The 1950’s called; it wants its aircraft back. An iconic Lockheed Constellation airliner is making a grand return to its former home—the Trans World Flight Center, or TWA Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport.
The Constellation, known as the “Connie,” is a vintage propeller driven airliner. One model, a former TWA flagship, is now in the midst of a harrowing journey on a flatbed truck from rural Maine to New York City. This Starliner version of the Connie, only one of 44 ever built, will end its slow road trip outside of the soon-to-launch TWA Hotel.
The old propliner has a future as the most New York of New York things: a cocktail bar.
Imagine waking up to a panoramic view of JFK’s airfield, heading downstairs for breakfast in the converted terminal, strolling to a conference in a former airport lounge and capping off the night with a drink onboard a Constellation. If that doesn’t sound like an aviation enthusiast’s dream, I don’t know what does.
Smooth Sailing Onboard the Connie
The beautiful Constellation, with its unique three-tail design, was first manufactured by Lockheed Corporation in 1939 at the request of TWA, under guidance of Howard Hughes. The airframe was first used heavily in World War II, but made its commercial TWA debut in 1945. It also pioneered some features we all take for granted today.
The Constellation would offer the first hydraulically boosted power controls, aviation’s equivalent of power steering. It would be faster than most World War II fighters. And, using award-winning technology pioneered by Lockheed, it would feature a pressurized cabin for 44 passengers that allowed the plane to fly faster and above 90 percent of weather disturbances, what Constellation regulars would come to call smooth sailing.
The airliner had a service ceiling of 24,000 feet and could cruise at 300 mph, once setting the transcontinental speed record between Burbank and Washington, D.C. at just under seven hours. The aircraft had the longest range of any piston-powered passenger aircraft in history. TWA used the Connie to fly nonstop between Los Angeles and London and San Francisco and London. It typically completed the journey in between 19 and 23 hours, a duration similar to the longest flights today.
This particular Connie was built in 1956 and has its controls still intact. In fact, once its reborn as a cocktail lounge, guests will be able to sit at the helm, boozed up or not. The lounge capacity is permitted for up to 110 people.
The long-awaited TWA Hotel opening, designed to reserve the Eero Saarinen landmark, is the first in a long list of changes at JFK. The state of New York recently put forth a $13 billion plan to fix the hot mess of an international airport. However, it’s the TWA Hotel experience and Lockheed Constellation that will be the first major addition to JFK next year. Arguably, it’s also the most exciting.
If it’s half as cool as sleeping onboard a retired Boeing 747 aircraft-turned-hostel (which I was lucky enough to do earlier this year), I’ll be totally satisfied.