by Ron Cuskelly & Patrick Stansfield



In 1973, the Rolling Stones rock group came "Down Under" on their Far East Tour. To a certain section of Australasian society, their visit is remembered not so much for their music or their celebrity but rather for what they brought with them. Transporting the Stones' sound and lighting gear was a veteran Lockheed 749 Constellation which turned out to be the last of its type to appear in the skies of Australia and New Zealand. For this it is fondly remembered to this day.

In those days, such a tour was breaking new ground and discovering new challenges with logistics. Much of the sound and lighting equipment had to travel with the group, not so much because the performers demanded it but because such equipment was simply not available in the countries on the tour. In those days, taking a tour "on the road" was not like the multi-million dollar extravaganzas that we have come to expect as the norm today. Indeed, when the Stones went on tour in 1973 it was very much a low budget operation. Whereas today's promoters would think nothing of chartering a Boeing 747 freighter, the logistics managers of the Stones' tour had to set their sights much lower. Their budget determined that the freighter of choice would be a twenty-six year-old Lockheed Constellation which had been built for the Dutch airline KLM in 1947. Even an afficionado of fine old propliners would have to concede that this once beautiful aeroplane was now best described as decrepit.

The Stones' tour of Australasia was promoted by the Paul Dainty Organisation. Arranging transportation for the Stones' sound and lighting gear fell to Production Manager, Patrick Stansfield. (Patrick went on to become the Production Manager of choice for many famous performers until he retired in 2002). Enquiries eventually led to Miami, Florida and Air Cargo International which was just one of many companies owned by the enigmatic Lance Dreyer whose name had become synonymous with the Constellation during the twilight years of an airliner once considered to be the Queen of the Skies. By the time KLM's former PH-TET Tilburg was sold to Dreyer's Unum Inc in March 1972 she had already led a hard life with several owners and numerous flights to and from South American destinations with indeterminate payloads. She also featured prominently in the Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness surveillance reports. Patrick Stansfield takes up the story:

 

The decision to use the Connie was random and happenstance, a result of tight budgets and the frugal management of Peter Rudge, the Stones' U.S. manager. I had commissioned my broker Mr Marsh Brownfield of BCC to find a charter that fit our limited budget as the Japan & Hong Kong shows were cancelled just before the Tour. Air Cargo International provided the aircraft and crew, barely. Once the aircraft reached us they never funded the operation in any way. It was up to me to draw cash from the local promoters to buy fuel, pay landing fees, and meet other operating costs. The ship was flown into Long Beach by the co-pilot Brooks A. Moore. The Captain, Charlie Rector, joined at Long Beach for the leg to Honolulu. As Brooks had no ticket to fly this aircraft type, the entire enterprise began in violation of FAA regulations, for which Lance Dreyer was cited and I believe fined eventually. Captain Rector was also a navigator so in addition to doing the take-offs and landings he had to take the occasional sighting through the periscope sextant in the Connie's cockpit roof. Ricky Riccatelli of Buffalo N.Y. was Flight Engineer and he babied the old girl, replacing cylinder heads between each flight leg. This changing of cylinder heads became a daily ritual as Ricky took replacement parts from a box of spares carried on board. We all became accustomed to the "tap-tap-tap" of chisel on anvil as Ricky shaped replacement fibre head gaskets which he then coated with a gunk known as "Forma-Gasket", a large tin of which was included in the flight spares.

The aircraft arrived in Honolulu during our two day stand at the Neil Blaisdell Center. (All the stage gear had been freighted to Honolulu with Pan Am). I had taken a Quonset hut on the back side of the old Honolulu runway on "Rotten Row" where we loaded and reloaded 77G trying to get enough of our tech gear to fit into her as we could. It's worth noting that she carried all band music equipment, sound system, and eight "Super Trouper" type arc spotlights custom painted in bright colors. These took up about 1/3 of the aircraft. As we loaded the aircraft for the third or fourth time, the FAA developed an interest and set a watch to make sure we did not depart without resolving several issues they had with the ship. For a time it seemed unlikely we could get in the air. A conversation regarding weight and balance between Brooks, and the Stones' English Stage Manager Brian Croft went something like this:

Brian: "Brooks old man, how heavy do you think the cargo actually is?"

