“Columbine II” and “Bataan” Updates – November 25, 2015
After successful engine runs and taxi tests in early November, the #2 engine (including QEC) and prop were removed from VC-121A ”Columbine II” and trucked north to Valle for installation on ”Bataan” for her ferry flight to Chino, California. With that accomplished, Brian Miklos and the crew from Dynamic Aviation headed back to Virginia for a month. They will be returning to Avra Valley on November 28th for three weeks and plan on installing the #2 engine/prop and continue working on the “to-do” list that Brian has prepared. (Obviously, installation of the #2 engine/prop is contingent on successful completion of “Bataan’s” ferry flight to Chino.) While it is very difficult at this time to predict a date for the flight back to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, Brian says that they are “really close to having an airplane” and spring 2016 looks like a real possibility. A ferry permit will not be required since they are working to an approved inspection plan and all AD’s will be complied with prior to the flight. They plan on completing a number of local flights in Arizona to identify any additional issues needing attention before setting out on the flight to Virginia. The Mid America Air Museum has provided valuable assistance to the restoration effort and a stop at the museum in Mt. Pleasant, Texas is planned. This will provide folks at the museum an opportunity to see the aircraft in action. Mt. Pleasant is also approximately mid-point in the flight and a stop there will allow the aircraft to be inspected and necessary adjustments and repairs made before continuing east.
The folks at Lewis Air Legends have been working hard at Valle, Arizona preparing VC-121A “Bataan” for a ferry flight to Chino, California before winter arrives in this northern Arizona location. As previously reported on November 8th, Karl Stoltzfus provided an engine and prop to the folks at Lewis Air Legends for installation on VC-121A “Bataan.” With the engine and prop installed, the ferry flight was supposed to happen the week of November 16th but didn’t and the latest rumor is that the team hopes to fly the aircraft to Chino after the Thanksgiving holiday. It appears that the ferry flight is imminent and I’ll provide more updates as I receive them.
Breitling Super Constellation in Zurich for Annual Winter Maintenance - November 24, 2015
As mentioned in my November 10th report, SCFA celebrated the 60th birthday of Breitling Super Constellation HB-RSC on Sunday September 13, 2015. SCFA member Arie Wubben sent me some interesting photos taken of the aircraft on November 7th in Zurich, which clearly show the 60th anniversary sticker that had been applied to the forward fuselage for the 2015 airshow season. HB-RSC is undergoing its annual winter maintenance in Zurich and the entire empennage has been removed to allow inspection for corrosion. In addition, the #3 propeller has been removed. Many thanks to Arie for sharing the photos.
HARS Super Connie Birthday Celebration YouTube Video – November 14, 2015
Mark Jones and Tim May, from the Australian You Tube Channel Super100MPH, forwarded a link to a very nice video they produced of the HARS Super Constellation VH-EAG starting up and taking off on Saturday November 13th at the beginning of its 60th birthday celebrations. Tim & Mark are both HARS volunteers and have produced a number of videos about the HARS Super Connie. Many thanks to them for sharing the video.
HARS and SCFA Super Constellations Celebrate 60th Birthdays in 2015 – November 10, 2015
It’s ironic that the only two currently airworthy Constellations are both former USAF C-121C transports with consecutive serial numbers. HB-RSC (c/n 4175) is owned and operated by the Swiss group Super Constellation Flyers Association (SCFA). It was delivered to the USAF as serial number 54-156 on November 1, 1955 and assigned to Charleston AFB with the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). In addition to MATS, it served with the Mississippi and West Virginia Air National Guard before being retired and flown to Davis Monthan AFB for storage in April 1972. VH-EAG (c/n 4176) is owned and operated by the Australian group Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) and was delivered to the USAF a week later than HB-RSC on November 7, 1955 as serial number 54-157. It too was assigned to Charleston AFB with MATS and later served with the Mississippi, West Virginia and Pennsylvania Air National Guard. It was retired and flown to Davis Monthan AFB for storage in March 1977. For additional information about the history of each aircraft before they were acquired by their current owners, click on the above registration links.
I recently received an email from Bob de la Hunty, President of HARS saying that they were planning a 60th birthday celebration for their Super Connie. The three day event is scheduled for November 13 thru 15th and Bob sent me some recent photos of the group’s Super Connie in action. Weather permitting, there’s no doubt that the celebration will involve a flying demonstration by the birthday girl. HARS also plans a “rebirth” celebration in February!
