Howard Hughes grand TWA Connie stunt infuriated top brass

April 25, 2021
Military and TWA officails pose with the Lockheed Constellation. Colorized by Benoit Vienne

Howard Hughes’ grand Connie stunt of painting a military aircraft in Transcontinental & Western Airlines ( TWA ) colours infuriated the US top brass.

According to the late Jon Proctor, who was a guest editor for, Howard Hughes wanted to publicize the new Lockheed Constellation (Connie), for which he was the driving force.

Lockheed was building the Constellation, originally for TWA, but WW11 saw production switched to the US Air Force.

With an eye to post-war commercial transport, Hughes saw a great opportunity to wave the TWA flag and that of its flagship the Constellation.

And the best way was to break a transcontinental speed record on a Burbank to Washington, D.C., flight in April 1944.

According to Lockheed, the Connie averaged 331 mph, flying nonstop in six hours, 57 minutes, and 51 seconds on this flight.

But the military top brass was totally blind-sided by the TWA paint job and expected the Constellation to roll up in drab olive military guise.

Hughes himself and the airline’s chief Jack Fyre were at the controls and there were 17 passengers on board Proctor reported.

When the Connie arrived in Washington DC, General Henry “Hap” Arnold was furious at the “TWA paint job” stunt but graciously posed for photos with Hughes and others.

General “Hap” Arnold with Howard Hughes. Colorized by Benoit Vienne.

According to Lockheed after setting the record, that aircraft was returned to the military and during service testing at Wright Field, Ohio, Orville Wright, who had made the first powered flight, made his last flight, serving as copilot on a test run.

According to after the war on Feb. 5, 1946, the first international flight dubbed “The Star of Paris,” a TWA Connie, lifted off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport destined for Paris via Gander and Shannon.

TWA continued to expand international service with inaugural flights to Rome, Athens, Cairo, Lisbon, and Madrid during the spring of 1946 with the Connie.

The airline was now a major domestic and international air carrier. In 1947 TWA offered the first scheduled transatlantic all-cargo service. On October 30 1955 they put Super G-Constellations into international service from Los Angeles to London.

In 1950 the airline changed the “W” in its name from “Western” to “World” as befitted its new span.


  1. Wonderful article, and surprising new image showing TWA president Jack Frye peering out of cargo bay door as Hughes descends. That said, TWA planes were officially changed to Trans World Airline in 1946, as service was initiated to CDG (Charles de Gaulle Airport) and Trans World Airline(s) shortly thereafter. Thanks for remembering the Camelot Years of TWA!