View Full Version : Howard Hughes and the L-1649A

23rd Jun 2012, 02:10
In 1957 Howard Hughes is reported to have flown a new 1649A Connie from Nassau in the Bahamas nonstop to Los Angeles. He had "borrowed" the plane from his airline, TWA, for awhile and was returning it after flying it around the Bahamas for a month or two with only a flight engineer aboard.

The interesting part is that he flew the transcon flight alone -- no copilot and no flight engineer. My question is, on a Connie, how could he do this? With engine controls, pressurization, fuel, electrics -- everything on the engineer's panel, wouldn't he have to leave the pilot's seat constantly to reset the various controls?

I find it hard to believe he flew the ship alone for such a great distance. Any old Connie pilots or engineers who can chime in on this?

24th Jun 2012, 01:42
In one of the Kelly Johnson biographies that I've read, it's recounted that Johnson rode along on a "test flight" of a Constellation that Hughes insisted on making, with Lockheed's chief test pilot in the right seat. Basically a series of patterns and touch-and-goes. After not too many of them, Johnson ordered Hughes and the company pilot to switch seats, and to take him home. Hughes never forgave Kelly for the insult, and Kelly vowed to never again fly in an airplane being piloted by Hughes. Hard to imagine Hughes single-piloting a 1649, particularly, for a week,but who knows?

24th Jun 2012, 01:54
Hard to imagine Hughes single-piloting a 1649, particularly, for a week,but who knows?
Interesting story. Stepwilk do you remember what type of aircraft Hughes borrowed one time - out of Miami or some airport in south Florida - flew around for awhile and either ran out of gas or landed in the Everglades? I seem to remember it was a Mallard, but I could be wrong about that.

Hasel Checks
24th Jun 2012, 02:36
Sounds like part of the typical Hughes mythology.

Besides, how many airstrips in the Bahamas, even today, could take a Constellation, let alone in the post-war period?

That coral rubble shreds even light-plane tyres.

24th Jun 2012, 02:52
My old colleague Pat Tobin had been a F/E on TWA Connies. He told of a captain who was tasked (with crew) to ferry a ship from Kansas City Muni to the Fairfax maintenance base across the river. He grew tired of waiting for the other two to appear, so he started up the 3350s from the F/E panel, set flaps, moved to the LH seat, and flew across the river solo, gear down. Big deal, he got 30 days vacation for the transgression.

24th Jun 2012, 04:37
In Bob Rummel's (TWA head engineer) book called "Howard Hughes and TWA" he mentions the flight. And Bob Serling in his book "Howard Hughes' Airline" devotes almost a page to the flight, saying he flew the Connie alone all the way across the country to L.A., but couldn't land because of fog and had to circle two hours before putting it down at LAX late at night. The story must be true but I have a hard time believing it because of the FE panel workload. If it was a DC-6/DC-7 I could see this happening as everything is within easy reach. Howard Hughes must have been one hell of a good pilot!

Hasel Checks
24th Jun 2012, 05:17
Q/Big deal, he got 30 days vacation for the transgression/Q

And quite rightly too, indeed lenient of TWA to mete out only a 30 day suspension. If he cuts corners and acts like a cowboy in small trips, he'll do the same on long trips too.

Imagine what his pre-flight checks consisted of on his hop?

Spooky 2
24th Jun 2012, 20:42
It seems like a hard story to believe as the Connie was a true FE airplane unlike the DC6/7 which could actually be ferried without a FE onboard.
My experience was as a FO on the 1049H and for intents and purposes was the same as the 1649A. I suppose anything was possible with HH and while some stories might be embelished, there is usually a grain of truth to them.

When I was very young we had a family friend that was by training an FE, and worked for HH. He wanted to go to the Coliseum in Los Angeles to see the 4th of July fireworks show. Keep in mind that this is around 1959/60. He called into a central number that he used to stay in touch with the boss and was told that "No" he should not go as Mr. Hughes thought it was to dangerous?? He didn't go.