Likewise, SCFA celebrated the 60th birthday of HB-RSC with a party at EuroAirport in Basel, Switzerland on September 13, 2015 with organization members and invited guests in attendance. The Super Connie sported a large logo on the forward fuselage consisting of a star with the number 60 inside. Both organizations deserve a lot of credit for their efforts in keeping these two aviation icons flying well into the 21st century. It takes lots of determination, patience, technical and management wherewithal and money to sustain a large vintage aircraft flying program. Hopefully "Columbine II" and "Bataan" add to the number of airworthy Constellations in the not to distance future.
Engine and Prop Problems Bedevil Bataan Crew in Valle – November 8, 2015
After the successful completion of engine runs and taxi tests on VC-121A “Columbine II” at Marana Regional Airport, the Dynamic Aviation crew hosted a party on November 5th to celebrate the accomplishment. The attached photo shows that the #2 engine/QEC was missing and I later determined that the engine/QEC had been shipped to Valle for installation on VC-121A "Bataan" to replace the two engines that had previously failed in the #3 position. After the engine was installed, problems were found with one of the props and the crew returned to Marana to fetch a replacement. Old propliners require determination and lots of patience! Kudos to Karl Stoltzfus at Dynamic Aviation for his generosity in providing two engines and a prop to the folks at Lewis Air Legends. Hopefully all will go well and the flight to Chino can be made before winter arrives in Valle.
Lufthansa Technik Starliner Project Faces New Challenge – November 6, 2015
Having completed the complex task of replacing the wing-to-body fittings that attach the continuous wing assembly of Starliner N7316C to its fuselage, Lufthansa Technik employees in Auburn, Maine face the new challenge of replacing the mainframes located above the fittings. These components are located in front and behind the wing and are critical components as they transfer the flight loads from the wing to the fuselage. It was originally hoped that the mainframes could be repaired but corrosion and drill holes made this impossible and new mainframes were designed by Lufthansa Technik engineers and fabricated in the United States. Guido Piette of Lufthansa Technik Hamburg is leading a team that will be performing the installation. This team was responsible for the successful installation of the wing-to-body fittings. For more information about the project, check out the Lufthansa Technik website.
Columbine II Taxis Under Her Own Power – November 3, 2015
Brian Miklos and a crew from Dynamic Aviation are nearing their goal of getting VC-121A 48-610 “Columbine II” ready for its first flight since May 2003. They achieved a major milestone this past weekend when all four engines were run and the aircraft was taxied under its own power. Brian reports that no major problems were experienced during the engine runs and the minor issues encountered were rectified and the crew was fine tuning the engines. Brian sent some recent photos and Boneyard Safari updated their FB Page with some great photos and videos of the engine runs and taxi test. The Marana Regional Airport FB Page also has many photos and videos of the engine testing.
Propliner Magazine to Return as an Annual – October 26, 2015
It was a sad day for all Propliner enthusiasts back in March when Tony Merton Jones announced that he was ceasing publication of Propliner magazine with the Winter 2014/#141 issue. Tony recently sent an email to loyal fans of the magazine announcing that he was resurrecting Propliner and it would be published on an annual basis, with the first issue due out in April 2016. This is wonderful news and I look forward to the relaunch of this great publication.
Following your earlier enquiry, I have now decided to go ahead and prepare a "Propliner" annual for publication in the spring of 2016. I envisage that it will be the same format as the magazine, but with extra pages. In addition to the usual fare of feature articles, many of which have already been promised, I will include a 'Prop News' section covering news, events and the inevitable casualties that have taken place since the magazine was last published in March this year. It is my intention to work on the annual during the winter with a target publication date of April 2016. I do hope that you are pleased to hear my decision, and I am looking forward to receiving contributions from many of our former readers. I would be delighted to receive literary and photographic contributions for the publication, either by e-mail or post, and that the contact information in the last "Propliner" remains up to date, except that the fax line has been withdrawn. As the project moves forward, I intend to post further information on the
"Propliner" website at www.propliner.co.uk.
