Eight Hours from LA to NY

How long does it take, from door to door, to fly from LA to New York?

I bet you can’t do it in less than eight hours.

Despite all the progress we've made since the 1950s, it takes longer to get between the coasts than it did in 1956, if you include the time it takes to get through the ground processes at our airports. The jets move faster, but we lose the benefit of that speed from the congestion at the airports, and the time we spend on the ground dealing with security and making connections.

Air travel was very different in the 1960s. The new jets came on line at that time, replacing the Queen of the Sky, Lockheed Super-Constellation propeller-driven airliners. "Connies" hauled passengers from LA to New York in eight hours. It was a different time for ground operations — the service was like railway ticketing, and passengers could arrive at the airport 15 minutes before flight time and still make their flights.

I remember one day in first grade (in 1965), we watched a bunch of movies about air travel. Now, if you attended US public schools between 1965 and 1975, you watched movies shown on a 16mm projector. The lights went out, the movie started, and it was showtime! Encyclopedia Britannica’s film division distributed and produced many of the educational movies I watched. Other films came from industry groups, and from the PR departments of big corporations. I remember watching them and learning about the wonders of DuPont fibers, IBM Computers, and the TVA.

I don’t know if the clips below were the exact movies we watched that day, but they are representative of what we saw.

Sally Flies to New York!

In this 1956 TWA promotional film, we get to fly with Sally and her friend from Los Angeles to New York on a TWA Super Constellation. Look how quick and easy it is it to get on the airplane, and what the airports look like. You will not see any TSA officers.

New York to San Francisco on United Douglas DC-8

The jet age kicks in around 1960 in this next EB Films story about the United DC-8 aircraft. Until 2010, converted DC-8 freighters hauled packages for Airborne Express and UPS. In this movie, we get to see a pair of kids travel alone, under the watchful eyes of United Airlines, on a DC-8 jet. Lounges were a big deal on the early passenger jets. The Pan-Am 707s had lounges, as did the United's Douglas planes.

Queen of the Sky

The Lockheed Constellation was perhaps the most beautiful mass-produced aircraft. Lockheed designed it in the late 1930s for a specific customer, Howard Hughes. In the Model 49, Hughes saw the backbone of his TWA airline fleet. WWII delayed that plan, as the US Army Air Corps took possession of 12 of these planes.

The original Model 49 went into Army Air Corp service as the C-69. With a unique fuselage shape that bent down and then bent up, the "Connies" managed to average 330 mph on coast-to-coast trips. Pushed by the same Wright Duplex Cyclone engines that powered B-29 bombers, tuned to 2,200 HP, the Constellations benefited from a spectacular power-to-weight ratio, making the planes very fast. In fact, they were fast enough for the second C-69 aircraft to set a distance and speed record of six hours and 50 minutes from Burbank to Washington DC, flown by Howard Hughes himself.

Over 800 examples of the basic plan rolled out of Lockheed’s 6.5 million-square-foot Hall of Giants plant in Burbank, California. Every major airline bought a Constellation or Super Constellation. The newly formed US Air Force bought almost 300. The Constellations were the state of the art for propeller-driven passenger aircraft. The robust airframe and prodigious power generated by the combination of the Cyclones and the special variable props gave Lockheed a great platform from which to offer custom options to the airlines. With ten different interior layouts, airlines could order specifications to make each of their planes unique.

The following video is a cable TV program that takes way too much time to tell the story. Still, it's a good story about how flexible the Constellations proved to be.

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