There seemed to be a renewed interest in Lockheed’s “Queen of the Sky” in 2007 with quite a number of restoration projects underway. The biggest news of the year has to be the sale of Maurice Roundy’s three Starliner Constellations to Lufthansa in December. 2007 was also the year that Bob Bogash and the Museum of Flight were finally able to overcome the Canadian legal system and move their Super Connie south of the border for restoration. Ten years after arriving at Dover AFB, Delaware, the staff and volunteers of the Air Mobility Command Museum are finally putting the final touches on their ex-Capitol International Airways L1049E Super Connie masquerading as a C-121C. Ninety-five miles to the west at Dulles Airport, another C-121C project is wrapping up. On November 28th the National Air and Space Museum moved their C-121C into the Udvar-Hazy Center for display. The irony of the situation is that the folks at Dulles wanted a civilian Super Connie while the AMC folks wanted a C-121C but the logistics and expense of swapping the two aircraft were prohibitive. Further south in Santo Domingo, VC-121A HI-393 was freed of vegetation, put back on all three landing gear and towed onto the hardstand. Rumor has it that its owner is planning to restore it for display. Very exciting news if it proves to be true! In Nantes, France Super Connie F-BRAD was rolled out of the paint hangar in full Air France colors sporting her former Air France registration F-BGNJ. The Australian group HARS, which operates Super Connie VH-EAG, plans on rescuing long time Tucson scrapyard resident EC-121H N51006 and transporting her to Australia. Now that’s quite an ambitious project for any group! Wing corrosion repairs to Camarillo’s resident EC-121T were completed in April 2007 but the aircraft remains at Camarillo awaiting its final flight to Chino for display at the Yanks Museum. On a sadder note, the Airline History Museum in Kansas City is in organization turmoil and well on its way to self destruction with its president, Foe Geldersma and a number of other key members resigning in protest.
a long way since arriving at the museum in 1997, the serious enthusiast will immediately notice that the aircraft just doesn’t look right. Other than some minor details, including window placements, the feature that will catch the enthusiast’s attention is the short radar nose. All C-121C’s had an extended radome, which incorporated a plug/fairing to mate the forward fuselage to the radome. With many hundreds of military and civilian Super Connies incorporating the longer radome, you’d think it would be a fairly simple task to find one to put the finishing touches on the restoration. If you thought so, you’d be wrong! The museum has been searching for a radome and adapter plug for over a year with little success. The airplane needs a new nose and hopefully someone reading this article knows about one sitting in someone’s barn or shed collecting dust. If you can help, please contact Mike Leister, Director of the AMC Museum at (302) 677-5939.
Maurice Roundy's three Starliners N7316C, N8083H, and N974R were sold at auction on December 18, 2007 to Lufthansa’s historic flight foundation Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DBLS) for the amazing sum of $748,000. According to an article published in the December 19th edition of The Portland Press Herald, two other parties were qualified to bid on the aircraft, including Carlos Gomez, but neither was apparently prepared to outspend the German’s for the three aircraft. I spoke to Maurice after the December 18th auction and he said the bidding was fast and furious and was over in less than 10 minutes. Maurice was philosophical about losing the aircraft. “I’ve owned and cared for the airplanes for almost a quarter of a century; half of their life. I have tried to do everything I could think of to get them restored and back into the air. Now it will be someone else's job. During my stewardship, I accomplished keeping them from getting scrapped.”
Steve Keenan, of Keenan Auction Company, gave me his perspective of the auction..."We had a successful auction and it appears everyone came out a winner! I took an entirety bid for the two planes in Auburn which included the parts and manuals. That high bid was $200,000 and Lufthansa was the high bidder. I then set that bid aside and took bids for the planes individually on a high Bidders Choice format. That means that the highest bidder gets to choose which plane or planes they want. We had three parties qualified to purchase all the planes, and we had three bidders qualified to purchase individual planes and all six were competing for the right to choose which plane they wanted, neither really knowing which plane the other wanted. Lufthansa was the high bidder at $225,000 per plane and made the decision to choose all three and the planes were sold. The parts and manuals sold for $5,000. The total of the bids was $680,000 plus 10% bringing the total purchase price to $748,000."
