What is sure to be a star attraction at next month’s AirVenture is now undergoing flight tests at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. VC-121A Bataan, a military version of the Lockheed Constellation, has undergone a full restoration and flew for the first time in June 20. It’s now regularly waking up the neighbors around Chino as it’s readied for the cross-country flight to Oshkosh and the thousands of selfies that will capture its gleaming polished exterior, assuming the flight tests go well.

This particular Connie has a storied past and is actually one of the longest serving examples of the type. It was originally bought in a block of 10 to serve as a passenger aircraft for the new Military Air Transport Service shuttling people and cargo over the Atlantic. In 1949 it was fitted for executive transport and became Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s personal aircraft up to and including his flight back to the U.S. after he was fired by President Harry Truman. His successor, Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, used it and it continued to be flown by the Air Force until it was flown to the desert in 1965. It was dusted off six months later and sent to NASA where it supported the Apollo program until it was decommissioned in 1970.

After 22 years at a museum at Fort Rucker, the plane was bought by Planes of Fame and spent another 20 years at its second location in Valle, Arizona. The current owner, the Air Legends Foundation of San Antonio, bought it and the full restoration begun by Planes of Fame mechanics. The restoration was kept quiet until last May when those huge TR3350-75 engines shattered the silence. The plane has been faithfully restored in the configuration as MacAurthr’s transport. No details of its activities at AirVenture have been released.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Interesting that MacArthur’s plane is flying again. Ike’s VC-121 Connie, Columbine II, is at Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia undergoing a complete restoration. Amazing that this historical aircraft still exists and is being restored.

    • Aircraft of this vintage and earlier are resistant to electromagnetic pulse (EMP). I hope that never becomes an important feature.

      • Right ON! That’s what I love about vintage and still many GA aircraft. Simple and reliable. On a different and humble level, I still use magnetos and steam gauges. Sure, I have the “electronic” panel. But, as a backup LOL. Yes, backup. My main are the “old gauges” If I loose electric power for any reason I am still able to fly safe. Yes, I am a VFR pilot and will always be. I love pilotage. There’s nothing like flying looking outside and relying on geography to know where you are and where you are going ; )

  2. I’m a little bit sorry for the neighbors. NOT!

    She (aren’t planes, like ships, referred to as she?) can wake me up any time. GEG Rwy 21, 4ish mile final.

    Same for anything with that many pistons…

    Like the codger said as Sentimental Journey, on takeoff, flew overhead, “this is better than sex”

  3. I recall seeing this plane at Fort Rucker back in 1990 when I was there for Army advanced school. It was sitting outside the new aviation museum still being completed. I read a while back it went to Chino for a resto, but I lost track of it. Great to see another Connie flying.

  4. I whish some day someone would explain to videographers that airplanes and helicopters have props and rotors that get an aircraft going and keep them going. To see props and rotors rotating slowly or even stopped in takeoff and flight can be quite disturbing. Simply slowing down the shutter speed on the camera will keep them rotating.

  5. During Bataan’s time at Valle, AZ I took a tour of the aircraft. The full all stainless steel galley caught my attention during that tour. I wish it had been shown on this video.

  6. Built back when airplanes were beautiful. The graceful curves of yesteryear are much more appealing that today’s functional, boxy lines. I want a round tail on my airplanes.

  7. Every time I hear folks commenting on the beauty of the Connie, I find it hard not to point out an interesting detail about this majestic airframe. When viewing the side profile, the shape of the fuselage gives way to a distinct “airfoil,” that according to my aviation school instructor and my dad (A&P 33 years at Eastern, 1947-80), was purposely in the design for augmented lift.
    Norm Faith Jr.

  8. While we are all doing a group drool at this sleek beauty, perhaps we should remember who “created” her. Howard Hughes, at the helm of his recent acquisition, TWA, wanted a “secret weapon” to challenge all his competition, and in 1939, contacted Lockheed with an offer to buy 35 airplanes of a new specification (his). This interest got the ball rolling, but the engineering team at Lockheed was already ahead of Mr. Hughes and was playing with an even more ambitious project that later evolved into the Lockheed L1049C in 1951. It should not come as a surprise to you that one of that team’s leaders was Clarance “Kelly” Johnson.

    “Turbo-compounding”, you say? Yea!! That’s right! Turbine wheels in a piston engine torquing in another 500+ horsepower directly to the crank (and that was not even related to the super-charging). If this does not justify heavy drooling, I don’t what will. Ahhh, what memories!

    • The “Super G” Constellation came about after Howard Hughes threatened to cancel TWA’s entire order of Constellations when the plane was much slower than the DC-7 and couldn’t reliably make the non-stop run from LA to New York. My dad at Alcoa foundry in Vernon worked with Lockheed engineers to redesign the casting for air inlets, and produced prototypes fast enough to meet deadline for demonstrating 50 mph speed increase/range increase and save the order. Profit on the first 100 aircraft castings got him promoted, as Lockheed had to commit to buy all from Alcoa at very profitable price in exchange for rapid turnaround. Delivered on flatbed to Burbank while still warm from casting shop…

  9. I have 3500 hours in Navy WV2’s (EC121K) and R7V ((C121J), essentially the Super G Connie as a radio operator, 1959 to 1962. The radio operator on the Navy R7V sat right behind the pilot and next to the flight engineer. Standing behind the pilot watching the 500’x8000′ runway come up in the windshield at Naval Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii lit my fire to become a pilot. That was a wonderful time for 20 year old Kansas farm boy.

    I have a pneumatic deicer control panel from a Super Connie in my study as well as the three inch thick flight manual for the above aircraft. D

  10. IMHO
    The Connie was the most beautiful Airliner ever built.
    That another one is flying.
    Look forward to seeing it at Oshkosh!

  11. Never got to fly the Connie , but did get a few years on the DC 6.
    I will never forget the wonderful low rumble of 4 big radials when the props were pulled back to low cruise.

    Since the airplane I was on was operated without a FE, I was introduced to the challenges of interpreting the cathode ray tube engine analyzer. The good news is that in a subsequent job interview, when asked if I had glass cockpit time; I enthusiastically replied “absolutely”.

  12. Had a couple of flights on the MATS Connies, the longest being Charlston to Tripoli. The most memorable aspect, beyond the overall trip durations being augmented by the requisite maintenance delays at each stop, was the reversed seating arrangement. Something about that just never seemed “right”.

  13. Sat in the cockpit of a Connie once. It scared me how cramped is was and how close the front windscreen panels were to Yr eyes. Lots of view blocked by the narrow windows and supports. Claustrophobic, i’d say.
    O heck, flew the B747 for 22 Yrs, forgot how many times I hit the side window mounting screws, trying to look at the outbd engine or wing tip. Being bald wasn’t helpful either 🙂
    Hitch hiking once on a B777, I thought this was a ball room.
    OK, flying CF6 powered (in total close to 17.000 hrs), I NEVER had to shut down or “lost” one. Round engines too like the Connie :), the best 3-engined a/c as the pilots transatlanticking them called it.
    Love the roar however.