So, what is the most beautiful piston engine airliner? Pose this question among two or more aviation enthusiasts and you may be sure that a lively, possibly heated discussion will ensue. However, I would be quite surprised if most, if not all, would ultimately agree that the Lockheed “Constellation” was the most beautiful, graceful if you prefer, or at least among the top two or three.
The “Connie,” as it was universally and affectionately called (much to the dismay of Eddie Rickenbacker of WWI fame who, as the owner of Eastern Airlines, thought the name to be too effeminate) was a spectacular and singular aeronautical design from the first rude sketch of “Excalibur” to the last L-1649 “Starliner.” Gathering many firsts and breaking many records in its almost five decades-long useful lifetime, Constellation consistently stands out from her sister airliners both visually and functionally. Sadly, the many luminous stars embodying this “Constellation” were ultimately eclipsed when at their brightest by the urgent, inexorable force of progress which saw the end of the age of the long-distance piston engine airliners and the birth of the big, jet-powered transports. This new era of air-transportation in the U.S. Began on 26 October 1958 when Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) flew a Boeing 707 with 111 passengers from New York to London. Soon, the jet-powered Douglas DC-8, Convair 880 and Sud Aviation “Caravelle” joined the 707 and long-range piston airliners were through.
Even so, there are many, this writer among them, who posit that even whilst swifter, no kerosene burning aluminum tube has ever come close to matching Connie’s superb grace and poise. Her story is full of ironies and surprises, of Geniuses, Presidents and Pioneers. You see, there once was this fabulously wealthy, incandescently brilliant, eccentric movie mogul, aviator and airline owner who had an idea for an airplane… – Excerpt from Constellation manual history by Mitchell Glicksman © 2016