Engine Problems Delay “Bataan” Ferry Flight – October 25, 2015
The folks from Lewis Air Legends have been working hard all summer at the Planes of Fame Annex in Valle, Arizona preparing VC-121A 48-613/N422NA “Bataan” for a ferry flight to Chino, California, where a full restoration will be undertaken. Although Valle is in Arizona, it sits at 6,000 feet and temps in the winter months routinely fall into the 20’s. With this in mind, everyone concerned wanted to get “Bataan” to Southern California before the cold winter weather arrived. These plans suffered a setback the week of October 12th when the #3 engine began making metal after a test run. According to a recent post on the Facebook Lockheed Constellation Group site, a replacement engine was borrowed from the folks at Dynamic Aviation, who are restoring “Columbine II” in Tucson. The engine was installed but unfortunately metal was found when the screens were pulled after the engine was test run on Wednesday October 21st. The crew had planned on ferrying the airplane to Chino the next day, with a stop for fuel at Kingman, but obviously these plans were canceled and the search for another replacement engine began. Hopefully another engine can be found quickly and the ferry flight completed in the very near future. Lewis Air Legends recently produced a short video about Phase I of the project being undertaken at Valle.
Dynamic Aviation Team Back at Avra Valley – October 23, 2015
As reported on this website on May 29, 2015, Dynamic Aviation has purchased VC-121A 48-610 “Columbine II” and is preparing it for a ferry flight to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, where it will be restored to its former glory. After completion of the restoration, Dynamic owner Karl Stoltzfus plans on putting her on the U.S. airshow circuit. The U.S. has been without an airworthy Constellation since the MATS Connie departed for Korea in April 2005 and it appears that we may have two airworthy Constellations as Lewis Air Legends recently purchased VC-121A 48-613 “Bataan” and a team is currently at Valle, Arizona preparing it for a ferry flight to Chino, California. The team from Dynamic Aviation led by Brian Miklos arrived at Marana Regional Airport in April and, after evaluating the aircraft, Karl decided to go ahead with its purchase. The team wrapped up its initial work in July, with a plan to return in October to complete preparation for the ferry flight once the hot desert temperatures had moderated and parts sent out for overhaul had been returned. Because of the intense heat, the team worked at night during July and Brian sent me a photo of the sun rising one morning with Erick Lawson and Stephen Bielick on the wing, where they were installing the fuel master control on the #1 engine.
I recently received an email from Brian saying that the team had returned to Arizona on October 17th and planned on being there until November 7th. With the overhauled parts now in hand, the team will be focusing on the hydraulic system, prop AD and instrumentation. If all goes well, they hope to run the engines the first week of November. Scott Glover and the folks from Mid America Flight Museum have generously provided manpower for the project and Brian expects Tim Coons and Billy Packard to show us this weekend to help out. Tim has many years experience as flight engineer and mechanic on the MATS Connie and Billy is a friend of Gordon Cole and has worked on Gordon’s Constellation N1206. Brian send me some current photos including a nice sunset photo of Columbine II; a sunset photo taken inside the airplane; and a photo of Dynamic mechanic Hiram Leon working inside the avionics bay. Thanks much to Brian for his report and photos.
Super Constellation Simulator Moved to Aviation Themed Restaurant Near Zurich Airport – September 23, 2015
I received an email from Lukas Lusser the other day saying that the Super Connie simulator built by Christian Müller had been moved to an aviation themed restaurant near the Zurich Airport. The simulator was built from remnants of the cockpit section salvaged from C-121C HI-548CT, which had been severely damaged at Santo Domingo during Hurricane George in 1998.
“I'd like to forward a piece of additional information to you concerning the Connie simulator constructed from the cockpit section of HI-548CT msn 4202. As you state correctly, this simulator is currently operational and regularly used by SCFA crews for training purposes. It is, however no longer in the former industrial zone of Schlieren on the outskirts of Zurich, but was moved to a location on the airport premises in Zurich. Ten years ago a group of dedicated gastronomics, with a love for aviation and the necessary contacts and cash, opened up a restaurant near the threshold of Zurich Airport’s runway 34. They appropriately named it the "Runway 34 Restaurant & Bar". The entire restaurant is aviation themed, with an original Ilyushin 14 aircraft integrated into the building. The restaurant has steadily grown and, a few years ago, a former Swiss military Mirage IIIs fighter was added to its collection of planes and equipment."
