My First Airplane

I don't know when I started liking airplanes, but based on the memorabilia from my childhood, it was very, very early.  By the time I was about 5, I had begun a scrapbook filled with aviation stuff, and had created numerous sketches and drawings.  By six or seven, I had written to every manufacturer for picture packets (which they readily supplied in those days,) and had begun a long career of model building.  But, I hadn't actually been up in an airplane - I hadn't flown.

Here's a drawing I made in 1957 - age 13

In December, 1957, that was about to change.  My folks planned a trip to visit my Uncle Paul and his family in New Orleans.  We had made this trip several times before - but it had been by train.  This time, we were going to fly!  I remember endlessly studying my large airline timetable collection picking out just the right flight.  It had to be on a Super Connie - one of my very favorites -- altho I had so many.  Our next door neighbor Howard took us to the airport.  He had served in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War, and was one of my windows into real flying stories.  In his job, he was able to get magazine subscriptions.  He got me one to Aviation Week starting  in 1955.  I was only 11 - good thing they didn't know that down at the McGraw-Hill offices.  (Guess it paid off for them in the end; I've subscribed ever since.)

I remember the drive to the airport like yesterday.  I did a lot of hand-wringing and worrying.  Was I gonna be afraid to fly in the end?  Heck no, I was afraid Eastern would substitute a DC-7B at the last minute and all my planning would have been in vain. Howard just laughed.  Criminy, he said, you're getting to FLY - what difference does it make what kind of airplane.  Howard may have been right, but he just didn't understand.

Finally, we went out on the tarmac and climbed the stairs into "my" Super Connie.  No jetways in those days.  It was N6202C.  I made careful note of the Tail Number, Flight Crew, Block and Flight Times - something I continue to do till this day.  Almost 50 years of flight logs. Now, it's computerized  and I can search for any of the thousands of records in a breeze.

  Getting off in New Orleans, December 1957.  A lousy picture - but then I can't do it over!

Of course you have to know the tail numbers, how else can you research and follow the histories of the airplanes you've flown on.  Duh!  And I have many interesting stories in that regard.  In any event, back to good old N6202C.  It turns out she was the second production Super Constellation ever built.  Serial Number 4002.  The very first Super Connie (not a Production airplane) was  actually also the very first Connie.  Lockheed bought the original Prototype (S/N 1961) back from Howard Hughes (it had become an XC-69E in the Army Air Corps during the War,) and  modified it into the Super Connie configuration. The first Production Super Connie was N6201C, which made its first flight on 14 July 1951.  It, and N6202C were used for developmental and certification test flights.

Anyhow, back to MY airplane, N6202C -  it was technically an L1049-53-67, rolled out in 1951, and it was delivered to Eastern Air Lines on 4 April 1952 as Fleet Number 202.   But, before it was delivered to Eastern, it was left unpainted for Lockheed's test flying, and participated in an historic Lockheed Family Picture in front of the hangars at Burbank.  Taken in 1951, N6202C is in the foreground.  Behind it is an Air France 749, ( note the shorter fuselage, tail fins, round windows), then  a Model 10 Electra from 1934, Model 12 Electra Junior, Model 18 Lodestar, and finally one of two giant Model 89 (XR6O-1) Constitutions built for the US Navy in late 1946.

   Lockheed photo
N6202C having completed certification flying, and been painted in Eastern colors, has her picture taken
during a pre-delivery test hop near Burbank in Spring 1952.

Airplane N6202C remained in service with Eastern until 15 Feb 1968, when it was retired and stored at Opa Locka, Florida.  Its last half dozen years, it flew the famous Eastern Air Shuttle between New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C.  Early in her career, N6202C was one of the two Connie stars in the Eastern PR movie  "Flying with Arthur Godfrey" ( color 1953 ), made with Chief Pilot Dick Merrill, and tracing a flight from New York (IDL) to Miami.  (Of course I have a copy!)  There are some great shots, including flying on one engine.
 You can watch it here.

N6202C Boston    Ed Phelps Photo
A picture of N6202C taken on an unknown date in the 1950s at Boston and sent to me by Ed Phelps

a few more....

At some unknown date subsequent, the airplane was sold by Eastern to Happy Hour Air Travel Club.  On 5 Aug 1973, at 1925 hrs local time, while flying from Freeport in the Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida,  she lost power in all engines and made a wheels up emergency landing at Tamarac, Florida near Ft. Lauderdale.  There were no injuries among the five crew and three passengers.  The NTSB blamed bad maintenance and faulty flight crew actions.  Read a first hand account and the Official Report here.

  Photo copyright Werner Fischdick.  Used with permission.

Not badly damaged, a more youthful  and contemporary airframe would have likely been repaired, but having neither of those attributes, N6202C ended her flying career rather ignobly and was written off.  She was 22 years old.


After 4 legs on N6202C, we returned home with two legs on N6233G, a real Super G.  My friend Mike Zoeller in the U.K. is a graphics designer.  He's preparing drawings for a new book by  Peter Marson , famed Connie historian of Air Britain renown. He's very kindly permitted me to reproduce one of his drawings.  First, he sent me a wonderful drawing of sistership N6231G - which was absolutely perfect.  Not content with this little deviation from absolute accuracy, which had meaning only to me, Mike redid his drawing - making it N6233G.  What a guy!  Now you can see just how beautiful a Super G really is!


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N6233G Drawing courtesy of Mike Zoeller.  Used with permission.

Copyright 2006 - 2021  Robert A. Bogash.  All Rights Reserved.

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