constellation

On 25 September 1946, Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) signed the contract to purchase four Lockheed Constellation aircraft for the Kangaroo Route between Britain and Australia flown in conjunction with BOAC.

BOAC, which at that time held half the shares in QEA, had argued long and hard for British aircraft being used on the route, but finally accepted the advice of the Australian QEA management that Qantas should use the Constellation. Prime Minister Chifley had supported this advice and given the Australian government’s approval to the allocation of scarce US dollars for the purchase.

The first Qantas Constellation arrived in Australia on its delivery flight from Burbank on 14 October 1947and the service from Sydney to London commenced on 1 December.

The Constellation was the world’s first pressured airliner in widespread commercial service. Lockheed built fifteen of them before the end of the Second World War and delivered them to the US Air Force as C-69s; these were later made available to civil operators. BOAC bought six in 1946 and 1947 for its London-New York service.

After its initial order Qantas bought three more Constellations. The Qantas service to South Africa commenced, using Constellations, in 1952.

By the time the last was delivered in 1951, their replacement was becoming an important issue. BOAC, Qantas partner on the Kangaroo Route, was pressing strongly for Comets, and when the Comet’s problems mounted, for Bristol 175 turbo-props (which became the Britannias). Qantas favoured the Super Constellation which had begun flight testing in August 1951. In October that year Qantas ordered its first three Super Constellations.

The first of the Qantas L-1049 Super Constellations was delivered on 15 April 1954, and just one month later Qantas used it to inaugurate its Pacific service.

On 14 January 1958, two Qantas Super Constellations left Melbourne, to begin the Qantas round the world service, first visiting Sydney and then flying off in opposite directions, both arriving back in Sydney on 20 January.

By that time Qantas had a fleet of sixteen Super Constellations. The previous year Qantas had decided on its replacement with Boeing 707s, and had placed an order for seven. The first of these was delivered to Qantas on 29 June 1959, making Qantas the first airline outside America to fly American jet aircraft. They progressively replaced the Super Constellations. The last Qantas Super Constellation to be sold was the first one to be delivered; it left Sydney on 3 May 1963.

This note is based on information in two volumes of John Gunn’s official history of Qantas, Challenging Horizons and High Corridors.