I Remember Connie

A tribute to the National Air and Space Museum’s Super Constellation, by those who flew it.

“After every 100 hours of flight time we’d have a post-flight inspection that would take five days to complete,” says former crew chief Bob DeVore. (Courtesy 167th Retiree Association)

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In a period of one year, 1966, our ANG unit flew 5 million patient miles. It was a privilege to be able to do it. As a young flight nurse, being responsible for sick and wounded, it was a fearsome responsibility. In my youth, being naíve, I embraced that, but a successful medical evacuation doesn't happen alone.

Master Sergeant Bobbie McBee, Loadmaster, 1958 - 1991

My job as loadmaster concerned the weight and balance of the airplane. When you loaded it, you had to make sure the balance worked out right, make sure the center of gravity was correct. The Connie was built for commercial use, so the cargo had to be man-handled, packages that two or three people could carry into the aircraft and stack. As loadmaster I'd sit there with a clipboard and a piece of paper—you'd have support people carrying packages that weigh 50 pounds, 100 pounds, 150 pounds—we'd haul around 10,000 pounds. I'd have to add it all up. You'd be in Panama, it'd be 110 degrees, you're inside that hot airplane, and you'd be sitting down there writing figures and trying to total them up. The job of the loadmaster is like… think of two kids on a seesaw. If you have one kid that weighs 150 pounds, the other weighs 50, it won't balance so good.

I remember we hauled two loads into Vietnam. We got there and the troops were complaining that half our load was Kool-Aid. They said, "Why couldn't you at least haul us some beer?"

Later on, when they started coming out with jets, new people weren't used to the old piston-engine planes. The airplane would sit overnight, and a lot of the oil would drain down to the bottom of the cylinders. And when you start that thing up—I remember one time we were someplace in Europe, and the tower called, "You all on fire? You need assistance?" You could hardly see the airplane for the smoke. They weren't used to seeing an old airplane like that.

Senior Master Sergeant Bob DeVore, Crew Chief, 1961 - 1995

The Crew Chief is assigned to one aircraft, and he's responsible for the maintenance pre-flight inspection. That's prior to turning it over to the flight crew, which does its own pre-flight inspection. You repair items essential to the flight, such as tires or leaks. If there's a discrepancy in your inspection, you repair it. You do engine work; you build up tires, put them back on the aircraft, service the aircraft with fuel and oil, clean it, and wash it periodically. Also, with the Connie, you rearrange the seating. We hauled cargo and passengers, and you'd place or remove the seats in the aircraft. Every 100 hours of flight time you'd have a post-flight inspection. This was a scheduled inspection based on the number of flying hours. You'd go over the airframe, and this inspection would take us five days. You'd repair what was necessary, engines, whatever was needed.

I remember one 100-hour inspection that we did. It was during a snowstorm, it snowed all night long. We had huts that we put on the engines to protect them a little bit, and we also used ground heaters. In doing that, a lot of the snow started melting off of the wings, but not the tail. We had maybe a foot of snow that night. Pretty soon we noticed that the nose gear was pretty high off the ground, and the strut was extended. Next thing you know the airplane was sitting on its tail, with its nose off the ground. We put heavy, inflatable rubberized bags under the wings and fuselage. We cleaned the snow off the tail, and gradually let the air out of the bags, just gradually let the airplane down. The props were slightly damaged, and we had to change them. Other than that, there wasn't any serious damage.

Chief Master Sergeant James S. Roberts, Chief Flight Engineer, 1956 - 1989

Chief flight engineer was the best job that the Air Force had to offer an enlisted man like myself. The C-121 was one of the very few airplanes that the Air Force had where the pilot didn't start the engines. The flight engineer started the engines, did all of the engine work. We managed the engines and the fuel. The pilot would line up on the runway, and say max power, you'd pooch the throttles forward, and hold the throttles forward to get him off the ground, and set the climb power, and the cruise power, and he didn't touch the throttles at all until he landed. Just prior to touchdown, he took over control of the throttle.

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