According to an article published December 20th on the SunJournal.com website the new owners have reached a tentative agreement to build a 50,000 square foot hangar at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. The article goes on to say that the Germans plan on restoring at least one of the vintage aircraft. According to Rick Cloutier, the airport director, "On Tuesday, right after Lufthansa bought the planes, company and airport officials signed a letter of intent. A formal agreement is expected soon." Cloutier went on to say that "Tentative plans call for two of the planes to be used for spare parts to get the best of the three flying."
On January 10, 2008 the Lufthansa Technik Group confirmed on its website that DLBS had asked the Hamburg based aircraft manufacture, repair and overhaul (MRO) company to perform the restoration. The restoration work will be performed in the US by current and former Lufthansa employees and local “experts”. Having participated in the restoration of all three aircraft during the past twenty-five years, Maurice Roundy is an encyclopedia of knowledge regarding L1649A Starliner aircraft. Hopefully he will be part of this very
exciting restoration. Acceptance flights and training of flight crew will also be performed in the US with the ferry flight to Germany tentatively planned for 2010. The guessing game now begins to which aircraft will be restored. While N974R would be the obvious favorite due to its Lufthansa lineage, it is in poor condition due to corrosion and is not a good candidate for a flying restoration. Former TWA aircraft, N8083H and N7316C, are in relatively good condition and are much better candidates for restoration. Although it is missing two engines that were donated to N974R for its October 2001 flight, Maurice claims N7316C is in the best condition of the three aircraft and would be the easiest aircraft to get back into the air. All propliner enthusiasts owe a debt of gratitude to Maurice...if not for his efforts all three aircraft would have long ago been scrapped.
Museum of Flight L1049G
After a long and somewhat contentious struggle, the Museum of Flight’s (MOF) L1049G Super Constellation CF-TGE/CF-RNR finally crossed the Canadian-US border on June 7, 2007 at 2:00pm EDT. The aircraft arrived safely at the Empire Aero Center (EAC) in Rome, New York that evening after many hours on the road. Bob Bogash, MOF’s project manager, breathed a sigh of relief that the aircraft was finally on friendly turf and restoration could proceed.
Since being retired from airline service in 1968, the Super Connie had been disassembled and moved by road around Canada five times by folks not schooled in the fine art of aircraft disassembly and transport. EAC assigned Kevin Lacey to lead the project and over the next few months a careful damage assessment was made. I visited EAC in August 2007 and saw the aircraft for the first time. To say the least, the exterior was in less than pristine condition and Kevin had upped the estimate on completing the restoration to a year. Complicating the task is the current upsurge in Constellation restoration projects, which has made airframe parts scarce. As a result, many of the missing and damaged parts will have to be fabricated.
After completing the assessment, the first order of business was to get the landing gear assemblies restored and get the old girl back on her feet so she could be moved into a hangar. Work progressed on the landing gear and by late October the wings and refurbished landing gear were ready to be installed. The big day for attaching the wings to the aircraft and installing the landing gear arrived on October 26th. The 16-hour day started with decent weather but by the time the old lady was finally back on her feet, it was cold and rainy. As a result of the inclement weather, Kevin Lacey, caught one heck of a cold and was down for almost a week! Kevin finally recovered and it was time to get the aircraft out of the elements and into a hangar so that restoration could continue. On Friday November 2nd, riding on her newly refurbished landing gear, the Super Connie was towed into a hangar where restoration could begin in earnest.
I paid a visit to EAC the following Monday and a crew was already busy at work tending to the aircraft. Kevin has lots of challenges to deal with in the next six months: missing parts that will be hard to find; damage due to the many moves over the years by less than careful movers; extensive corrosion; and the obvious lack of workers with specific Constellation experience. The restoration is scheduled to be completed in spring/summer 2008 after which she will be disassembled one more time and moved to the Museum of Flight in Seattle for display. The mode of transportation has yet to be decided but I’m sure Bob Bogash will have the details worked out long before the move date. Bob’s excellent website offers extensive coverage and photos of the project.
