1/72 Heller C-121J

Gallery Article by Carmel J.Attard on Oct 24 2014



Antarctic Constellations C-121J


As the success of the Constellation became apparent a number of different versions to suite requirements of the airlines were designed. The civil transport version was the ‘H’ model. This was a combination of freight and passenger aircraft that could be quickly converted from one role to the other, or be used in part freight and part passenger service. A total of 53 were built most going to U.S. domestic airlines. 

The US Navy used the Super Constellation for personnel transport and freight purposes as designated R7V-1 (later C-131J). The order was for 65 aircraft but only 50 were delivered as the others went to the USAF and one became a VC-121E Presidential machine and four were converted to turboprop power as R7V-2s.

The Navy Lockheed C-121J/R7V-1 Constellations were used by VX-6/ VXE-6 for transport between Christchurch and Mc Murdo station for various mapping and sampling projects between 1958 and 1971. One of the C-121Js called Pegasus Bu No 131644 arrived in 1964 and crashed during the 1970-71 season while carrying 80 passengers and crew, none of whom were seriously hurt. The crash occurred on the 6th landing attempt after the weather had closed in at Mc Murdo Sound Antarctica beyond the point of no return on a flight from New Zealand.

This aircraft was 1 in 856 and powered by 4 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 engines and distinguished by a triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage. This type of plane was the presidential aircraft for U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The ice landing strip was then named Pegasus White Ice Runway, and the landing field, Pegasus Field, in honour of the aircraft. The Pegasus remains there to this day, buried beneath snow and residing alone in this Antarctic Sound. The Lockheed Constellation does get many visitors for a plane in the Antarctic and often gets parts of it dug out for pictures. There are photographs that display the flying orange Pegasus that is detailed on the side of the aircraft. The Wreck Pegasus Lockheed Constellation is located and viewed with these coordinates. -77.966442,166.428258 (Google Earth photos included at the bottom of my article).  Oddly, some folks at the various research stations there insist that the ghosts of those who have died in Antarctica congregate there at times for unknown reasons. Who knows?

Phoenix was the other C-121J/R7V-IP, which carried thousands of passengers between New Zealand and Antarctica. This aircraft was fitted with a trap to catch live microorganisms in the polar skies. The aircraft returned in 1971 and was sent to Davis Monthan and later scrapped. A third Constellation Project Magnet’s El Paisano was wrecked at Mc Murdo during a trans-polar freight earlier in 1960. 

Pegasus wreck remains the sole survivor of the three. The extreme cold, combined with regular snow covering acts as an efficient material preservative on these aircraft that had been abandoned over the years. Pegasus has lain at Williams Field since 1970, periodically appearing and disappearing with the shifting snow. An initiative to ‘clean up the ice’ could result that at least Pegasus will leave Antarctica for preservation in a museum.

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The kit: C-121J with MAX Decals
Kit No: REF 311
Price: 18 Euro
Decals: US Navy
Type: Injection molded with one decal option

This is the Heller kit same one used in the EC-121 conversion/update kit http://www.modelingmadness.com/review/korean/us/usaf/cja121.htm 

Before starting to make the few alterations that one need to do it is imperative to gather as much information in form of photos via Internet and other literature so that the apparent differences, which are on the outside are noted. This particularly applies to the number of round windows on both sides of fuselage besides other smaller portholes that seem to be on this version. This in effect meant accurately marking and drilling additional round windows particularly to the starboard side, removing the wing tip tanks and shape out a new wing tip made from plastic card, which was cut and shaped to conform to the existing half. A more accurate SAC landing gear replaced the kit plastic gear legs also giving a much sturdier landing gear in view of size and weight of the model that has to stand on its nose wheel. The Heller propeller blades were oversize chord wise and I made reference to Paul Fisher’s set of props from previous build to reshape them in a more acceptable, accurate shape.

Markings and decals
I was surprised to see variations in colours that were added to the Connie during the operational life in the Antarctic. Whereas these always had white top decking, the lower fuselage was silver during earlier missions. This was then gull grey as regards to Phoenix 6. The original day-glow trimming on wing tips and tail units was later altered to international orange while the rudders appeared to be silver at one time and white during later operational life. 

I have used Model Master enamel paint for all colours. As for decal decorations I have used ‘Maxdecals’ double sheet MAX 7211 Antarctic Hercules (part 3 of Antarctic Aviation Series). This included a bonus decal for the Lockheed C-121J as operated by VXE-6 circa 1971. I have slightly deviated from the decal instructions and painted my model with a slight difference after reference to photos. The decals adhered very well and are of excellent quality.

This was a straightforward enjoyable build with little alterations as noted earlier. The Constellation has always been a type that had some fascination to me in its unique slim design. It was a very common type at one time in our skies in both military and civilian forms. Looking hindsight I still think it could have merited with some replacement parts from the excellent Paul Fisher’s engine cowlings and propellers in particular.

Carmel J.Attard

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Aerial view from Google Earth Ground view from Google Earth


Photos and text © by Carmel J.Attard