THE NASA CONNIES

 

Super Constellation NASA 420 taxys past the Perth control tower on 29 June 1968.
(Picture: Geoff Goodall)

 

Super Constellation NASA 421 at the Qantas Jet Base at Sydney on 30 December 1966.
(Picture: Ron Cuskelly)

 

As a result of Australia's participation in the Apollo space programme there were regular visits by two NASA Lockheed C-121G Super Constellations in the late sixties and early seventies. These aircraft were operated by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and were specially instrumented for the purpose of testing ground tracking stations. They were also equipped to conduct simulations to prepare ground station operators for forthcoming space missions. The NASA aircraft were unusual in that for a time they carried neither military serial numbers nor civil registrations.

 

The NASA Super Constellations that Visited Australia

 

Identity
Type
MSN
Remarks
NASA 420
C-121G
4143
SEP63
  Leased to NASA as NASA 420.
25JUN69
  Registered N420NA.
23JAN73
  Withdrawn by NASA.
23AUG78
  Sold by Dept of Defense and scrapped.
NASA 421
C-121G
4159
SEP63
Leased to NASA as NASA 421.
25JUN69
Registered N421NA.
02FEB73
Withdrawn by NASA.
23MAR77
Sold by Dept of Defense and scrapped.

(Source: 1)

 

 

Australian Visits by the NASA Super Constellations
NASA 421
30DEC66
Photographed at Sydney.
NASA 421
09JAN67
First flight on engineering tests with Honeysuckle Creek tracking station. Subsequent flights occurred on 10, 11, 12, 17 & 23 JAN67 with the aircraft based at Sydney.
NASA 421
03JUL67
Tests at Honeysuckle Creek until 08JUL67.
NASA 420
11SEP67
Tests at Honeysuckle Creek until 29SEP67.
NASA 421
02MAY68
Delivered priority cargo for Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley stations.
NASA 420
29JUN68
Photographed at Perth.
NASA 421
02JUL68
Arrived for tests at Honeysuckle Creek. Only flights were 05 & 06JUL68.
NASA 421
14NOV68
Conducted simulations at Honeysuckle Creek for the Apollo 8 mission until 28NOV68. Apollo 8 launched on 21DEC68.
NASA 421
26NOV68
The power recovery turbine on #1 engine failed. A replacement engine was flown to Sydney on NASA C-54G NASA 427.
NASA 420
12APR69
Arrived via Alaska, Japan and Philippines for Apollo 10/11 tests at Honeysuckle Creek until 20APR69. Apollo 10 launched on 18MAY69. Apollo 11 launched on 16JUL69.
Note: With effect from 25JUN69 the aircraft were registered N420NA and N421NA
but the source document continues to identify the aircraft by their NASA numbers.
NASA 421
01DEC70
Conducted simulations at Honeysuckle Creek for the Apollo 14 mission until 07DEC70. Apollo 14 launched on 31JAN71.
NASA 421
18JUN71
Arrived to support Honeysuckle Creek for the Apollo 15 mission until 23JUN71. Apollo 15 launched on 26JUL71. (Note: The aircraft is not identified in the source document but see 24JUN71).
NASA 421
24JUN71
N421NA Departed Sydney for Pago Pago. (Source: 4)
NASA 421
05MAR72
Arrived to support Honeysuckle Creek for the Apollo 16 mission until 28APR72. Apollo 16 launched on 16APR72.
NASA 421
13MAR72
After the conclusion of Carnarvon simulations, #4 engine failed. A replacement engine was flown out from the USA and fitted at Perth. The unserviceable engine was donated to what was then the Air Force Association Museum. At the time of writing. the engine is still on display at the Aviation Heritage Museum at Bull Creek, WA.
(See picture below)
NASA 421
11NOV72
N421NA arrived Perth from Darwin. (Source: 7)
NASA 421
20NOV72
N421NA departed Perth for Canberra. (Source: 7)
NASA 421
23NOV72
The aircraft arrived for the final tests at Honeysuckle Creek until 26NOV72. While the aircraft was en route from its base at Baltimore, the crew had been informed that the aircraft would be withdrawn from service on completion of this mission. (See schedule below)

(Source: 2 unless shown otherwise)

 

The unserviceable Wright R-3350 engine which was removed from NASA 421 at Perth in March 1972 and donated to the Aviation Heritage Museum at Bull Creek, WA where it is displayed as the only tangible reminder of NASA's Super Constellation operations in Australia. (Picture: Aviation Heritage Museum, WA)

 

 

The Schedule of the Final Visit to Australia by a NASA Super Constellation

 

Note that this document was issued on 02OCT72 and is therefore subject to change.
RON indicates Remain Over Night - not the compiler!

(Source: 6)

 

AUSTRALIAN TRACKING STATIONS SUPPORTED BY THE NASA CONNIES
Carnarvon, WA Built in 1963 for the Gemini program. Closed in 1974.
Honeysuckle Creek, ACT Built in 1966 for the Apollo program. Closed in December 1981. Antenna moved to Tidbinbilla.
Orroral Valley, ACT Built in May 1965 for tracking earth orbiting satellites. Closed in December 1985.
Tidbinbilla, ACT Commenced operations in December 1964. Tidbinbilla is now the only NASA tracking station operating in Australia.

(Source: 5 & 6)

 

SOURCES
1
Peter J. Marson, The Lockheed Constellation Series, Air-Britain, 1982.
2
Bob Burns, Instrumented Aircraft Visits to Honeysuckle Creek for Apollo.
3
Apollo launch dates are sourced from Wikipedia.
4
Gordon Reid, Essendon Newsletter No. 54 Aug/Sep 71.
5
https://www.cdscc.nasa.gov/Pages/other_history.html
6
https://www.honeysucklecreek.net/ (An excellent source of more information on NASA ops)
7
Geoff Goodall. Personal observation.

 

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
1
23JUN18
Original issue

 

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