Constellation News

Constellation News



Columbine III Moved to New Display Building at NMUSAF – April 25, 2016

VC-121E Columbine III and VC-118 Independence were moved from the old Presidential Hangar at the National Museum of the USAF to the museum’s new Fourth Building on Saturday April 23, 2016. The massive new display hangar will open to the public on June 8, 2016 and will house the new Presidential, R&D, Space and Global Reach/Transport Galleries. The two aircraft joined VC-54C Sacred Cow and VC-137C 26000, which were moved to the new facility on April 9, 2016. Many thanks to Nick Franga for providing photos of the move.


Endangered Connie Hangs on in Santo Domingo – April 19, 2016

Former USAF C-121A 48-611/HI-393 continues to defy the odds and was recently spotted by Andreas Hartmann on a visit to Santo Domingo. Stripped of most of her useful parts in 1994 to support the MATS Connie, the derelict aircraft has somehow avoided a number of mass scrappings at the airport since then. A few years ago she was dragged out of the jungle of vegetation that had enveloped her and spent some time on the hardstand leading to rumors that perhaps a static restoration was in the winds. Nothing became of these rumors and she is back on her tail behind the derelict B707 in Andreas’ photo. Many thanks to Andreas for his photo and report.

Lufthansa Starliner Restoration Project Achieves Major Milestone in March – April 4, 2016

The Lufthansa Technik website reported on March 31, 2016 that structural work on L1649A N7316C had been completed. Project Manager Andreas Pakszies announced in a March 31st news release that “The structure will be concluded by the end of March.” The three small photos included in the news release show what appears to be significant process since my last visit to the restoration hangar in October 2014. Installation of the main frames has been completed, the nose landing gear has been installed and the horizontal stabilizer has been attached. The engine nacelles are in work at a Florida subcontractor and are expected to be delivered in May. Once they are installed, the main landing gear can be attached resulting in the aircraft being back on its feet for the first time since restoration began in 2008.

Another March 31st news release announced that former Lockheed-Martin Engineering VP Tom Blakely succeeded Dr. Rainer Sebus on April 1, 2016 as head of engineering in Auburn. Blakely retired from Lockheed-Martin in 2012 after a 33 year career with the company. He held many senior engineering management positions on programs ranging from the P-3 Orion to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Manila Connie Still Awaiting Shipment to Australia – April 2, 2016 (April 4, 2016 Update)

I received an email from Heinz Rentmeister the other day, which included a photo of C-121J N4247K, which is still at Manila International Airport awaiting shipment to Australia. Hi Ralph, I'm attaching a shot of Winky's Fish Super Connie the way it can be seen from Terminal 3 in MNL. Thought it might interest you. Not a quality shot, just documentary. It seems like activities have come to a standstill. Taken from a distance of about 800m through thick glass and extreme heat on March 8, 2016. Cheers...Heinz   If anyone has any information on what’s delaying shipment, I’d appreciate an email.
As so often happens, the answer to my question unexpectedly appeared two days later on April 4th in a media release issued by the Qantas Founders Museum. According to the release, the early stages of the project have been funded and completed. These include the purchase of the aircraft, extraditing it from the ground, disassembling it, making it ready for towing, moving it to a storage area and preparing it for transportation by ship. With this done, the museum is appealing to businesses and individuals for donations to pay for the shipment of the aircraft from Manila to the museum’s facility in Longreach, Australia. While it will most likely be transported by ship, the museum is also investigating the possibility of shipping it by air using an Antonov freighter. This would avoid the lengthy overland portion of the shipment in Australia.

The museum plans on restoring the aircraft to represent a 1950’s era Qantas Super Constellation, which will involve replacing the U.S. Navy C-121J style round windows with the more numerous square shaped windows found on civilian Super Constellation airliners. To donate to this worthy project, go to the Qantas Founders Museum website donation page and follow the links or contact the museum via email at info@qfom.com.au.

Starliner Ownership Transferred to New Lufthansa Subsidiary – March 25, 2016

Ownership of L1649A N7316C was recently transferred from Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS) to Lufthansa Super Star GmbH (LSSG), which is a newly established subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. DLBS will continue to own and operate vintage Lufthansa aircraft such as the Junkers Ju 52 and Dornier Do 27. LSSG will be responsible for completing the Auburn restoration project and future operations of the Starliner. Due to its non-profit status in Germany and the United States, donations to LSSG are tax deductible in both countries. There have been many rumors lately about the viability of the restoration and this announcement is good news indeed! For more information, check out the LSSG website.

