Find a new home for "Connie" petition on
By Recto Mercene
April 21, 2012
FOR a country that prides itself in having mounted the first commercial flight in Asia in 1941, and also the first Asian airline to cross the Pacific Ocean in 1946—transporting World War II troops from Manila to Oakland, California—it seems strange that the Philippines does not have an aircraft museum.
We need a place to display these aircraft to remind the world, or at least the younger generation of Filipinos, of our small but crucial contributions to the growth of aviation in our neck of the woods.
This little oversight could be redeemed if someone out there with a small capital could finance the acquisition of a score of “iconic” airplanes, now in various stages of deterioration at an airplane “graveyard” of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) compound.
Or maybe, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., with its deep pocket and social commitment, can buy these airplanes and make them part of its sprawling Entertainment City, now taking shape at the reclaimed portion of Roxas Boulevard.
Languishing in oblivion are scores of airplanes that Naia General Manager Jose Angel Honrado wanted to dispose of, seeing them as “eyesores and safety hazards.” He has given the owners 30 days before the Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) imposes a charge of P32/square meter/month. He announced plans to eventually auction the airplanes.
Headed for the scrap yards—or the auction block—are five DC-9s, whose last owner is known only as “Orion”; four DC-3s; one Russian-made Antonov An-268; another Russian-made Yak-40; a Cessna 150 trainer-plane; and the most iconic of all, a Super Constellation, the plane that preceded the commercial jetliners of our age.
The “Connie,” as it was fondly called, is an American-registered plane, N427K, impounded by airport authorities in June 1988, allegedly for smuggling activities. It has been sitting at the compound since then. Its last owner was William “Winky” Crawford, who was reported to have died many years ago.
Weighed down by quarter-ton blocks of concrete to prevent it from being carried away by annual typhoons, this airplane has been ravaged by the elements. But part of its colorful history is that this is the airplane that was designed by legendary billionaire/genius/madman/Hollywood actor/lover boy Howard Hughes.
“It sure would be a shame if this aircraft gets cut up when there are folks out there who would like to give her a new home!” said one blogger.
The Miaa was recently granted legal ownership of the Super Connie N427K, after the failure of the owner to claim it. Another blogger said the plane was “one of the few remaining restorable Constellations and, in the past, there had been a number of organizations interested in acquiring the aircraft.”
The Super Constellation is the first pressurized airliner in widespread use. It helped usher in affordable and comfortable air travel.
Sleek and powerful, Constellations set a number of records. On April 17, 1944, the second production plane, piloted by Howard Hughes himself, and Transworld Airlines (TWA) President Jack Frye, flew from Burbank, California, to Washington, D.C., in six hours and 57 minutes at an average 330.9 mph (532.5 km/h).
On its return trip, the aircraft stopped at Wright Field to give Orville Wright his last flight, more than 40 years after his historic first flight.
“The Constellation’s wingspan is longer than the distance of my first flight,” Wright was quoted as having said.
The airplane’s elegant appearance is a result of its shapely fuselage, designed like a dolphin; unfortunately, this proved very expensive and was eventually replaced by the tube shape of today’s airliners, which is more resistant to pressurization changes. And cheaper to build, at that.
The same type of airplane had been Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s personal aircraft during the Korean War and named Bataan. Registered as N422NA it was flown to museum headquarters in Chino, California, in late 1994 and then to the museum’s annex in Valle, Arizona, in early 1995, where the aircraft remains on display as Bataan.
The Connie was a propeller-driven airliner powered by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 engines and built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958. A total of 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models, all distinguished by a triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage.
Many are now refurbished in mint condition and displayed in various museums from Australia to Switzerland.
Four of the Douglas DC-3 at the Naia, under four owners, are now under the mercy of the elements. DC-3 is propeller-driven; its speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting impact on the airline industry and WW II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.
