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Chuck L., Medina, Washington
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Lockheed VC-121A

In 1948, the U.S. Air Force ordered from Lockheed ten Model L-749 Constellations and designated them C-121As. The type had a strengthened floor and a large cargo door fitted to the aft fuselage, but could also be fitted with a removable 44-seat passenger cabin, or house 20 stretchers for medevac missions. The ten aircraft (AF serial #s 48-0608 through 0617) were delivered between December 1948 and the first part of 1949 and were based at Westover AFB as part of the Atlantic Division of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS).

Within a short time, eight of the aircraft, including Bataan, were involved in the Berlin Airlift, making almost continuous Atlantic crossings delivering cargo to England or Frankfurt, Germany, for onward transport. Their long range was a big factor; the eight flew over 5 million miles during the Airlift.

Shortly after the conclusion of the Airlift, the C-121s were withdrawn from service and flown to Lockheed for conversion to high-speed VIP transports for the U.S. Air Force. The cargo interiors were removed, extra windows were added, and weather radar was fitted to the nose, resulting in the familiar, more pointed nose. The C-121A was the first type in USAF service to be fitted with weather radar.

After conversion, the aircraft were assigned to various VIPs. Number 613 became the personal aircraft of General Douglas MacArthur and was used by him during his time as Supreme Commander Allied Powers during the Korean War.

He named the aircraft Bataan after a peninsula in the Philippines. Bataan was the last stronghold of MacArthur's American forces defending the islands against the Japanese in 1942.

The General flew many notable missions in the Bataan, including his famous meeting with President Truman on Wake Island, and 17 missions over the Korean battlefields. His last flight took him back to San Francisco after he had been fired by Truman for making political statements. The aircraft was thereafter used by his successors, Generals Ridgeway and Clark.

Subsequently, the airplane was assigned to the ranking Army General in the Pacific and was based at Hickam AB in Hawaii. It served in this role until its retirement from Air Force service in 1966. At that time, all the C-121As were sent to Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, for storage. Many were stripped of military equipment and sold to civilian operators, ending up in Canada as fire fighters and bug sprayers. No.613 was luckier and was assigned to NASA for use in conjunction with the Apollo space program.

Redesignated as NASA 422, the airplane was refitted with banks of sophisticated computers, tracking equipment, and communications gear used to calibrate the many air and ground based tracking and communications relay stations around the globe used to keep in constant contact with orbiting spacecraft. In order to fulfill this mission, the aircraft was flown over the Caribbean and Pacific. With the cancellation of the Apollo program in 1970, #422 was sent to the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, AL, for public display.

After 20+ years on display in the open, #613 was given a new lease on life when Planes of Fame Air Museum acquired her for its collection. After a full restoration to flying condition, the airplane was flown to Texas where she was outfitted with an exact reproduction of her original VIP interior. She was flown to Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino, California, and is now on permanent display at the Planes of Fame Valle/Grand Canyon facility in Valle, Arizona.


Status: Flyable Length: 95 ft. 2 in.
Manufacturer: Lockheed Height: 22 ft. 5 in.
Year: 1950 Maximum Speed: 330 mph
Model: VC-121A Constellation Cruise Speed: 324 mph
Serial Number: 48-613 Power Plant: 4, 2,200-hp Wright R-3350-75 radial engines
Crew: 5 Range: 2,400 miles
Max T/O Weight: 107,000 lb. Service Ceiling: 25,000 ft.
Span: 123 ft. 0 in. Armament: none