Air Mobility Command “C-121C”
An interesting restoration project is finishing up at the Air Mobility Command (AMC) Museum at Dover AFB, Delaware. A former cocktail lounge has been transformed into a fairly decent replica of a C-121C military transport. For almost thirty years, the L1049E Super Constellation sat atop a restaurant in Penndel, Pennsylvania complete with a wet bar and parquet wood dance floor. The aircraft was disassembled in 1997 and moved from Penndel to Dover AFB by road on October 25, 1997. With a number of projects in the queue before the Super Connie, the restoration had to wait until July 2003 when the aircraft was reassembled using engines, props, landing gear and the rear cargo door from NC-121K BuNo 141292. (BuNo 141292 was unfortunately scrapped in 1999 after the demise of the Florence Air and Missile Museum in Florence, South Carolina. It was the last U.S. military Constellation in service when it was retired in June 1982 and flown to the museum for display.)
After assembly, the aircraft was moved to the museum’s restoration hangar where the cargo door was installed, sheet metal repairs were made and restoration of the interior began. Since retirement from airline service, the aircraft had accumulated numerous coats of paint containing all sorts of nasty and toxic chemicals. With the details of paint removal worked out with the Dover AFB environmental folks, the aircraft was moved to the wash rack in April 2007 and multiple layers of paint were removed using a power washer. Underneath were the remnants of the 1960’s era Capitol International Airways markings she wore while in service with that airline. Painting in MATS colors began in June 2007 and by mid-July the job was complete, including the false serial number 40315 (54-0315). While the aircraft has come
National Air and Space Museum C-121C
Under a cloudless blue sky and bright sunshine, the National Air and Space Museum’s (NASM) C-121C Super Constellation made a 45-minute trip across Dulles Airport on Wednesday November 28, 2007 to her new home at the Udvar-Hazy Center. The aircraft, 54-0177/ N1104W, had been undergoing restoration and painting at the old Independence Air hangar by a dedicated team of United Airlines volunteers and NASM employees since August 2007. Hangar doors were opened, team photos taken and at 10:15am 54-0177 was rolled out into the morning sunshine to an enthusiastic group of United Airlines, NASM and airport employees that had gathered to witness the event. The aircraft had been painted in USAF colors and the results were stunning. It was an absolutely superb effort by the restoration crew and quite a transformation from her forlorn appearance just a few months ago. After being photographed thoroughly by the group, it was time to start the slow trek across the airport accompanied by a convoy of vehicles. Seated in the cockpit was Don Burbank, a UAL executive at Dulles who had secured UAL sponsorship of the restoration and Gary Berrian, an aircraft maintenance tech who led the UAL restoration crew. All long the route airport workers stopped what they were doing and those with cameras photographed the old Connie as she slowly passed by. On arrival at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the giant door at the south end of the museum was opened to allow the Connie to take her place next to the Air France Concorde. By 2pm, after a little bit of jockeying to avoid some obstacles, she was properly situated in her new home and the door was closed. Props, rudders, elevators and markings still need to be installed and, when this is completed, the museum plans to have a ceremony “welcoming” the new addition. The museum is also exploring the possibility of restoring the interior and opening up the aircraft up for tours by museum visitors!
Santo Domingo VC-121A
It appears that VC-121A HI-393 has come back from the dead. Stored at Santo Domingo for many years in near derelict condition, vegetation and bees nests had pretty much taken over the aircraft. It was a big surprise in early 2007 when the aircraft was freed from the vegetation and moved to the paved tarmac where she sat on all three landing gear for the first time in many years. This aircraft had been stripped clean of useful components during the
late 1990’s to keep fellow VC-121A, The MATS Connie, flying. Mike Mumford photographed the star of Santo Domingo’s “boneyard” on June 11, 2007 where rumors around the airport suggest that there are plans to restore the aircraft. Other than missing components and some obvious damage to the rear fuselage and vertical stabilizers, the aircraft appears to be in remarkably good condition. Let’s hope the rumors prove to be true and restoration becomes a reality in 2008.
