When the Lockheed Model 89 Constitution was retired in 1953, the U.S. Air Force expressed some interest and decided to purchase the two prototypes. The Military Air Transport Service (or MATS in short) needed large capacity transports that could carry both troops and materiel in large quantities. However, the two R7V-1s were not adapted to the demands of modern transport, and uphauling them proved more complicated than building two new aircraft.
Lockheed was asked, therefore to produce two off-the-shelf fuselages that could receive brand new swept wings with underwing jets on pods and a brand new tail. The Air Force requested that the wing's shape and engine configuration follow closely those of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, which had recently entered service. In effect, the wings of the resulting YF-136 Super Constitution (or Model 1089) appeared like scaled-up B-47 wings with beefed up General Electric J47 jet engines. The bottom deck became all cargo, while the top deck windows were fashioned after those of the Super Constellation. A nose radome was installed and a newer, modern cockpit introduced. The latter would soon serve as a basis for that of the Hercules.
The Navy briefly considered ordering two more examples as the R9V-1, but this plan fell short when they realized they did not possess enough facilities and landing fields adapted to a transport aircraft of that size. Attempts by Lockheed to market the type on the civilian market also failed. The two Super Constitutions were the pride and joy of MATS but were used only from November 1954 until June 1963, a short lifespan which can be explained by the fatigue of the fuselages, conceived just after the war for straight wings and props, and therefore not optimized for jet engines or swept wings.
"Don't believe everything you read!"
© Stéphane Beaumort / AviaDesign 2010