Columbine II Completes Final Leg of Flight to Bridgewater, Virginia – March 23, 2016

The original plan was for Columbine II to depart Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday morning but some pesky fuel leaks delayed departure for a day. The Mid America Flight Museum issued the following post Tuesday afternoon on their Facebook page... "Good afternoon friends.... Columbine II had some fuel leaks that had to be addressed before continued flight to Bridgewater VA... The aircraft's owner sent his King Air to San Antonio for some gaskets of all things.... By the end of the day the leaks were fixed but not enough to time to make the 4 or so hour flight to its final destination.... So the crew is staying in Mt Pleasant one more night. Plans are for the aircraft to leave by 9:00 AM in the morning."
By 8:40am Wednesday morning, all four engines were running and Columbine II and the King Air departed for Bridgewater on schedule at 9:00am. The clear blue skies of Monday and Tuesday had been replaced by clouds with afternoon thunderstorms in the forecast. The first part of the flight was flown below 3,000 feet to stay clear of clouds but further east the weather improved and the two aircraft climbed to 9,500 feet for most of the remainder of the flight. By 1:00pm local time they had reached southwest Virginia and arrived safely in Bridgewater an hour later at 2:00pm. Congratulations to Karl, Brian and everyone else involved in this amazing project!

There are a number of videos posted on YouTube documenting the departure from Mount Pleasant and arrival at Bridgewater.
Departure from Mt. Pleasant
Arrival at Bridgewater #1
Arrival at Bridgewater #2.

Columbine II Departs Marana Regional Airport on First Leg of Flight to Virginia – March 21, 2016

After a 12 month restoration, Columbine II departed Marana Regional Airport today at 9:40am on the first leg of her flight to Bridgewater, Virginia. After a 4 1/2 hour flight, the aircraft landed safely at at the Mid America Flight Museum in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The museum's B-25J "God and Country" and a Dynamic Aviation King Air had accompanied Columbine II on the flight. The Connie will be inspected and, if it goes well, she will depart tomorrow morning on the final leg to Bridgewater. The crew was the same as for Saturday's flight. Check out the museum's Facebook page for videos and the latest information about the flight.

A number of videos were posted on Facebook and YouTube documenting the flight from Marana to Mount Pleasant.
Departure from Marana
Departure from Marana by Chopperguy
Air-to-Air by Erik Johnston
Arrival at Mt. Pleasant by Ethan Garrity
Flyby and Arrival at Mt. Pleasant

Columbine II Makes First Post-Restoration Flight Today – March 19, 2016

At 12:28pm local time today, Columbine II took to the air at Marana Regional Airport for the first time since May 2003. With a crew consisting of pilot Lockie Christler, co-pilot Scott McDonald and flight engineers Tom Woodward and Tim Coons, the aircraft completed an uneventful hour long flight circling the airport. There were about 50 people on hand to witness the flight and I’ve been told that there weren’t any abnormal oil or hydraulic leaks evident after the aircraft landed. Good news indeed! The flight follows a year-long comprehensive restoration by Karl Stoltzfus and the folks at Dynamic Aviation. Congratulations to all involved and I’ll be posting additional information as I receive it.

Columbine II Set to Fly on Saturday – March 16, 2016

I received an email from Dynamic Aviation this evening confirming that VC-121A Columbine II is scheduled to make her first flight since May 2003 on Saturday March 19th. If all goes well, the plan is to start the trip back to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia on Monday. I will be providing updates as I receive them.

MOF Super Connie to Remain on Berm in Front of Museum of Flight – March 15, 2016

The Museum of Flight (MOF) is building a massive facility at Boeing Field to display its collection of larger aircraft. This has resulted in these aircraft being shuffled around its outside ramps and storage areas with some recently being moved into the partially finished building. I received an email from MOF volunteer Bob Bogash yesterday describing the most recent round of shuffling. Bob’s most recent project involved heading up the restoration of the prototype B727 in preparation for a ferry flight from the museum’s restoration facility at Paine Field to Boeing Field for display. Former United Airlines B727 N7001U was donated to the museum and hadn’t flown since arriving at Paine Field in 1991. Getting the airplane ready for the short 20 minute ferry flight to Boeing Field was an ambitious undertaking but, under Bob’s leadership, the aircraft was made airworthy and successfully completed the ferry flight on March 2, 2016 without incident. Bob also led the efforts to obtain the museum’s B737 prototype, its Lockheed Super Constellation and its Concorde. Bob describes the airplane shuffling in his email. “After the 727 arrived at Boeing Field, we moved the Connie off the Berm temporarily so we could move the B-47 off the Berm and into the new Pavilion. The 727 and Connie sat together in the parking lot for almost a week. Today, they were moved to the north end of the MOF complex - also temporarily. The Connie will be moved back to the Berm in the next few weeks. Then, this summer, for Boeing's 100th Birthday Bash, she will be moved back to the north side, with the 247 (to be flown down in the next month) going on the Berm, plus something else - possibly the 727. In October, the 247, AF One, and 727 go into the Pavilion and the Connie goes permanently back on to the Berm.” It’s great news for airplane photographers that the Super Connie will remain in its prominent position in front of the museum rather than being placed wingtip to wingtip in the new Pavilion, which should be completed in 2017.