"The latest addition to the restaurant is a simulator annex, which is known as “Sim Academy.” It opened to the public in November 2014 and featured a former Swiss Air Force PC-7 trainer, a Bell Jet Ranger simulator, a Beech King Air simulator and a B777 simulator. The Super Connie simulator was moved to the restaurant and installed during the spring of 2015 and was operational by May 2015. When not being used by SCFA crews, it can be booked by anyone who might enjoy getting their hands dirty at the controls of a Connie. The price is 179 Swiss Francs/roughly 185 USD per hour and includes instructions. Details and general information are available on the Sim Academy website. Unfortunately it is in German only, but the pictures speak for themselves."
Many thanks to Lukas for forwarding the report. For additional background information on the simulator, check out the August 15, 2006, July 21, 2008 and January 18, 2010 news reports on this website.
Work Continues on VC-121A “Bataan” in Valle, AZ – August 28, 2015
Simon Youens visited the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona on August 23, 2015, where he witnessed a work crew installing the #4 engine on VC-121A 48-613/N422NA “Bataan.” As previously reported on this website on April 13 and July 27, The Planes of Fame Museum sold "Bataan" to Lewis Air Legends in April 2015 and a crew has been working diligently preparing it for a ferry flight to Chino, California, where it will undergo restoration. As confirmed by the bottom photo, the rudders have been re-installed, which probably means the aircraft's first flight in twenty years isn’t too terribly far off. The photos were posted on the PPRuNe website, which documented Simon’s road trip from Calgary, Canada to Santa Monica, California. In addition to the Constellation photos, there are many interesting aviation and non-aviation photos from the trip that I believe would be of interest to most readers. Many thanks to Simon for allowing me to use his photos and to Marc Kenig for initially forwarding a link to Simon's report.
L049 Constellation Still Located at Park in Santa Cruz, Bolivia – August 23, 2015
It's been about ten years since I've received a photo of L049 Constellation N2520B and I was beginning to wonder if it was still extant. The good news is that it is still located in the same park in Santa Cruz, Bolivia as evidenced by a group of photos sent to me yesterday by Leny Castillo. Leny is a corporate pilot flying Cessna C680 aircraft and happened to be passing through Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Delivered new to LAV as YV-C-AME in October 1946, this aircraft went on to fly for Braniff Airlines as N2520B from 1955 to 1958. It was seized at Santa Cruz in July 1961 while on a smuggling flight and stored at the airport until being moved to the park in the early 1970’s. Since that time it has been used as a library, painted in Pepsi colors and then painted in Aerosur Airlines colors and used as an office for a travel agent. As Leny’s pictures show, the Aerosur colors have been removed and the aircraft is now painted silver and it appears that it is no longer being used by the travel agent. This Constellation one of only four L049 survivors and, while it great that it is still a “survivor,” it’s not so great that its condition continues to deteriorate. I'd like to thank Leny for sharing these most interesting photos.
Super Connie N4247K Awaits Shipment at Ninoy Aquino International Airport – August 19, 2015
I received the following email from Anton Andres today with photos and the latest status of C-121J N4247K. "Good day sir, I recently visited Ninoy Aquino International Airport for a domestic flight via seaplane. Imagine my surprise when I saw this right beside the hangar where the seaplanes were stored. It was nice to hear that Qantas is finally rescuing this Constellation to its former glory. Hope you guys get to see these series of photos before the final result sometime in the future."
For more information about the project, check out my April 7, 2015 report. Also check for periodic updates on the Qantas Founders Museum website and the latest "Constellation News" on this page. Many thanks to Anton for providing the report and sharing his photos.
Lufthansa Technik Reduces Workforce on Starliner Restoration Project – August 10, 2015
Lufthansa Technik recently laid off about 50% of the workers involved in the restoration of Starliner N7316C in Auburn, Maine. The cuts came the last week of July and I understand that they are temporary, with Lufthansa still totally committed to completing the project. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
Work Proceeding on VC-121A "Bataan" in Valle, Arizona – July 27, 2015
I received an email from Doug Freeman reporting on the ongoing restoration of VC-121A 48-613 “Bataan” at the Planes of Fame annex in Valle, Arizona. As reported on this website on April 13th, The Planes of Fame Museum sold Bataan to Lewis Air Legends of San Antonio, Texas. A crew has been working to get the airplane ready for a ferry flight to Chino Airport, where further restoration work will be performed. Doug reports that to date, no serious 'show stoppers' have been discovered. The fabric covered control surfaces have been removed and are being re-covered. The #4 engine is in the hangar with a bad engine mount. While it is inside they are working on general hose and line replacement in parallel with the other three engines. The current plan is to get the engines running by late August and then take a break for the Reno Air Races. There will be multiple taxi tests but, as of now, no test flights have been scheduled. The hope is to fly by mid-October. Doug did not get inside but when he was here two years ago the interior looked tired but OK. The museum has been giving tours of the interior for years. For updates on the project, check out the Lewis Air Legends website. Thanks much to Doug for the report and photos.