Brooks: "Well Brian, 17,500 pounds as per the manifest."

Brian: "Ah yes the manifest... but what would you say if I told you the cargo actually weighed 26,000 pounds?"

Brooks: "Well shit man, she ain't gonna climb like no homesick angel."

We waited in the Quonset hut for a clear time and eventually the FAA car went away (perhaps for lunch - I never knew). We scrambled the crew, and loaded the sandwiches and coffee. The Captain arrived at the last minute by taxi and off she went probably madly overweight. Also on board the Connie out of Honolulu as "Cargo Masters" were Lighting Director, David Noffsinger and Stage Sound Director, David Pelletier. On arrival in Auckland, Paul Dainty was there to meet the aircraft and he was horrified at the sight of the Constellation.

 

John Tedesco, owner of Phoebus Lights, San Francisco, with seven of the eight brightly painted "Super Trouper" arc spotlights which took up one third of the Connie's cabin on the Rolling Stones tour of Australia and New Zealand. (Photo: Patrick Stansfield Collection)

 

N7777G departed Honolulu on 6 February 1973 and arrived at Pago Pago, American Samoa after just over 22 hours flying time since leaving Long Beach. Meanwhile, on the same day, the Rolling Stones departed Los Angeles for Sydney by airline. After a night stop, the Connie departed for Auckland, New Zealand where it arrived on 8 February having crossed the International Date Line. The first Australasian concert by the Rolling Stones was a daytime performance at Auckland's Western Springs Stadium on Sunday 11 February. Later that day, N7777G set off for Brisbane, Australia where the next concert was scheduled for Wednesday 14 February at the Milton Park Tennis Courts which was then the largest venue available. (More recently, the Milton venue has been demolished for residential development. Brisbane now has several world class stadiums as well as a modern tennis centre).

The day after the Brisbane concert, the Rolling Stones and more particularly the Connie, were in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Under the headline "Stones' Worst Kept Secret", the Brisbane Telegraph reported that, during a routine search of the Connie, Her Majesty's Customs had found "a grass-like substance hidden on board".

 

 

One could be forgiven for thinking that this was to be expected on an aircraft used previously for transporting livestock but nevertheless, subsequent analysis revealed the substance was indeed six grams of cannabis. Patrick Stansfield takes up the story:

 

I had arrived in Brisbane the day before the Connie arrived (I never did travel on the Connie) and I had arranged for Customs to do their search of the stage gear at the Milton venue so they were searching an empty aircraft. I was the person at Eagle Farm Airport to whom H M Customs Agent Reg Standiford presented the offending bag of grass-like vegetable substance. In fact the substance was the illegal herb and it was found in the side wall between the plyboard panel and the exterior skin of the aircraft. Apparently it had been given as "flight provisions" for the long overwater jumps from Honolulu to Auckland, stashed and missed by the NZ Customs fellows. Arriving trans-Tasman at the old Eagle Farm Airport the Aussies found it within about three minutes of swarming over the aircraft with kitbags full of mirrors and long tongs, etc. Remarkably enough, though it generated screaming headlines in the tabloids, the incident came to naught legally. I stonewallled the officers commenting: "It wasn't on the ship when it left Auckland, and there are three Americans and three Australians here now to pick from so shoot your best shot!" In fact, despite a subsequent microscopic search of the gear at Milton Park Stadium by an assembly line of HM agents, no other contraband was found and the incident never resulted in charges being brought against any member of the crew or the passengers. During the searches, Lighting Director, David Noffsinger felt that he had been singled out for special attention, perhaps because he was the only one on the Connie carrying a surfboard!

I was aided in handling the aircraft all round the capitals by Mr Doug Laurie, Cargo Manager for TAA who sent a telex out to render all assistance to me and N7777G in our travels. The aircraft was unpopular with the TAA engineers and loaders as it fairly rained oil and hydraulic fluid from all possible points nose to tail necessitating tarpaulins to protect the tarmac hardstands.