Dynamic Aviation Crew Back at Avra Valley – March 10, 2016

John Barnitz visited Avra Valley (Marana Regional Airport) on March 8 and found that the Dynamic Aviation team had returned for the final push to get Columbine II ready for her flight to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia. “There were four mechanics from Dynamic Aviation working on her. There was lots of support equipment and a semi-trailer full of tools and supplies. I talked with Brian Miklos who said he was the lead mechanic and he gave me a quick update. There was an electric specialist working on re-wiring some big relays on the table that had been set up underneath the forward crew door. I think these are prop relays since Brian had mentioned that it is hard to find parts for the electric props that are installed on the L749. The plan is to ferry her back to Bridgewater, at the beginning of April. Then they will complete the rest of the refurbishment and he said the plan was to fly it on the airshow circuit.” Many thanks to John for the photos and report.

Good News From Auburn on the Lufthansa Starliner Project – March 2, 2016

I recently received an email with a link to a short video on the Lufthansa Starliner restoration project. The upbeat video was released by Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Stiftung a few months prior to Lufthansa's July 2015 decision to drastically slow down work on the project. This action cast a dark shadow on the program and many wondered if Lufthansa would eventually pull the plug on it.

I'm happy to report that I recently received word from a reliable source that the project continues to move forward at a steady but reduced pace. If work continues at the current level, my source estimated that N7316C would be ready for flight in about two years. In the meantime, the flightcrew, consisting of four pilots and three flight engineers, continues training on the HARS and SCFA Super Constellations to maintain their proficiency and retain their type ratings. In addition to aircraft training, the crews are required to complete a ground refresher course and two days of normal and emergency procedures training in the Berlin Technical Museum L1049 static simulator.

At this point, after almost a year of very little news, steady progress at a reduced rate is great news!

Marana Regional Airport Visit – February 29, 2016

Nigel Hitchman visited Marana Regional Airport yesterday and photographed VC-121A Columbine II and C-121G N105CF. "Columbine II" appears to be very close to being ready for her first post restoration flight and the disassembly of the C-121G continues. As reported by this website on February 2nd, N105CF was acquired by Dynamic Aviation in October 2015 and is being disassembled for transport back to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia. Nigel reports no sign of the Dynamic crew so it appears they have returned to Virginia. Undoubtedly they will be returning soon as I have confirmed that the flight to company headquarters in Virginia is planned for early April.

Columbine II Restoration Update – February 20, 2016

The crew from Dynamic Aviation has had a productive month and Columbine II is nearing her first flight. All four engines have been installed and were run on February 13th. Rudders have been installed and the aircraft completed a brief high speed taxi test at Marana Regional Airport on Thursday February 18th. The "Fighting Classics Aircraft Restoration" page on Facebook captured the event on video along with Joe Prax, who also posted a video on Facebook. BoneyardSafari has featured recent photos of Columbine II on Facebook and Ramón Purcell was kind enough to allow me to include them on this website.

Complaints About Santa Cruz Connie Make the Evening News – February 16, 2016

This 2014 YouTube video has some interesting footage of L049 N2520B, which has been a fixture at a park in Santa Cruz, Bolivia since the early 1970s. While I don’t understand Spanish, the report apparently is about complaints regarding an abandoned and neglected Constellation, which the locals have named “Avion Pirata.” Originally delivered to LAV in October 1946, the aircraft went on to fly with Braniff Airlines from 1955 to 1959, when it was retired by the airline. Acquired by less than reputable owners in late 1960, the aircraft was on a smuggling flight from Miami to Uruguay in July 1961 with cigarettes and whisky when it was "persuaded" to land in Santa Cruz by Bolivian P-51 fighter aircraft. It was stored at the Santa Cruz Airport until being moved to the park in Santa Cruz. For a time in the mid to late-1990’s it was painted as a Pepsi billboard. It was bought by AeroSur in 2003, painted in the airline’s colors and used by a travel agency. With the demise of AeroSur in 2012 the aircraft fell into disrepair as can be clearly seen in the video. The good news is that the aircraft has received a bit of TLC and has been repainted in an overall metal color scheme.

