Constellation News

Constellation News


The 2020 edition of the Propliner Annual was published on April 23th. As its title implies, Propliner Magazine is totally dedicated to Propliner aircraft and is a “must-have” for any aviation enthusiast and especially Propliner enthusiasts. Orders for this bumper 160-page publication can be placed at www.propliner.co.uk


June 2020 Dynamic Aviation Visit – July 24, 2020

I made my annual visit to Dynamic Aviation on June 23rd to check on the on-going restoration of VC-121A 48-610 Columbine II. For a full report on this visit, check out the article I posted on this website. Many thanks to Karl Stoltzfus and the folks at Dynamic Aviation for their hospitality.

TWA Hotel Starliner Damaged During Storm – June 29, 2020

Jeroen Bakker stayed at the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport during a May 30, 2020 layover and took the opportunity to have a look at the hotel’s Connie Cocktail Lounge. While the lounge is closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he was able to walk around the aircraft and noticed that the right elevator was damaged and lying on the ground.
"When I arrived at the hotel I immediately went over to see the plane. It is beautifully restored and the (fake) propellers including the spinners look awesome. Well done for the purpose of static display. Not seen before a 100% identical as real propeller/spinner on static planes like this one. "
"However, when you walk around the plane at the tail you see a great disappointment. Someone has hit the right elevator and it is completely broken off. It is lying on the ground next to the plane. Also the left lower rudder is hit by something and is somewhat displaced."

"The reason I write to you is that you may know someone who is closely related to this project and is able to get this fixed. Because the plane looks crippled now and if this will not be fixed, the elevator will in the end be displaced and probably disappear."


I contacted Carlos Gomez and Roger Jarman, who had restored the aircraft a few years back, and they both were aware of the situation. The elevator had been damaged during a severe storm and arrived Carlos’ shop in Miami on June 25th for repair. Once that it complete Carlos will travel to JFK Airport and repair the damage to the aircraft and reattach the elevator. This will most likely be delayed as a result of the two-week covid-19 quarantine of Florida residents currently in place in New York. While the cocktail lounge is currently closed, the hotel's website says that it will be reopening on July 6th. Many thanks to Jeroen for his photos and report.

Updated Constellation Production Database – May 21, 2020

Dominique Ottello has updated his comprehensive Constellation production database, which includes all production models. The database is in French and English and updates include.
  • Addition of 837 names assigned to Constellations with some having several names
  • Ability to search using the full name or a part of the name (four characters minimum)
  • Ability to list all registration numbers with the corresponding c/n.
  • Ability to search from three characters of a registration number
  • Completely redesigned search format, including "popups" when the cursor passes over the name of an option.
    Many thanks to Dominque for all his hard work creating this useful search tool.

    Lufthansa CEO Announces Cost of Failed Starliner Restoration Project – May 6, 2020 (Updated May 14, 2020)

    The German website aerotelegraph.com reported on May 5th that Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had recently stated that the total cost of Lufthansa’s failed L1649A Starliner restoration project was 150 million euros. This translates to about $162M at today’s conversion rate. That’s an amazing amount of money to have spent with so little to show for it. I don't believe the aircraft will ever be made airworthy so hopefully it will one day become the most expensive static display aircraft and not be indefinitely relegated to the warehouse where it is currently stored. Here’s an English translation of the report.

    For more than ten years, Lufthansa tried to make an old Lockheed Super Star airworthy again. Now the total cost of the project is known.

    At the end of the 1950s, Lufthansa's Lockheed Super Star was traveling between Germany and North America. In this tradition, the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung bought three aircraft of the type in 2007. The following year, work began in the US state of Maine to make one of the acquired Super Stars airworthy again. However, in 2018 Lufthansa stopped the project and brought the plane to Germany in 2019.

    So far it was unclear what the whole thing cost. Estimates were always more than 100 million euros. Now Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr replied to a corresponding question at the Group's Annual General Meeting on Tuesday (May 5): “The total cost of the project from 2007 to 2019, after we finished the project and brought the plane back to Bremen, amount to 150 million euros.” However, a large part of this was borne by external donors and sponsors.

    Spohr said the restoration to an airworthy state had proven to be too complicated and costly. In the future, the plane should be issued. Where and with which concept, you want to announce later, says Spohr.

    Here's a couple of follow-on articles...one published by the Lewiston Sun Journal on May 8th and the second published May 13th by the Robb Report.