Sad End for Former PNA/Western L749 Connie in Kenai – July 20, 2015
Mike Walton sent me some very interesting photos of former PNA/Western L749A N1552V after it had been chopped apart in Kenai, Alaska. This aircraft was one of six L749A Constellations operated by Pacific Northern Airlines and later Western Airlines when the two airlines merged. It was scheduled to make the last Constellation flight from Anchorage to Juneau on November 26, 1968 and made the outbound flight to Juneau, where it went unserviceable. The return trip to Anchorage was made by Constellation N86525 and that flight ended scheduled passenger operations in North America. N1552V was donated to the City of Kenai for display but enthusiasm for displaying the aircraft waned and it was scrapped in the late 1980’s or early 90’s. “I recently came across these pictures. I flew as a flight engineer on this plane with Pacific Northern Airlines and Western Airlines. It was donated to the City of Kenai, Alaska in late 1968 when Western phased out the six Connies they had. After years of sitting at the airport, the town decided they didn't need this bit of Alaskan and aviation history. I flew the MATS Connie a couple of times and got to know Vern Raburn. I sent him the pictures and contacts hoping he could do something with the aircraft. He had an idea to work with the Museum of Flight in Seattle to bring the aircraft to Seattle but unfortunately those involved in Anchorage didn’t follow up with him and it was chopped up in the late 80’s or early 90’s. This was a former BOAC aircraft with electric props. The pictures of 52V were taken by the son of Maury Goeff, who was the chief mechanic in Anchorage for PNA in the 1950’s and 60’s. I don’t know the name of the fellow in the pictures. I believe the pictures of 52V were taken in Kenai as the airport probably had the wreckage carted away. I ferried two of the Western Connies to Las Vegas in November/December of 1968 for storage.”
It’s a real shame that this historically significant aircraft wasn’t saved but unfortunately in the late 1980’s there wasn’t a whole lot of interest in preserving Constellations; especially one that had become derelict. Many thanks to Mike for sharing these very interesting photos.
Aguadilla Super Connie Gets New Neighbor – June 21, 2015
Sean Keating’s brother Gary is overseeing the construction of a new five-bay hangar being built for Lufthansa Airlines at Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The airport has been home to L1049H HI-542CT since February 1992, when it was involved in a ground collision with a runaway DC-4. During the past 20+ years the aircraft has been parked at a number of locations around the airport and, as luck would have it, it was parked on a piece of tarmac adjacent to the site selected for the new hangar. The airport is the former Ramey AFB and, about ten years ago, a local group had plans to restore the veteran aircraft as a USAF C-121C military transport. Their plans never came to fruition and it’s been a minor miracle that the Super Connie hasn’t been scrapped. Normally airport development is not healthy for airplanes such as HI-542CT, but Gary reports that the airport authorities have decided to move the airplane to yet another location on the airport.
Dynamic Aviation Finalizes Purchase of VC-121A Columbine II - May 29, 2015
Karl Stoltzfus and Harry Oliver recently finalized a deal transferring ownership of VC-121A “Columbine II” to Dynamic Aviation. This is wonderful news and it's going to be great to have a Constellation back on the airshow circuit after a ten year absence. Lewis Air Legends recently acquired VC-121A 48-613 “Bataan” from the Planes of Fame Air Museum and have also announced that they plan on restoring the aircraft and putting it on the airshow circuit.