Firsthand Account of 1970 C-121J Crash Landing at Williams Field - February 4, 2016

C-121J BuNo 131644 “Pegasus” was damaged beyond repair while landing at Williams Filed, McMurdo Field in Antarctica on October 8, 1970. The flight was the first of the 1970-71 “Operation Deep Freeze” season and had originated at Christchurch, New Zealand with 80 persons onboard.
Dennis Haddock was onboard that day and recently sent me the following firsthand account of the accident. "The aircraft in question, BuNo 131644, was damaged while making its third attempt to land at Williams Field with only ten minutes of fuel onboard. As the aircraft descended, it was not in line with the runway, which caused the aircraft’s front strut the hit a snow bank tearing off it off and driving the front of the aircraft into the snow. Seconds later the right wing and strut were torn off, spinning us down the ice runway. The aircraft was later moved from Williams Field.”

The bulk of the aircraft is still at McMurdo and thus qualifies as a “survivor.”

Avra Valley Update – February 2, 2016

A Dynamic Aviation work crew is back at Marana Regional Airport in Avra Valley, Arizona working on two efforts. With Bataan's successful ferry flight to Chino on January 14th, the loaner QEC/engine and prop have been removed and a truck was dispatched to Chino to pick them up. The folks at Lewis Air Legends are returning the favor and will be supplying a QEC/engine and additional props for Columbine II's flight to Bridgewater, Virginia. Dynamic’s point man at Avra Valley Brian Miklos says that work is progressing well and he expects the flight to happen sometime in late March. Right now my March and April calendar looks good for a trip to Arizona and hopefully I will be on hand for the departure.

The remains of C-121G N105CF were purchased by Dynamic Aviation in October 2015 and it is being disassembled for shipment back to Bridgewater. The rear fuselage, less empennage, was removed on January 31st as shown in the attached photo.

Recent Report on Sao Tome Super Constellations - January 23, 2016

Arthur Stevens and Carl Bruessow recently visited the two former Nordair/CanRelief Air Super Constellations that were abandoned at Sao Tome after the Biafran War. Arthur posted the following report and photos on Facebook and he and Carl were kind enough to allow me to include them on this website.

"A friend and colleague have just travelled to Sao Tome e Principe - a long held ambition of mine. Apart from travelling from Sao Tome to Principe and back on board a Dornier 228, I asked him to also check out the famous Sao Tome Constellations."
"They are both still there - CF-NAL and CF-NAM, abandoned after the Biafran War in the very early 1970s. Sao Tome formed an important staging post for accessing Biafra, including relief supplies as well of course for arms. Many interesting stories of derring-do and intrigue surrounds operations in these islands during the airlift (see Michael Draper's excellent book "Shadows")."
"For many years they languished in the bush at the airfield but in the more recent past they have both been converted into features of a bar/restaurant adjacent to the airport on Sao Tome. Clearly, although very little in the way of restoration has taken place, it is good to see that they are still there. It remains an ambition of mine to go and visit them in due course! Access to these islands is not especially easy - Air Portugal and TAAG Angola providing links through Cabo Verde and Luanda respectively."


VC-121A Bataan Ferried to Chino for Comprehensive Restoration – January 18, 2016

A veteran flight crew successfully ferried VC-121A 48-613/N422NA Bataan from Valle, Arizona to Chino, California on January 14, 2016. The aircraft had been on static display at the Planes of Fame Museum’s annex in Valle for 21 years and made the flight without incident. As previously reported on this website in 2015, Lewis Air Legends acquired the aircraft in April 2015 and a comprehensive restoration will be performed at Chino. Rod Lewis announced that he plans to put the aircraft on the airshow circuit after the restoration is complete. Congratulations to everyone involved in the effort to get this vintage aircraft airworthy and ferried to Chino. Almost immediately after the flight, a YouTube video was posted showing the departure from Valle. Many thanks to Tom Martin and Michael O’Leary for allowing me to use their photos. The exclusive aerial photos taken by Mr. O'Leary will appear in the April issue of Air Classics Magazines, which can be obtained by calling 818-700-6868 extension 15.

See Constellation News Archive - 2015 For Additional News

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----Created 31 January 2004------Updated 25 April 2016----