Ready for Take Off in the Super Connie
by Paul Zitzer
As we walk towards the L1049 Super Constellation HB-RSC, I am feeling a shiver down my spine as always when approaching the big beautiful ship.
We, that is Ernst Frei the skipper Rolf Harlacher the flight Engineer and me the Co Captain. We take seats in the somewhat crammed cockpit with no plastic parts what so ever, all solid cast iron, and proceed with our extensive checklists.
Ernst is giving us the ever important take off briefing, a vital important point at this particular Airport of Samedan Switzerland, 5600 Feet ASL. Decision is reached, to take runway 03 down the valley despite a slight tailwind of 4 Knots and the high density Altitude
I ask for startup clearance and soon after Ernst receives the" clear tree" from our ground crew, Rolf pronounces" turning tree" I stick my head out of the tiny side window watching the gigantic number 3 prop turning is no easy task. After counting 12 slowly turning blades Rolf shouts "Mags on" and the big Curtis Wright 3350 belches to life.
The ever numerous onlookers watch delightfully the dense smoke emerging together with large flames from those huge exhaust stacks.
Cleared to back-track runway 21, after all four engines running, we need about 5 Minutes for the run-up at the threshold 03. Ernst hands the controls over to me and asks for barometric power. Rolf confirms all engines running perfect and off we go at full power. The music is on. No jet will ever sound like this. Speed is rising fast. The 4 big turbo compounds developing 13'000 horse power together accelerate the 50 tons at an amazing pace. I am hearing Ernst calling V1 (Rotation) as the end of the runway is approaching at 96 Knots IAS, increasing. Slowly but steadily I pull back on the yoke until I hear the familiar clunk of the nose wheel strut hitting the stop.
A few seconds later she is airborne and I am asking Ernst for Gear up. Accelerating in a shallow climb to 145 Knots and 400 feet AGL only takes a few minutes.
Climb is now at about 700 feet per minute, clean, towards Zernez where we turn left to cross fluela pass at 8500 feet. Flying the Super Constellation could be compared to driving an old London city bus. She is somewhat sluggish at the controls and it takes a considerable amount of force to tell her to do what you desire. If in a steep turn, you let the nose drop more than 10 degrees, it will take all your strength to pull that nose back up on the horizon.
So it happened to the writer on his first flight in the Mojave Desert losing about 600 feet of altitude during the process. Landings are straight forward once you get used to flaring at the correct height. Sometimes during a flight, we look at each other realizing what a fantastic job we are allowed to do, flying one of the very last Connies Worldwide.