It had been quite a few years since my last visit to Arizona and I decided to spend a few days in Phoenix and Tucson on my way back home from Alaska. I arrived at Marana Regional Airport on Friday May 22nd and met up with my buddy Gordon Cole and his friend Dave Haines at the airport restaurant. Gordon owns Constellation N1206 and Dave is a former Arizona ANG KC-97L navigator, who also piloted DC-7C's for FMC Corporation. To say the least, there was lots of interesting airplane talk over lunch. After lunch, we headed to where Columbine II was parked to meet up with Brian Miklos, who is leading the restoration project for Dynamic Aviation. Karl Stoltzfus, owner of Dynamic Aviation, had arranged my meeting with Brian and I was anxious to see how the team was progressing.
It only took a few minutes to realize that the folks at Dynamic are serious about getting the aircraft ready for its first flight since May 2003. In addition to Brian, who has worked for Dynamic for 21 years, there are three other Dynamic employees working on the project including mechanics Erick Lawson, Rocco Minitch and Stephen Bielick. They also have a mobile work trailer set up on site. The team is currently busy working on identifying and correcting fuel and hydraulic system issues. The aircraft's fuselage and other metal components have fared well as the result of it being stored in the desert environments of Tucson and Santa Fe since retirement from the USAF in 1968. The same cannot be said for the soft parts, including flexible lines, o-rings and seals. Most, if not all, of these items are being replaced.
The need to overhaul almost all of the engine accessories has slowed up the project considerably. Once the fuel system was pressurized, multiple leaks were found and, while they have successfully run three of the engines, the #4 engine hasn't been run due to the extent of the leaks. The accessories were sent out for overhaul and are starting to return. It's interesting to note that the #4 engine and its exhaust system are different than those of the other three engines. The #4 engine is the original configuration and the other engines and exhaust systems were installed during the 1990 restoration. Brian says they hope to eventually convert the other three engines to the original configuration, but this will not be done prior to the flight to Bridgewater. The team was also faced with a missing lower cowling on the #1 engine, but Gordon Cole had a spare that he was more than willing to part company with.
The aircraft has three-bladed Curtis Electric props and one blade from both the #3 and #4 engines were found to be defective. Erick Lawson and former MATS Connie flight engineer/mechanic Tim Coons recently traveled to Coulson Flying Tankers on Vancouver Island to inspect the twelve propeller blades that Coulson had purchased from the Constellation Group after the MATS Connie departed for Korea in April 2005. These blades are no longer needed by Coulson now that they have retired their two Martin Mars firebombers. It is very likely that the deal to purchase Columbine II would have not gone forward if these blades had not been available.
Work has been completed on all four brakes with seals, o-rings and some pads being replaced. The team still needs to perform a gear retraction test and replace the engine accessories once they have been overhauled. Once this is completed, they can focus on preparing the engines for the flight. The team will be in Arizona for a couple more weeks when they will return home for two weeks before returning back to Arizona for the month of July. Brian will then be heading to Bangladesh with a team to prepare a Dash 8 for a ferry flight to the US. This is not the first recovery mission for Brian in a remote location and Dynamic is sending a CONEX container loaded with tools and parts to Bangladesh to support the effort.
Marana Regional Airport is home to a mini-boneyard with quite a few interesting aircraft in residence, including Super Constellation N105CF, four former Central Air Service DC-4’s, four Beech Starships, a P2V Neptune and a derelict Beech 18. In addition, there are A-4 Skyhawk’s stored outside the former MATS Connie hangar and also adjacent to the airport restaurant. The fence builders have been very busy at the airport during the past ten years, which has pretty much eliminated access to these aircraft unless one is privy to the gate code or arrives in an airplane. Also, if you’re in the market for a used Super Constellation, I recently received word that HARS is looking to sell N105CF.
Having met Brian and his team, and seeing what they have accomplished, there is no doubt in my mind that they will succeed in preparing Columbine II for a safe flight to Virginia. I'd like to thank Ken and Karl Stoltzfus for arranging the visit and Brian and his team for taking the time to show me around and answer my many questions.
CNN Airs Report on Columbine II – May 3, 2015
On May 1st CNN aired an interesting 3½ minute report on Columbine II, which included segments with Tim Crowley, Harry Oliver and Karl Stoltzfus.
Royal Air Morac Constellation Back in the Sunshine – April 30, 2015
Volker Schreiner recently forwarded a Google Earth image showing that Royal Air Morac Constellation CN-CCN is back outside after a period of being stored in a hangar at Anfa Airport, Casablanca, Morocco. For any of you who might be contemplating a visit to Casablanca, he suggests the best time to photograph the airplane appears to be in the morning.