On April 16, 2007, Nantes Airport resident, Super Constellation F-BRAD/F-BGNJ emerged from the paint hangar at Nantes Airport in 1950’s Air France colors. Although not an official rollout, Air France President Jean-Cyril Spinetta was in attendance to witness the big event. It was the first time enthusiasts, photographers and volunteers had seen her in bright sunshine and it was quite a sight to behold. The restoration was being performed by volunteers from Amicale du Super Constellation, which is part of the Aeroscope Association. These efforts came to a halt in August when the group was denied access to hangar because it apparently fell within a restricted military area of the airport. Although the military no longer uses this area, it still is under their jurisdiction and the group has requested a special authorization to allow access. While they wait for the military bureaucracy to make a decision, restoration work has ceased and the Super Connie sits in the hangar awaiting the return of the volunteers. This turn of events has put a serious crimp in the group’s plans. Additional detail paint work still needs to be completed and along with quite a bit of interior work. The group had hoped to have the restoration completed in 2007 with the aircraft being put on display at the Aeroscope Museum in 2008 but this is obviously not going to happen now. Good luck to the group and hopefully 2008 will see the resumption of their efforts.
Tucson Boneyard EC-121H
In 2007 long time Tucson scrapyard resident, EC-121H 53-0535/N51006, was sold by the Super Constellation Flyers Association (SCFA) to Australia's Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS). The aircraft, once on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum, was donated to SCFA in 2001. SCFA harvested spare parts, including the nose gear and rudders, for the ill-fated restoration of C-121G N105CF at Avra Valley. More recently, in November 2006, the upper radome and other parts were salvaged to repair hurricane damage to EC-121K BuNo 143221 at the Navy’s museum in Pensacola, Florida. HARS president Bob De La Hunty confirmed that the organization plans to move the aircraft to Australia where it will support the organization's airworthy C-121C VH-EAG and be part of the HARS museum. Its great news that another Connie facing an uncertain future will be saved.
I visited the Camarillo Airport on April 19, 2007 to see how things were progressing on preparing EC-121T 53-0548/N548GF for a ferry flight to Chino, California. The Yanks Air Museum has been in a protracted struggle with the FAA over issuance of a ferry permit to make the one-time flight to the museum’s facility in Chino. During my visit, three Yanks Air Museum mechanics were working on the aircraft finishing up corrosion repairs to the outer wing panels. Access panels had been removed on the lower surface of both wings and they said they were in the final stages of the repairs, which were expected to be completed in the next few days. With repairs completed there has been no activity at the aircraft since April. I contacted Frank Wright at the museum in January 2008 and he told me that there wasn’t much going on with the project. Hangar building continues at Chino with a total of 150,000 square feet under roof and the museum will probably “put the Connie back on the books “during the summer of 2008. Hopefully this aircraft will make her final flight to Chino in 2008 for display at the museum’s facility.
Airline History Museum
Over the past few years most of the news coming out of this Kansas City based organization has been bad. Once the preeminent Constellation operation in the world, they seem to have succumbed to organizational infighting which threatens the survival of the museum. The bad news started in July 2005 when the #2 engine on Super Connie N6937C suffered a catastrophic failure during a routine engine run up. After spending more than $100,000 on an ill-fated engine rebuild, a replacement engine was installed and the aircraft had a successful four engine run up on July 10, 2007. This ended two years of frustrating technical setbacks but the aircraft was still facing serious roadblocks to getting back in the air. In August 2007 Foe Geldersma resigned his position as Airline History Museum president and chief flight engineer as the result of a dispute within the organization’s leadership. Most of the mechanics and flight engineers joined him in resigning. Foe was one of two AHM members who could sign off maintenance work and the only member who was authorized to train flight engineers. With the loss of the organization’s “brain trust” the FAA took a hard look at the qualifications/experience of the mechanics performing maintenance work on the aircraft. To make matters worse, members report that a lawsuit has been initiated by the new leadership team. It’s a very nasty situation and, unless the warring parties resolve their differences, the permanent grounding of the organization’s gorgeous Super Connie is not out of the question.
Constellation Survivor Website
Continuing updates regarding news on these aircraft and others can be accessed on this website, which is dedicated to documenting the continuing history of the 50+ surviving airframes. Much of the material presented on the website is obtained from correspondents around the world and I welcome any updates readers might have for inclusion in the website. Please contact me by email.
I’d like to thanks all those who have shared information and photos with me. Without them this article would have not been possible. 2007 was also the year that Peter J. Marson’s long awaited Constellation update was published by Air Britain. The two volume book was not a disappointment and was well worth the wait.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: AMC Museum, Pierre Biron, Javier F. Bobadilla, Bob Bogash, Dave Crosby, Mike Mumford, Graham Robson, Ralph M. Pettersen