Sound Stage Director, David Pelletier, remembers being covered in hydraulic fluid even before leaving Honolulu. He also recalls: "I swear to God that thing hurt my hearing. It was louder than a Double A Dragster for almost 24 (expletive) hours. Like a thousand hammers hitting the outside of the fuselage with no let up."

 

The day after the Brisbane concert, N7777G departed for Melbourne where the next concert was scheduled for Saturday 17 February at the Kooyong Tennis Courts. In fact two concerts were held on the Saturday with another on the Sunday. Adelaide was next on the itinerary with concerts at Memorial Drive Park on Tuesday and Wednesday 20/21 February. All the stage gear was trucked from Melbourne to Adelaide by Comet Transport while the Connie remained in Melbourne for maintenance. Trans-Australia Airlines internal correspondence states that TAA contracted to unload 20,000 pounds of equipment in Melbourne and to perform a 100 hourly service on the Connie. For the purposes of this contract, the owner of the aircraft was shown as Sunday Promotions of Houston, Texas (President Lance Dreyer). The contract stipulated that all services rendered would be paid for in cash by the aircraft captain. The 100 hourly service would be under the supervision of the aircraft Flight Engineer who would also sign the aircraft out. TAA worksheets show that the service was carried out over the period 15 to 18 February but the aircraft log books show that the engines were run at Melbourne on 20 February. As part of the service, the aircraft batteries were serviced, requiring the supply of two gallons of battery acid. TAA documents also record the allocation of two manhours to paint the leading edges of the fins and tailplane (see photo). (Patrick Stansfield recalls this work and believes that it was for reasons of cosmetic appearance). Curiously, a TAA memo dated 2 February 1973 names the Captain as J.E. Carlin. At the time this memo was written, N7777G was still in Miami so it is presumed that Captain Rector was a late substitution for Captain Carlin. (see Footnote)

On Wednesday 21 February, N7777G positioned empty from Melbourne to Adelaide. After the Stones' second Adelaide concert, the Connie positioned to Perth on 22 February. The Adelaide visit was memorable because of the clash between a local bikie gang and the Police! Again the group's equipment was roaded from Adelaide to Perth but N7777G was not exactly empty on this sector. Popular belief has it that the Stones never travelled on the Connie. Not so, as Patrick Stansfield explains:

 

Keith Richards was the only Stone to fly in the Connie and that was on the empty Adelaide to Perth leg. He and his chums fitted it with wall hangings, oriental pillows and diaphanous curtains to give a sort of "Casbah" look and feel to it. I am sure the smoking lamp was lit, and much fine spirits were consumed. I believe that Bobby Keys the trumpet player was along on that run along with some pretty people for decoration and fun. The cabin must have been bloody hot on the ground and likewise cold at 3000m as there was NO insulation at all, just a plywood liner to keep the cargo from punching holes in the skin. David Pelletier said that Keith once told him that he couldn't believe how loud it was inside. Damning criticism coming from a rock muso! This pleasure flight may have been the reason behind the attempt to improve the appearance of the aircraft with some cosmetic paintwork on the tail.

 

The Perth concert was held at the famous Western Australia Cricket Ground (The WACA) on Saturday 24 February.

Noted Australian aviation historian Geoff Goodall was on duty in the Perth control tower when N7777G arrived and departed. He recalls:

"Such were our shifts, that I was on a morning shift in the Tower on 22 Feb, 0600-1300 coming back the same evening at 2300 for a run of night shifts 2300-0600. Early that morning the young trainee whose job was to tear the flight plans off the teleprinter and make up a strip for each flight, looked up and asked blankly 'What's a L749?'. I leapt out of my seat to look at the plan, and was quite excited at the prospect of seeing a Connie. The departure message came from Adelaide, which gave an ETA around 3pm that afternoon, so I decided to make the ultimate sacrifice and wait in the Tower after the end of my shift, rather than the usual rush home to hit the sack before coming back for the night shift. I was rewarded by watching him land on RWY 24, giving me time to rush down the tower steps and out on to the main apron to photograph the Connie taxiing to the Ansett Air Freight parking area.

