70 C-121s from 1948 to 1967.
There are 40-50 Constellations worldwide today.
Howard Hughes was one of the driving forces behind the design of the Lockheed Constellation commercial transport. During WWII, the USAAF purchased 22 early model Constellations which were designated C-69s. At the end of the war, the USAAF decided to standardize the Douglas C-54 as its four-engine transport of choice, and promptly declared most of the C-69s as surplus. Production of the basic design was turned over to the civilian markets which lead to the famous Constellation series of airliners.
The C-121A was the military variation of the commercial Model 749 Constellation. Between 1948 and 1955 the USAF ordered 150 C-121As for use as cargo/passenger carriers, executive transports, and airborne early warning aircraft. As a troop carrier, they could carry a maximum of 44 passengers.
Fifty-five percent of the Super Constellations built by Lockheed were delivered to the U.S. Navy and Air Force. A majority of the aircraft were used for electronic reconnaissance and airborne early warning. In the mid-1960s, the Air Force sent the first EC-121 “Warning Star” to Southeast Asia to maintain radar surveillance over North Vietnam and then later to warn of MIG attacks and alert American pilots who were straying over Chinese territory.
Most C-121As were later converted into the VC-121A VIP transport configuration for use by top ranking officials such as Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower. The lone VC-121E Constellation (#53-7885) was named “Columbine III” and was used throughout the Eisenhower Administration as Air Force One.