A few months later Hughes told him to go down to San Diego and check into to a hotel and wait for him to be contacted by Hughes. Over a year later still no call. This is when Hughes was in a legal hassle with Convair over the TWA 880 order. Two years later from his original dispatch he was told to go back home to LA and stand by. Still nothing. Not sure how he wound up finishing off his career but the book rights would have been worth something.

One more Hughes story. Most have heard of the DC6A and Convair 340 parked outside for years at the Santa Monica airport but few have heard of the Aero Commander parked in the back of a hangar at Burbank Airport. The hangar belonged to a flying club, called Sky Roamers. The Aero Commander sat back in a dark corner, roped off with about an inch of dust a bird droppings on the wings. Tires were low if not flat. The airplane belonged to Hughes and obviously never flew. Don't know what happend to it.

Fast forward Hughes bought a significant number of Lockheed JetStars which he kept in a hangar on the east side of the Van Nuys airport. They were painted white, no trim. Not sure what the purpose was behind these but they were there for at least ten years.

Strange guy that Howard Hughes

25th Jun 2012, 02:04
To borrow from the late Bob Serling’s excellent corporate history of TWA:

“The Connie arrived in Nassau August 2 and didn’t leave until October 27, when Hughes flew it out alone. Why he decided to fly back to Los Angeles solo, Bushey never could understand (Bill Bushey was a check FE at TWA for the 1649 and flew with Hughes in Nassau – there was no copilot aboard). They had ben discussing the return trip and Hughes suggested that Bushey might as well go home. Apparently he wasn’t sure of an exact departure date and didn’t want the flight engineer to be away from his family any longer. During that stay of almost three months, Burgess (TWA president) had been phoning Hughes in Nassau – first pleading and the demanding that he return the 1649 so it could be put into service. (Hughes had taken the second 1649 from Lockheed, destined for TWA, and would not return it until he was ready).

Bushey said “Why he didn’t ask me to wait until he was ready to go back is a complete mystery to me – he damned near killed himself flying back alone.”

“That he did. He had radioed ahead to have Lee Flanagan (TWA guy) meet him at LAX . Lee was waiting in the hangar-it was a rainy night, about 10 p.m. – when the control tower called. Hughes was trying to contact him for advice on what to do. The airport was almost socked in.”

Hughes circled for two hours and landed after midnight after flying without a copilot or FE all the way from Nassau.

Others have flown big airplanes solo but flying and watching the Connie’s FE panel at the same time would be a chore. Maybe Hughes didn’t care about temps and pressures and just flew the hell out of the bird.

Would any of you Connie guys try such a thing?

26th Jun 2012, 07:44
As I vaguely remember from flying a 1049 fifteen or so years ago, most of the relevant information displayed on the F/E's panel is also on the flight crew's panel. Not stuff like the oscilloscope, but certainly "temps and pressures."

Spooky 2
26th Jun 2012, 09:59
Stepwilk if you flew the Connie fifteen years ago your memory should be better than mine but I simply do not recall anything other than;

Manifold Pressure
and maybe a fuel flow gauge

as being part of the pilot's engine instrumentation on the forward panel.

26th Jun 2012, 11:49
It is some years now since I was a F/E on Connies and that was on the 749 not the mighty 1649, which was somewhat different to it's smaller brothers.

So on the 749 and 1049 [just looked up the flying manual] on the pilots panel there were just four engine instruements each with a dual pointer

Two of the guages were for Manifold Pressure
Two were for RPM

So the engines could be operated with these basic instruements

However back on the F/E Panel, and only there, were all the rest of the engine instruements and controls many of which could be operated in Auto position, and there were warning lights on many systems to bring your attention to a system/engine problem.

However only at the F/E position were the prop feathering buttons and the engine mixture control, which makes a safe operation by one pilot hard to do.

To sum up the Connie probably could be operated by one pilot as long as nothing goes wrong, and on the connie it often DID

Feather #3
26th Jun 2012, 22:52

Your memory is absolutely correct. My recency is as late as 01Apr12 [and, no, there is no joke in that!]

G'day ;)