"I returned to the Tower at 11pm that night, noticing that the Connie was a hive of activity surrounded by trucks and being loaded. Its flight plan came on the teleprinter, and to my surprise it read 'PH-SY DCT VFR B050', filed by some US flight ops planning company in Houston. Under Australian ANRs, VFR was only available up to 12,500lbs AUW (Kingair), and VFR at night had to plan above LSALT along the route, 'Below 5000' was not acceptable. So I had the unenviable job of telling the gnarly old Captain when he called up, that he had to submit a new IFR flight plan - but I offered to take it over the radio for him. He asked me what the heck he needed to plan, so between us we cooked up a legitimate plan. I pointed out to him that as soon as he left controlled airspace 40 miles from Perth, he would be on his own all the way until 40 miles from SY, as long as he stayed south of Alice Springs, when he could choose his own level. I clearly remember his 20 minute run-up at the holding point for RWY 20. I wasn't going to miss that, so told the two B727s getting ready for the RedEye back to Melbourne that I'd be off frequency for 5 minutes and went out on the Tower balcony to enjoy the sounds of his mag checks. The Connie crew didn't have any SID plates, so I just gave him Runway heading to get him away, but he climbed so slowly that he went over Jandakot Airport to the south before I could let him turn East to get above the Perth ranges. Curiously, they used a callsign of 'November Triple Seven Golf' in and out of Perth."

The day after the Perth concert, N7777G headed back to Sydney with all the stage gear for the final concerts at Royal Randwick Race Course on Monday and Tuesday 26/27 February. Patrick Stansfield recalls:

 

For the Sydney concerts, the Stones made their entrance in a grand, powder blue coach drawn by four horses. They were illuminated from about a quarter mile away by the eight strong "Super Trouper" arc lights imported by lighting and design legend Edward Herbert Beresford "Chip" Monck. These amazing arc lights were chosen by Mr Monck as his signature for the tour, and were all painted in different bright, saturated enamel colors for effect as they resided sometimes onstage and reflected the band in a giant forty foot wide by sixteen foot high array of mirror panels hung over audience and stage. The "Super Troupers", which were sold to Paul Dainty's partner Ron Blackmore after the tour, may still be in existence in Australia today. Mr Monck now resides in Australia.

 

The nature of the Australian venues would tend to support the popular belief that Australians care more for their sport than they do for other cultural pursuits! Fortunately the nation has matured and all capital cities now have several fine performance venues.

With the tour concluded, the Rolling Stones departed Sydney on Wednesday 28 February for various overseas destinations. The Connie was loaded up with all the stage equipment and departed Sydney for Nadi, Fiji on 1 March. Another stop was made at Pago Pago and the aircraft finally arrived in Honolulu on 3 March after crossing the date line. After two days for crew rest the Connie departed for Long Beach on 5 March but that's not the end of the story. Patrick Stansfield explains:

 

I was in Long Beach awaiting the aircraft to arrive from Honolulu when I received a message from N7777G:

"Lost prop, returning HNL".

I sent a query for amplification and received the terse legendary message from the Co-Pilot Brooks A. Moore:

"Prop in drink repeat returning HNL love Brooksie. Over and out!"

David Noffsinger told me that that the owner, Lance Dreyer, wanted the crew to ferry the aircraft to Long Beach on three engines but this would have required an FAA permit. The FAA had not forgotten the earlier incident when N7777G departed Honolulu overweight and without a clearance so they had the crew in for a little sit down chat.

I shipped most of the freight back to Los Angeles on Pan Am as it was rental gear, leaving only transformers and cables to lighten her load. The FAA permitted her to continue after Lance reappeared and was duly cited I guess.

