Across The Pacific in a U.S. Navy Super Constellation

March 2016

Larry Eystad recently sent me an email recounting his February 1963 flight from Korea to Travis AFB in California in a MATS R7V-1 Super Constellation. While the 22-hour flight had its moments of excitement, the Navy flightcrew and Super Connie delivered the full load of passengers safely back to the United States.

I was an Army Specialist 4th Class returning to the U.S. after a year in Korea in February 1963. Leaving Korea, the flight was delayed for three hours for maintenance on the plane. The Connie was an R7V-1 Navy model with a full load of military and dependent passengers. I was nervous and excited to be going back home. After flying for about two hours, we made our first stop at a large airbase in Japan where we stayed overnight before heading to Midway Island the next morning.

A young woman with two or three small kids was obviously terrified of flying and she was sweating buckets and herding the kids this way and that. We felt badly for her but then one of the pilots took her up to the cockpit and sat her in the right-hand seat and showed her all the instruments and controls. This calmed her down.

Midway Island is only slightly longer than the runway and from the air it looked like a postage stamp. Very tiny! We had a nice lunch and laughed at the silly gooney birds (albatrosses) that call Midway Island home. I noticed one of the pilots banging on the underside of the wing with a metal rod. He looked way too young to be flying a large four-engine military transport. When we took off, I swear the plane ran out of runway before we lifted off and it seemed like we went a mile before we gained some altitude. I could see the spray on the wave!

A thousand miles from any land, electrical smoke began filling the cabin and the pilot came down the aisle with a flashlight looking into small trap doors in the floor. I was absolutely sure we were going down and I shook hands with the soldier next to me. I wasn't frightened but I felt warm and fuzzy and remember thinking, "So this is how it ends....I hope we don't suffer." Later, someone said the smoke was from a burned out ventilator motor. We also went through some turbulence with the engines bouncing up and down several inches and the wingtips bounced even more. Those old planes were very flexible!

It was night when we got close to Hawaii and the engines were trailing blue flames several feet long. I hoped that was normal. The air was thick with the smell of flowers at the airport, which was wonderful. After a short time to refuel, it was off to California. That plane had no carpets and probably little insulation because the noise was so loud that I had to yell to my seatmate for him to hear me. After we landed at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, half of the guys were so happy to be back in the good ‘ol USA that they got down and kissed the ground. I couldn't hear for the next day as a result of my 22 hour trip exposed to the super loud noise in the Connie. The photos of Constellations on your website bring back fond memories…it was a beautiful airplane.

Larry Eystad
March 2016

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----Created 19 March 2016----