In 1943, the first Lockheed Constellation rolled off the production line at Burbank California with its eye-catching triple-tail design and dolphin shaped fuselage.
Powered by the same 18 cylinder Wright R-3350, turbo-charged Duplex Cyclone engines installed in the later B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Super Fortress, the Lockheed Constellation was the first fully pressurised-cabin civilian airliner to go into worldwide production
During the post-war period, the Constellation, with its ability to fly high above bad weather quickly became the airline of choice with TWA initiating the first transatlantic service between New York and Paris in 1946. Two years later, Pan American Airways commenced the first scheduled round-the-world service. The age of affordable and comfortable air travel had arrived.
A number of Constellations were also purchased by the USAF and designated C-61's. Used as post-war military transports, they played a intergal role in the breaking of the Soviet blockade around Berlin immediately after the close of WWII.
The Soviet occupation forces in East Germany had blocked the Allies' road, railway and canal access to large sectors of Berlin under Western control in an attempt to pressure Allied forces to withdraw the newly introduced Deursche Mark from West Berlin.
In response, Allied forces quickly organised the Berlin Airlift to supply the entire city. For the next twelve months Allied planes and aircrews from the US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand and South Africa flew over 200,000 missions to supply West Berliners with essential fuel and food.
Eventually the Soviets released their grip on the city but it was to set a dangerous tone for East/West relationships for the next two decades.
The post war era was a time of great uncertainty and distrust between western powers and those of the Soviet Union and emerging China, as nations jostled to exert their influence whilst attempting to curtail the perceived expansionist ambitions of the other.
With the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China embarking on a massive modernisation of their armed forces and the first use of a nuclear bomb against the Japanese mainland still fresh in everyones minds, the United States were desperate to create a bulwark to counter communist expansion and the threats it might present to the US mainland.
As a consequence, the US government placed an order with Lockheed to produce a militarised version of the civilian aircraft, equiped with two large radomes (a vertical dome above and a horizontal one below the fuselage) with the latest in radar and electronic eavesdropping capabilities to serve as first US airborne early warning system.
Introduced in early 1954 the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star carried a flight crew of six with 11 - 25 radar crew, with a range of over 3,700 nautical miles. It was to become the linch pin of the two US ‘Barrier Forces stationed off each coast of the North American continent.
The 'Barrier Forces' consisted of 5 surface picket stations each manned by radar destroyer escorts and air wings of EC-121s patrolling the picket lines at 1,000–3,000–12,000 ft in 6 - to 20-hour missions. Their objective was to extend early warning coverage against surprise Soviet bomber and missile attack and were the forerunners of today's AWAC early warning systems.
Additional air-wings were also activated during the during the US/.Soviet Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and with continued political instability growing in South East Asia after the Korean War, the 553rd USAF Reconnaissance Wing were despatched to Thailand, flying up and down the coast of Vietnam and over Laos and Cambodia monitoring the build up of north Vietnamese forces.
During the Vietnam War, the EC-121’s were used extensively from 1956 through to 1974, to support US military operations such as Operation Rolling Thunder - the sustained aerial bombing campaign against North Vietnamese ground forces and Operation Linebacker - the USAF and USN’s air interdiction campaign against Vietnamese fighters and supporting infrastructure.
The EC-121’s provided early radar warning of approaching Mig Interceptors whilst also acting as an airborne fighter control. This role was to gradually increase with additional squadrons being stationed within South Vietnam and providing monitoring capabilities of the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi.
With the increasing threat of MiG interception, The EC-121’s missions became increasingly dangerous as the aircraft carried no armament itself, instead relying on air protection from the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and carriewr launched, Douglas A4 Skyhawk.
This vulnerability was bought tragically home in 1969 when a North Korean MiG 21 fighter intercepted an early EC-121 in international airspace off the coast and effortlessly blew the Lockheed EC-21 out of the sky, killing all 33 of its crew.
It was reported that President Nixon was so incensed at the unprovoked attack he came perilously close to ordering a nuclear strike against the North Koreans and it was only the intervention of the then Foreign Ambassador Henry Kissinger that a major nuclear conflict was averted.
From that time on, all EC-121 combat patrols were conducted with fighter cover and if for some reason the fighters were unable to meet up with the Lockheed, its crews were briefed to abandon the mission and return immediately to base.
During the hight of the Vietnam conflict, 40 EC’s had their radomes replaced and modified with ground sensors to detect enemy movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Code named Operation Batcat, the EC-121 were camouflaged in the standard 3-colour Southeast Asia scheme and flew 18hr missions over South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Gulf of Tonkin.
During their operational life, 232 EC-121’s were produced by Lockheed for the USAF and US navy with the last being retired in 1982 as they were gradually replaced with the more advanced Boeing E-3 Sentry AWAC.
All Lockheed EC -121 Warning Star Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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