All in all without the friendship and efforts of TAA, particularly Doug Laurie of TAA Cargo, the whole operation would have collapsed. Trucking was arranged by our friend Ted Edwards of Comet/Kwikasair. It was Ted who kindly introduced me to Doug Laurie. Without TAA's assistance N7777G never would have flown at all over the free blue skies of Australia.

 

Presumably the FAA mandated that an engine change was required because it wasn't until 24 March that N7777G resumed her voyage home when she departed Honolulu for Los Angeles International. This brought to a close Seven Seven Golf's involvement in the Rolling Stones Far East Tour but more adventures were to come.

Eventually N7777G returned to her Miami base on 4 April and later did the odd charter to the Caribbean and Central and South America. On one such flight to Iquitos in Peru, the hydraulics failed while landing on the short strip. After bringing the aircraft to a halt at the end of the runway, the crew incurred the wrath of airport management by abandoning the aircraft where it came to rest. Later it was towed to a parking area where it sat for ten days awaiting parts from Miami. In November 1973, the aircraft went to Lanzair (Channel Islands) Ltd under a lease/purchase agreement. The owner of Lanzair, Captain Duncan Baker, operated several charters within the USA but on 5 December the aircraft departed for Amsterdam via Gander with a load of produce. The prodigal KLM veteran had returned to her old stamping ground in typical Connie fashion - on three engines! The aeroplane sat at Amsterdam until 18 February 1974 when it was ferried to Coventry, UK for further maintenance. Lanzair had booked a livestock charter from Dublin to Tripoli on 8 March 1974 but the owners of the aircraft sent its own crew to operate the charter. After the Triploi charter, the aircraft positioned empty to Dublin where it arrived in the early morning of 10 March. It transpired that this was to be the last flight for N7777G. There then ensued a lengthy legal dispute between the owners, Lance Dreyer's Air Cargo International and the lessee Duncan Baker's Lanzair. This dispute kept the aircraft impounded at Dublin. As so often happens in these situations, while the lawyers fiddled, the aircraft sat at Dublin deteriorating in the weather with the occasional engine run until both parties lost interest in the aeroplane. Duncan Baker's Lanzair resumed operations with Super Constellation N11SR which had once flown for Qantas as VH-EAB Southern Horizon. A full history of this aeroplane can be found here.

Many chickens came home to roost on 22 September 1975 when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a lien against N7777G. The document read in part:

 

Please take notice that on September 19 and November 21, 1972 and during the period February 5, 1973 through April 4 1973, civil aircraft N7777G, a Lockheed Constellation, was involved in various alleged violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations, and is therefore subject to the priority lien established by Section 901(b) of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, as amended, [49 U.S.C. 1471 (b)] to secure civil penalties for which the owner/operator is subject by reason of the violations, and is subject to seizure by the United States of America under the authority of Section 903 (b) (2) of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, as amended [49 U.S.C. 1473 (b) (2)]. Litigation is now pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, seeking full recovery of civil penalties for which the owner/operator is subject by reason of the operation of the aircraft, and such aircraft N7777G may be seized at anytime by the United States of America.



So there!

By December 1977, with Lanzair having lost interest in 77G (and also N11SR which had been abandoned in Kuwait!), the High Court in Dublin lifted its injunction on the aircraft so it could now depart Dublin. Clearly though, anyone wishing to do so would be well advised to give the USA a wide berth. Although there were expressions of interest from museums and potential operators, none were of substance until March 1982 when the Connie was purchased by Aces High Limited. This company had gained fame from providing aircraft for the fondly remembered television series "Airline". The show centred around the post-war operation of DC-3s by the fictitious airline Ruskin Air Services. With a second series in prospect, Aces High hoped to use the Connie so with this in mind it was placed on the U.K. Register as G-CONI in May 1982. Although Aces High painted their name on the Connie, the registration was never applied to the aircraft. While work was continuing on making the aircraft airworthy, the prospect of film work evaporated. Whether it was this development or a growing appreciation of how much the aeroplane had deteriorated after eight years in the weather, any prospect of flight also evaporated.