Initially, Philippine Airlines (PAL) acquired six DC-3s from US military surplus in 1945, until eventually it had a fleet of 48 DC-3s, which sewed up the far-flung islands of the archipelago to usher in widespread commercial aviation. PAL retired this indestructible aircraft in 1978, after 32 years of service, according to Jonathan Gesmundo, the airline’s editorial consultant.
The four DC-3s at the Miaa are now in a deteriorated condition, although they could still be restored, since cannibalized parts are available in the black market, according to airport sources.
One locally owned DC-3 was bought by an African country in 2011. It was on its way to be delivered, but unfortunately crashed shortly after takeoff at the Naia.
The production of civil DC-3s ceased in 1942, while the military versions were produced until the end of the war in 1945.
December 17, 2010, marked the 75th anniversary of the DC-3’s first flight, and there are still small operators with DC-3s in revenue service and as cargo aircraft. The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3.”
According to Wikipedia, the aircraft’s legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as “a collection of parts flying in loose formation.” Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.
Some of the uses of the DC-3 included aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service, military transport, missionary flying and sport skydiving shuttling and sightseeing.
The oldest DC-3 still flying is the original American Airlines Flagship Detroit (c/n 1920, No. 43 off the Santa Monica production line), Wikipedia says, adding it can be seen at airshows around the United States and is owned and operated by the non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation.
The Yakovlev Yak-40 (Nato reporting name: Codling) is a small, three-engined airliner that is often called the first regional jet transport aircraft. It was introduced in September 1968 with Aeroflot.
It is unclear how the Yak-40 and the Antonov An 26B airplanes made it to the Philippines. It appears that following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1982, cheap Russian-made airplanes were available and were bought by those on a shoestring budget to start small-scale commercial operations in the Philippines.
However, when the owners tried to register the airplanes with the-then Air Transport Office (Ato), the authorities found out that the airplane’s cockpit markings, including its airplane manuals, were in Russian.
The ATO required the owners to produce English versions of the manuals, but apparently none were available and the airplanes were left at the Naia graveyard, since flying them back to Russia would be more expensive.
Wikipedia says the Yak-40 is a low-winged cantilever monoplane with unswept wings, a large T-tail and a retractable tricycle landing gear. The passenger cabin is ahead of the wing, with the short rear fuselage carrying the three turbofan engines, with two engines mounted on short pylons on the side of the fuselage and a third engine buried in the rear fuselage.
The three AI-25 engines were two-shaft, had no jet pipes and initially no thrust reversers. The production of Yak-40 ended in 1981; the factory at Saratov had produced a total of 1,011 aircraft.
By 1993 Yak-40s operated by Aeroflot had carried 354 million passengers, Wikipedia says, adding that it was the backbone of Aeroflot’s local operations, flying to 276 domestic destinations in 1980.
An-26B is registered to Mosphil Aero as RP-C7205. It is a twin-engine turboprop military transport aircraft, designed and produced in the USSR on March 12, 1968.
It made its public debut at the 27th Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, where the second prototype, CCCP-26184 (c/n00202), was shown in aircraft parking lot. AN-26 is also manufactured without a license agreement in China by Xian Aircraft Factory as the Y-14, later changed to be included in the Xian Y7 series, according to Wikipedia.
The Cessna 150 being disposed of by the Miaa is registered as RP-C954 by its owner, Fredelito Juane. It is a twin-seater, single-engine aircraft of choice by flying schools for flight training, touring and personal use. It is the fourth most-produced civilian plane ever, with 23,838 produced, Wikipedia says.
Practically 99 percent of Philippine pilots since the 1960s were graduates of the C-150, including all PAL and regional captains, who all graduated from the PAL flying school, according to Gesmundo.
A forgiving and easy-to-fly airplane, the C-150 cost about $12,000 in 2007.
In Photo: Four DC-3s at the mercy of the elements at the Naia compound, a Super Constellation and The Antonov An-26B, a Russian-made airplane now headed for the auction block.