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Super Constellation Aircraft

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NASA 420, 421, 422 at Friendship Airport, MD (courtesy BFEC webpage)

At least two Bermudians got to fly on a NASA Super Constellation Aircraft.

Peter Wilson comments " A very special event for me while working there was that I had the opportunity of spending a day up flying in one of NASA's airplanes, a Lockheed Constellation, NASA 421, performing station calibration checks."

Bill Todd mentioned: "Peter was on the calibration aircraft. The calibration aircraft came in to track the navigational aids for the commercial planes landing in Bermuda. Peter was on there a whole day. She took off, let's say about 8:00 in the morning and the flight would finish up around 5:00pm in the afternoon. All that time she was circling, the radars would track exactly where the plane was flying. The radar's job was to make sure that the pattern we saw was the same as what the navigational aids saw. That was the whole idea."

"What Peter didn't say was that they generally would fly from about 4:00 in the afternoon till about 12:30 at night. The reason they did that... they finish up between twelve o clock and one. The pilot told me that any time after twelve o clock at night was counted as a whole day. If he just took a half hour after twelve, that was a whole extra day that he got paid for. I didn't take part in that, we were just doing the actual radar tracking."

"What we did, we would calibrate their equipment. We were saying that we have ground base radar from Bermuda and it goes out to 50 miles, you can see a plane out 50 miles. For instance if the ground base radar says we see you 30 miles off Bermuda. We would also track and say 'ok we agree, we see you 30 miles off Bermuda'. We would compare the two plots of what the ground radar saw and what we saw, just to prove that it was valid information. Also they had other navigational aids along the runway in different places and we would correlate with that and see if we both agreed if that information was correct for planes coming in and planes taking off. That was our job. That was with the NASA plane."

"The NASA plane was a 'Super Connie'. The Super Connie had three had two tails on the outside and a tail in the middle. Now there were no seats in there. It was loaded up with equipment, and if you were in there you sat on a crate. This is not commercial flying, this is military flying. There were no seats."

"When I was flying in the same plane, I had been flying quite a while in there and I didn't know what anybody was saying, we hadn't communicated as to what we were doing exactly. So I went up to the pilots to see what was happening. There were three or four guys in there and they were playing cards. Every now and then they looked over to the radar and say 'yes I see Bermuda down there everything's ok.' and they would go back to playing cards because they were on autopilot. That's how they were flying the plane. It was a bit of a shock, I must admit, to me. You think this is very precision stuff, but they were there playing cards. What they were doing, they were setting up so that when the pilot comes in, when he gets picked up 50 miles off Bermuda; that radar equipment will guide him right in. So he can come in on instruments. The instruments will bring him right in."