Why the LAV Tip Tank?


N11SR abandoned in the Kuwait desert in 2006. (Pictures: Mark Pinneo)

Of the six L-749 Constellations and sixteen L-1049 Super Constellations that were operated by Qantas, only one aeroplane existed by 1990. This was the former VH-EAB Southern Horizon which, as N11SR, was abandoned in Kuwait in June 1976. Immediately after arrival from Athens, the crew hurriedly departed the aircraft leaving behind flight bags and other personal items when authorities found irregularities with the cargo. While there have been all manner of fanciful rumours such as suggestions that the crew were using the tip tanks to smuggle alcohol into "dry" Kuwait, the reality is that the cargo was more mundane, consisting of prefabricated buildings. Whatever the finer points of the transgression, the aeroplane was seized, never to fly again. Although there had been an unsuccessful attempt to return the aeroplane to Australia in 1981, N11SR was still largely intact by 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Ironically, it was the liberation of Kuwait by allied air forces that effectively destroyed N11SR.

In January 2006, the wreckage was inspected and photographed by Mark Pinneo. One of the more identifiable components remaining was the right hand wing tip tank. After thirty years in the desert, the paintwork on the tank had faded to reveal an emblem which was determined to be that of the Venezuelan airline Linea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV).

Given that N11SR never served with LAV, one has to wonder how the aeroplane ended her days in the Kuwait desert wearing at least one LAV tip tank. As the L-1049G could be operated with or without tip tanks, it was not unusual for the tanks to be moved around a fleet as required. It should be noted that removal of the tip tank involved removal of the wing tip itself as both were built as a single unit.

Photographs of N11SR show that when the aircraft was acquired by Duncan Baker in October 1974 it was not fitted with tip tanks. Towards the end of 1975, Duncan Baker, by now operating at Lanzair, visited California Airmotive in the United States to purchase various parts for N11SR. Included amongst his purchases was a pair of tip tanks which were reputed to have come from N9723C (MSN 4680, the former VH-EAP). During 1971, this latter aeroplane had been prepared for air racing by California Airmotive. For its abortive foray into air racing and a subsequent movie appearance, N9723C wore a pair of tip tanks which were painted in the Qantas style, although the colours were apparently orange and white.

During the early sixties, California Airmotive had acquired many surplus Constellations and Super Constellations which were subsequently parted out and scrapped. Included amongst these aircraft were four former LAV Super Constellations (MSN 4562, 4572, 4576 & 4577). Therefore, it seems likely that when California Airmotive decided to fit tip tanks to N9723C they would have had a stock of several former LAV tip tanks from which to draw and that the tanks fitted to N9723C included at least one LAV tank which had been over-painted white and orange without stripping the LAV markings. When N9723C was scrapped, its tip tanks reputedly went to Duncan Baker for fitment to N11SR. Even while N11SR was still in service with Lanzair, the LAV markings on the starboard tip tank were beginning to emerge as paint faded and flaked off.

In September 2007, the wreckage of N11SR was formally gifted to Australia's Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) following an inspection by HARS representatives who planned to recover items for display and to support their airworthy Super Constellation VH-EAG (#2). However, the recovery expedition never eventuated and HARS gave their blessings to a recovery mounted by members of the Qantas Founders Museum in 2018.

On 25 November 2018, the tip tank and other items from the aircraft arrived at Sydney on board Qantas Airbus A380 VH-OQD Fergus McMaster which was returning from Dubai after repainting. Significantly, these items had been flown from Kuwait to Dubai onboard a latter day Lockheed product in the form of an RAAF C-130J Hercules. For the arrival in Sydney, A380 VH-OQD used the callsign Southern Horizon Super in homage to her precious cargo. Initially, some of the items were displayed at the Qantas headquarters at Mascot but subsequently they went to the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach for permanent display.

At this time it emerged that the wing tip to which the tank is attached bears the marking "4601 RIGHT". This throws new light on the origins of this particular tank. Manufacturer's Serial Number 4601 was an L-1049G which was delivered to Trans World Airlines in June 1955 as N7120C Star of Heliopolis. In October of the same year the aeroplane was renamed Star of California under which name she continued to serve TWA until November 1963 when the jet age caught up with her and she was withdrawn from service, parted out and scrapped. The wing tip also carries a Modification Plate which bears the Serial Number A20-98 and the letters NWA which suggest that the sub-assembly was originally built for Northwest Airlines which operated four L-1049Gs with tip tanks. An order for an additional two aircraft was cancelled.

LAV ceased all international services in January 1961, nearly three years before MSN 4601 was withdrawn from service by TWA. Therefore it is surmised that as TWA took delivery of Boeing 707s, the Super Constellations were progressively withdrawn from longhaul routes and the tip tanks were no longer required. It is further surmised that TWA found themselves with a stock of surplus tip tanks which were sold to other operators. LAV's first L-1049G entered service in 1956 so it is possible that it was fitted with surplus tip tanks from TWA's stock. This might explain how the tip tank from a TWA aeroplane found its way onto one of the four LAV Super Constellations (MSN 4562, 4572, 4576 & 4577) which were subsequently acquired by California Airmotive. So it is still possible that this tank found its way onto the former VH-EAB via the former VH-EAP.

On the basis of available evidence, it is speculated that the history of this tank went something like this:


Built for Northwest Airlines cancelled order (MSN 4573 & 4574).
Fitted to MSN 4601, N7120C for Trans World Airlines.
Fitted to one or more of four LAV aircraft (MSN 4562, 4572, 4576 & 4577)
Acquired by California Airmotive.
Fitted to MSN 4680, N9723C formerly VH-EAP.
Fitted to MSN 4581, N11SR formerly VH-EAB.

The following pictures were taken at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach on 22 January 2021. They are kindly provided by the photographer, Tom Harwood.


The wing tip and tank at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach on 22 January 2021.


The wing tip and tank at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach on 22 January 2021.


The LAV emblem on the inboard side of the tank.


The LAV emblem on the outboard side of the tank also showing the red navigation light.


The filler receptacle on top of the tank.


The stencil on the inboard rib of the wing tip shows that it was originally fitted to MSN 4601.


This modification plate fixed at the trailing edge of the inboard rib shows that this wing tip and tank was identified by the serial number A20-98. NWA on the first line suggests that this sub-assembly was originally built for Northwest Airlines who operated four L-1049Gs but cancelled their order for an additional two aircraft. Northwest was the first airline to take delivery of an L-1049G with tip tanks.


History of Super Constellation VH-EAB Southern Horizon



Issue Date Remarks
2 29JAN21
Added a selection of images of the tank on display at the QFM Longreach thanks to Tom Harwood.
1 17JAN21
Original issue.

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