EC-121T Warning Star, The Newest Yank
On January 14, 2012 just before noon the only flight-worthy EC-121 Warning Star throttled up its four 18-cylinder R3350’s and sent this Connie barreling down Camarillo’s runway; destination: Yanks Air Museum, Chino airport. Sliding the four throttles forward symbolized the completion of a seven year project to get this super constellation back into the air. Completing the flight from Camarillo to Chino in about an hour, the Connie made one pass above the runway before entering the pattern and making a smooth touchdown. Taxiing to the Yanks hangar seemed to take forever, like the crew and Connie wanted to savor the greatness for as long as possible.
Lockheed, including the legendary Kelly Johnson, sought out to meet the airlines’ challenges to provide a 40-passenger transcontinental aircraft – design on the Constellation began. With the outbreak of WWII, Constellations were converted to C-69s for military transport. In 1954 the EC-121 was introduced to provide airborne intelligence gathering, much like the AWACS role in the modern era. The EC-121s could be immediately identified from other Connies by their two large radomes, one on top and one on the bottom. While the Constellations provided dignified military service, civilian Constellations were very successful airliners setting many records; some that still stand today.
Yanks’ EC-121, now N548GF, was delivered to the US Air Force in the summer of 1955 to be part of the 552nd Airborne Early Warning Wing at McClellan AFB in California. Through its career, the aircraft spent time in Florida, Taiwan, South Korea, Iceland, and finally to Davis Monthan for storage in 1978. The aircraft was acquired by Yanks in 2004 and underwent restoration to flight worthy status into 2012.
Walking up the airstairs and crawling through the forward door into the airplane felt like an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everything about the inside of the aircraft was very interesting; so many things on that airplane just aren’t seen anymore. A flight engineer station has gone the way of the dinosaurs, including its separate throttle levers from the pilot’s throttles. A navigator’s station has been replaced in most aircraft by a small screen that receives a satellite signal. The electrical intelligence equipment all was dated and had a nostalgic 50’s and 60’s look to it – radiation hazard warnings and all. Everything about this constellation screamed cool nostalgia; even the smell – if smells scream. In an era where things get smaller, simpler, cleaner it is refreshing to see firsthand the complexities of the past: racks of electronics with all the exposed connectors, switches galore, lots of boxes with lots of buttons, and the quintessential circular yellow screen radar display. The complexity isn’t better shown than by the 18 member crew – in some cases the crew was in excess of 30.
As usual, being near a radial engine monster is a moving experience – walking over after shutdown with the smell of exhaust and oil lingering in the air, watching museum workers scurry over to place pans under the engines to catch the oil from the engines, and just basking in the sheer excitement of the crowd upon seeing this Connie. During flight it seems as if engine three decided to leak a little more oil than normal from the otherwise steady streaming radials. A close inspection of the pictures shows a brown wavy line down the fuselage – that’s oil, and a lot of it. But who cares? It’s a radial, they leak oil, that’s life and a mighty fine one at that. The little intricacies like that made this event really special; all too often are we concerned about noise abatement, lowering CO2 and NOx emissions, higher fuel consumptions, and more passengers per flight; while these are all noble pursuits, once in a while it’s refreshing to throw that all to the wind, burn tons of fuel – the louder the better, leak oil, make a low pass, and firewall the throttles.
The arrival of N548GF to Chino adds the largest aircraft to the Yanks collection of more than 170 aircraft. The Yanks collection is the largest private collection of American WWII aircraft; many of their aircraft are the last surviving examples of their kind. All aircraft are restored to original condition and are flight worthy, the only non-factory modifications are those required by the FAA to fly the aircraft in the national airspace system. This EC-121 is another exemplary piece of aviation history that fits well in the Yanks collection. Big thanks go out to Yanks for hosting the arrival of their aircraft so a small group could stand in awe as tons of fuel was burnt and oil spilt in the name of bringing this lumbering beauty home. The Yanks Air Museum can be found at: http://www.yanksair.com/
You can contact the writer, Matt Shinavar, at firstname.lastname@example.org