Fortunately, the historical value of the aircraft was recognised by the London Science Museum and in June 1983 this organisation acquired the Connie for 45,000. Having established that a ferry flight was not economically viable, the aircraft was dismantled and transported by road and sea to the Science Museum's facility at Wroughton where it arrived in August 1983. During the ensuing twelve months, the aircraft was restored to static display standard in the sixties colours of Trans World Airlines but still carrying the registration N7777G. The choice of TWA livery is puzzling given the aeroplane's genuine KLM history and the fact that it never flew for TWA but perhaps it is appropriate to recognise TWA as it was the most prolific operator of Constellations and Super Constellations. The most important thing is that the aeroplane has found a secure and honourable retirement. Certainly she's earned it.

 


Log of the Rolling Stones Far East Tour 1973

 

Chronology of N7777G

 


N7777G Photo Gallery

(click for a larger image)

Brisbane 15 February 1973
Brisbane 15 February 1973
Melbourne February 1973
Perth 22 February 1973
Miami 27 August 1973
Dublin 25 April 1982
Dublin 4 May 1983
Dublin 4 May 1983
Dublin 9 August 1983
Science Museum U.K.

 

FOOTNOTE


Captain Jim Carlin and (it is believed) Flight Engineer Rick Riccatelli lost their lives in the crash of another Connie not long after the Rolling Stones tour. On 9 June 1973, Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N173W (c/n 4674) was taking-off from Casey, Quebec in Canada when it crashed into trees soon after take-off and was destroyed by explosion and fire. The third crew member, First Officer A. Condey, was also killed in the crash. The aircraft had been modified for spraying pesticides on forests and it was engaged in these operations on the day of the crash. The investigation revealed that the flaps had been retracted prematurely after take-off. N173W was previously owned by Lance Dreyer's Unum Inc. The Stones' Connie N7777G was to be re-registered N173X but this was not taken up.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Patrick Stansfield
Is the legendary stage manager who, along with Bill Graham of FM Productions, launched the modern music concert format by creating and popularising the arena rock business. After a lifetime in show business, Patrick today heads Patrick Stansfield Associates Inc of California although he now considers himself to be semi-retired. In addition to the Rolling Stones, Patrick has managed productions for such legendary performers as Barbra Streisand, Santana, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tina Turner and many others.

Ron Cuskelly
Once went to a concert.

 

CONTRIBUTORS


The authors wish to thank the following without whose assistance this story might never have been told. Special thanks go to Peter Marson, a world authority on Constellation and Super Constellation histories. Peter's work features prominently in this history of N7777G. Much of the information in this article was extracted from the log books of 77G which survive with the aeroplane in the Science Museum at Wroughton, UK. This information was extracted by Peter Marson. The Webmaster records his thanks to co-author Patrick Stansfield.

Peter Marson
Geoff Goodall
Gordon Reid
Fergal Goodman
Ron Killick
David Noffsinger
David Pelletier
Chip Monck

 

2014 Postscript

 

 

After an absence of 41 years, The Rolling Stones returned to Australia for a concert tour which was scheduled to commence at Perth Arena on 19 March 2014. The Stones arrived in Perth on 16 March from Singapore on board the chartered Boeing 767-216ER ZS-DJI which bore the familiar Rolling Stones logo. Sadly, the concert tour of Australia and New Zealand had to be postponed before it even started because of the death of Mick Jagger's partner, L'Wren Scott, in New York on 17 March. While Mick Jagger flew to the United States via Sydney on commercial flights on 19 March, the other members of the group departed Perth on the 767 on 20 March bound for Bateen Airport, Abu Dhabi, UAE from where they returned to their homes on commercial flights.

 

 

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
4
21MAR14
Added details of the postponed Australasian tour of March 2014.
3
30OCT13
Added an image of N7777G during maintenance in Melbourne in February 1973. Thanks to Robert Zweck.
2
27AUG13
Added an image of N7777G at Miami after the Rolling Stones tour.
1
06MAR11
Original issue

 

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