    One Connie Dies to Save Another – April 25, 2020

    When Mel Christler acquired five VC-121A Constellations in May 1970, he had no idea that one of them was a very historic aircraft. That aircraft was "Columbine II" 48-610, which had served as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s "Air Force One" from November 1952 to November 1954. Mel converted the other four aircraft to large acreage sprayers but decided to use 48-610 as a spares airplane since, for some reason, it had a Super Constellation main landing gear installed. By the time Mel sold the four sprayers to a Canadian company in May 1979, 48-610 was derelict and sitting on its tail in a Tucson, Arizona boneyard. Mel learned of the aircraft’s heritage in the early 1980’s and was determined to restore it but the four sprayers had been sold and, since only ten VC-121A/B’s had been built, parts to restore the aircraft were not going to be easy to find.
    As luck would have it, VC-121B 48-608/N608AS was offered for sale at the now famous Globe Air auction at Mesa-Falcon Field in October 1985. Mel and partner Harry Oliver successfully bid on the aircraft and immediately went to work on getting it ready for the ferry flight to Tucson’s Ryan Field. N608AS made what would be its final flight from Mesa to Ryan Field on July 19, 1986, where it would be stripped of its vital parts to restore "Columbine II." This aircraft was unique in that it was the only VC-121B and had a rear passenger door in place of the cargo doors found on the nine VC-121As. It was earmarked to become a presidential aircraft but Truman decided he wanted a VC-118 and the rest is history. Stripped clean of her vital parts for the 1989-90 restoration of "Columbine II," N608AS was abandoned at Ryan Field and finally scrapped in January 2002

    Jim Buckwalter lived near Mesa-Falcon Field in 1986 and in addition to his April 22nd account of the restoration of L1049H N6937C, he was also on hand when Mel was getting N608AS ready for its ferry flight to Ryan Field.
    ”It was cool to see the two Connie’s backed up to the road like this. They were here for years. Between them was Lockheed L-18 Loadstar N141C. It had been blown into something during a monsoon thunderstorm and got its right side fin-rudder knocked off. Another time, a DC-4 got blown into something and crushed its nose. The mechanics took off the front of a parts plane from behind the flight deck, and replaced it damaged one. What a job that was.”
    "During one of my visits to Falcon Field, Mel’s son Lockie was working on N608AS by himself and I tried to be of some assistance. He told me about spark plugs that won’t come out on engines that sit for years. When it was time to run the engines, he gave me a large fire extinguisher and asked me to stand fire watch. He turned the engines over without the bottom plugs to clear the cylinders, which is known as “burping” the engine. The engine started right up after its long sleep. The photo shows a small stack fire followed by a bit of smoke during startup. The engine ran well at low RPM and sounded good."

    "I did not get to see either one of the Connie’s fly out. I got sent out of Coolidge Arizona to California on the tanker and ended up traveling around and never got back to Arizona. In the spring of 1987, I signed up with ARDCO to right seat N406WA T151. Reporting to Ryan Field a month before leaving on contract to help get 151 ready to go, there was N608AS, sitting next to it."
    (Editor's note: Parked next to N608AS was VC-121A N494TW, which was to become the MATS Connie.)
    "N608AS had jet stacks. These pipes were installed in the field, none of the C-121As or the C-121B came from the factory with them. Air France claimed the exhaust augmentation was worth 8-9 mph. Other airlines claimed an improvement too, but it is said passengers complained about the noise! The aircraft had Curtis Electric props installed. They have a strong electric motor that drives through two gear reductions to change the pitch of the prop blades."
    (Editor’s note: Most Constellations and Super Constellations had Hamilton Standard Hydromatic props installed and, due to the scarcity of Curtis Electric props, Columbine II will have them installed to replace its original Curtis Electric props.)

    ONE MORE THING..."I saw N608AS fly on a crew training flight out west of Phoenix before it went on a spray contract. The only other Connie of the six based at Falcon I ever saw fly was the former Eastern Airlines L1049C N6228C. In April 1979, it was sold to Aerotours, Santo Domingo. There was a restaurant right on the ramp at Falcon. It was a popular spot and one morning we’re having breakfast and out the window taxies 28C. The place cleared out like it was on fire with plates of food abandoned as everyone ran out to the ramp to watch 28C depart. After a brief run up, the crew took the active. They knew exactly what they were doing. Falcon’s runway was 4300 feet long and they used only enough power they needed to get out of there. Rolled all the way to the end and yanked it off at the last few feet of runway. Dust kicked up at end of pavement Freaked people out, the airport emergency vehicle, a pickup, took off down the taxi way, people were saying they’re not going to make it! The memory of the tragic crash of the Super Constellation N45516 four years before was on folk’s mind. Was an experienced crew, taking care of the engines on 100 octane avgas. 28C made an easy left turn as it climbed out, passing back near the airport for us to admire, before disappearing to the east. We all went back to the restaurant where our ham and eggs were cold! If I’m not mistaken, 28C went nonstop all the way to Miami. It got serviced and registered HI-329, and continued to Santo Domingo. I never got any pictures of that plane."

    2021 Super Constellation Calendar Available – April 22, 2020

    The 2021 Super Constellation Calendar (ISBN#978-3-672-45655-9) has been published by German publisher Calvendo GmbH and can be ordered via their website. Created by Arie Wubben, the calendar can also be purchased worldwide in selected bookstores, department stores and is also available at Amazon.com and other online sellers.

    Save-A-Connie's 1986 Super Connie Rescue – April 22, 2020

    Jim Buckwalter recently shared his 1995 experience flying right seat on DC-4 Tanker 119 on my ProplinerInfoExchange website. Jim lived near Mesa-Falcon Field and recently forwarded a report and some photos of the 1986 rescue of L1049H N6937C by the Kansas City based organization Save-A-Connie. These folks were retired TWA mechanics and pilots with decades of Constellation experience and, in little more than two months, had the Super Connie ready for the ferry flight to Kansas City. The aircraft thrilled airshow crowds from the late 1980s to 2005, when an engine failure grounded it. The mechanics and pilots that rescued 37C have either flown west or are too old to keep the old girl flying so she's currently on static display in the National Airline History Museum’s hangar at Kansas City Downtown Airport. While the aircraft is in excellent condition, the lack of financial resources and technical expertise will probably result in it never flying again. Anyhow, here’s Jim’s report and photos.
    "Well Ralph, with your posting of the scrapping of old Tanker 119, got me routing through my old photos. Here’s some of N6937C at Falcon Field, Mesa Arizona after the famous Globe auction. I lived nearby Falcon Field, and based my own airplane there. A bunch of old guys came out from Kansas City and opened up 37C in an effort to get it flying back to KC. They arrived in May 1986, named it “Star of America” and went to work pressure washing the years of grime and dust off before beginning their inspections. At this time, I was sitting on a fire contract at Coolidge Arizona, on a P2V5F Neptune. My one day off a week was Wednesday, so I missed a lot on the preparation of N6937C."
    "The big Wright R3350 turbo compounds installed on 37C were originally rated at 3400 HP using purple 145 octane avgas. With the unavailability of the 145 octane avgas that these engines were designed for they were operated at considerably less power. The Neptune I was flying was also equipped with the Wright turbo compounds but they were not fuel injected like the Super Connie as they had pressure carbs. We also had to reduce power for takeoff without the 145 octane avgas. If I remember correctly it was 51”MP. With 145 octane it was way up in the 60’s. A few weeks after arriving, the Save-A-Connie folks were doing the first engine runs. I've included two shots of #4’s first start in probably 10+ years. With the engine running smooth and the smoke cleared, the tail of the VC-121B N608AS is visible in the background. It was bought at the auction by Mel Christler and he was getting it ready to fly out. Next to it is C-54 N438NA, which you reported to be up in Alaska at Brooks Fuel. Then there is a Grumman S-2 Tracker."


    I’d like to thank Jim for his report. I’m looking forward to his promised report and photos of Mel’s work on N608AS.

    Qantas Founders Museum Super Connie Moves to New Home – March 28, 2020

    In early March 2020, the Qantas Founders Museum Super Constellation was moved to its final display position under the museum’s new Airpark Roof where it joined the museum’s B707 and B747. This marked the culmination of a remarkable 5½ year effort that began in September 2014 when the museum purchased the aircraft from the Manila International Airport Authority. The Super Connie had been abandoned for 26 years at the airport and was in poor condition. A project team was quickly dispatched by the museum to disassemble and prepare the aircraft for shipment back to the museum, where it arrived on May 24, 2017. By July 2018 the aircraft had been externally restored and painted in period Qantas colors as VH-EAM "Southern Spray." Volunteers completed the cockpit and interior restoration in 2019 and the aircraft was ready to take her place under the Airpark Roof. The $14.3 Airpark Roof will not only provide shelter to the museum’s Super Connie, DC-3, B707 and B747 but will also include a state-of-the art sound and light show night experience.
    For additional information about the move, check out the museum’s March 19th Media Release. Also check out the timelapse video of the move. Congrats to the Qantas Founders Museum and everyone else involved in this ambitious project, which most assuredly saved this Super Connie from being scrapped in Manila. For more information about the effort that saved this aircraft, check out this website's Constellation News Archives 2014 thru 2019.

    South African Airways Museum Starliner Update – March 8, 2020

    Peter Brill reports that electricity has been restored and interior work continues on Starliner ZS-DVJ at Rand Airport. He forwarded the following photos.

    Mementos from Opposite Ends of Constellation Era – March 4, 2020

    I recently received photos of two Constellation mementos…one from the start of the Constellation era and one from near the end. Greg Vinci’s father Sam was one of the original electrical engineers that work on instrument design for the Constellation. Greg inherited a framed photo of a C-69 that had the signatures of many of the individuals involved in the early design of the airplane. At the other end of the spectrum, Lonnie Bohm sent me a photo of a spark plug that had been installed on one of the engines that powered L749A N6020C on TWA’s last passenger flight on April 6, 1967. It was given to his father, who worked for TWA in New York for 37 years. Thanks to both Greg and Lonnie for sharing these small slices of Constellation history!

    Former Nordair Super Connies Soldier On as Restaurant Centerpieces in São Tomé – March 4, 2020

    As reported on this website on November 22, 2018, contrary to previous reports, former Nordair Super Connies CF-NAL and CF-NAM had not been scrapped in São Tomé Airport and were part of the Asas D'Avião Restaurante Santola located at the airport. Riku Helppi visited São Tomé on January 31st and February 6, 2020 and photographed both aircraft, confirming their continued existence. The Super Connies were used during the Biafran Airlift and were abandoned at São Tomé in early 1970 after the conflict had ended. While the exteriors of both aircraft are in desperate need of some TLC, the restaurant appears to be open for business. Many thanks to Riku for allowing me to post the photos and to Antti Hyvärinen for forwarding the photos to me.

    Indian Naval Museum Super Connie Gets Some TLC - February 11, 2020 (February 13, 2020 Update)

    On May 3, 2019 I reported that Super Constellation IN315 on display at the Naval Museum in Goa, India was looking a bit tatty and needed some attention. Perhaps the folks at the museum read my website because Dane Rapajic recently visited the museum and reports that the aircraft’s exterior is being repainted. Many thanks to Dane for his report and photos. Now, if they would just replace the truck tires installed on the main land gear!
    UPDATE: RENÉ WOERLEE VISITED THE MUSEUM ON FEBRUARY 7, 2019 AND PROVIDED TWO ADDITIONAL PHOTOS OF THE AIRCRAFT BEING PAINTED.

    Dome Assembly Urgently Needed for Hamilton Standard 43H60 Propeller - January 25, 2020

    I recently received an email from Patrick Smart, who rebuilds vintage round engines and runs them at shows around the UK. A couple of years ago he acquired two R3350 engines from L1049G Super Connie 5T-TAF, which was abandoned at Luqa, Malta in 1968. The aircraft was flying contraband to Biafra and was impounded by the local authorities. It was towed to the nearby village of Kirkop and made into a restaurant in 1974. The restaurant closed in about 1988 and it was destroyed by a fire set by vandals in January 1997. The Malta Aviation Museum Foundation acquired the remains and somehow two of the engines made their way to the UK, where Patrick acquired them. He is in the process of getting one of the engines running and, while he has the props, he needs a dome assembly for a Hamilton Standard 43H60 propeller. Here’s his appeal.
    "My name is Patrick Smart and I am one of the founder Members of the Historical Aero Engines group over here in the UK. My passion is for big and round engines as my father was a heavy bomber pilot during WW2 and predominately flew the Halifax with Bristol Hercules engines. I have a couple of them which we take to shows all over the UK and fire them up."

    "At one of the shows a couple of years ago I was approached by a chap wondering if I was interested in a couple of R-3350's from the Connie in Malta 5T-TAF. They were already in the UK and, after a few beers, I have been the proud owner of two of the engines since last summer and they now reside in Topcliffe North Yorkshire UK."

    "I plan to make one running engine from the two. Obviously they have stood for over fifty years and need a good bit of work to get one running again. One of the engines has now been dismantled and is in the final stages of being prepped before getting painted while the cylinders are being cleaned and overhauled. I have to use six of the cylinders from the second engine as there has been a lot of condensation over the years which has caused a fair bit of corrosion in a few of them. A full pictorial rebuild can be found at Historic Aero Engine Facebook page."

    "There is one bit missing...the Hamilton Standard 43H60 propellers we have are missing the dome assembly. We have full control of the propeller, even though we crop them down. The R-3350 will run a prop of about 9.5ft diameter and will still develop some decent power and we feather the props for road transport. David from the Malta Aviation Museum, where the engines came from, has looked everywhere for the dome assemblies to no avail. So I wondered if you could but a request out there via your site to try and locate a usable dome to complete the prop assembly for this Connie engine. I hope to have the engine ready for its first run by late autumn of this year."


    If you can help Patrick find a dome assembly, please email him at patrick@maddison4x4.com

    Restoration of SAA Museum Starliner Nearing Completion - January 16, 2020

    Peter Brill recently visited the South African Airways Museum at Rand Airport and reports that the restoration of Starliner ZS-DVJ, both inside and out, is nearing completion. He forwarded the following report and photos...."Latest fotos of SAAM's Starliner ZS-DVJ/c/n 1042 at Rand. This beautiful L1649A has been finally reassembled and is now being completed inside out. Former Lufthansa D-ALOL. A great achievement by all my volunteer friends of the SAAM."

    See Constellation News Archive - 2019 For Additional News

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    ----Created 31 January 2004------Updated 24 July 2020----