Chanute Air Museum to Close – April 29, 2015
As reported on the IllinoisHomePage.net website, the Chanute Air Museum will be closing its doors on December 30, 2015. The museum opened in 1994, a year after Chanute AFB was closed and for many years had received a rent and utility subsidy from the Village of Rantoul. The village recently informed the museum that it could no longer afford the subsidy, which led to the April 23rd announcement. The museum is home to a number of interesting military propliners including EC-121K BuNo 141311, C-97G 52-0898, VC-47D 43-49336 and C-133A 56-2009. The future for these aircraft is somewhat tenuous since it is very expensive to disassemble and move large aircraft. For additional information about the museum, check out their website at www.aeromuseum.org.
Dynamic Aviation Announces Decision to Purchase VC-121A “Columbine II” – April 24, 2015
Ken Stoltzfus announced today that Dynamic Aviation will be purchasing VC-121A ”Columbine II” after completion of an extensive six week pre-buy evaluation of the aircraft. The sale will be finalized in June with the aircraft ferried to company headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia for complete restoration. The following announcement was released today.
Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater, VA has decided to proceed with the purchase of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential aircraft, Columbine II. The 1948 Lockheed C-121A Constellation was the first presidential airplane to be called "Air Force One."
Karl. D. Stoltzfus Sr., founder of Dynamic Aviation and the drive behind the restoration project, says, "After extensive inspection and repairs on the aircraft we are ready to accept it, and to proceed with closing in June. Many challenges remain before we can fly it to Virginia but we are now confident that it is feasible."
Stoltzfus' interest lies in his desire to preserve Columbine II as a symbol of America's integrity and that of our leaders in that era. Plans are to fly it to Bridgewater, VA for restoration and to then operate it on the air show circuit. Some very ambitious plans to take Columbine II to major anniversary celebrations for events of the 1940's and 1950's are under consideration.
Stoltzfus says, "People thank me for leading Dynamic in the preservation of this national treasure. However, the real credit goes to Harry Oliver and Lockie Christler, its present owners, who saw its value back in the 1990's and did major work on it at that time. Without their dedication and their efforts to preserve it, it would most likely have been melted down long ago."
He continues, "While Dynamic is heading up this project, it could certainly only happen with the generous participation of others. Among them is Scott Glover and his Mid America Flight Museum of Mt. Pleasant, TX. They have played a key role to this point and are dedicated to the completion of the effort. Glover and his team have provided many hours of skilled labor and support in various ways."
No date has been set for the flight to Virginia. Present hopes are to have the aircraft fully airworthy and to fly it home as a certificated aircraft rather than on a ferry permit, which obviously extends the time needed to prepare it for flight. Periodic updates on Columbine II may be seen at www.john2031.com/columbine/main.html.
Dynamic Aviation, Columbine II Communications Coordinator
April has been a very good month for Constellation enthusiasts in the United States. Lewis Air Legends announced earlier in the month that they had acquired VC-121A "Bataan" with the intent of restoring the aircraft and flying it on the airshow circuit. If both plans come to fruition, we could very well see two VC-121A's flying in the US in the very near future!
CORRECTION - Lufthansa Starliner Report on Germany.info Website in Error – April 20, 2015
On April 14th this website reported that Starliner N7316C, currently being restored by Lufthansa Technik in Auburn, Maine, would be based in the United States. This was based on a report published on the Germany.info website on March 23, 2015, quoting remarks made by German ambassador Peter Wittig at a dinner honoring Lufthansa Airlines. The second paragraph of the report was changed today to read “Once it is fully restored, it will be piloted by a Lufthansa crew and fly across the US, Germany and the rest of the world. “The Starliner will then serve as an ambassador of Lufthansa for pleasure flights,” said Ambassador Peter Wittig at a dinner honoring the German company.”
No Decision Yet on the Sale of “Columbine II” – April 15, 2015 (April 16 update)
Work continues on the extensive effort at Marana Regional Airport to evaluate the feasibility of returning VC-121A ”Columbine II” to her former glory. While much progress has been made, a number of challenges remain including AD compliance, engines, propellers, hydraulic systems and brakes. Three of the four engines have been run at low power settings, but fuel system problems have prevented the #4 engine from being run. A number of engine components have been sent out for overhaul including fuel master controls, fuel injector pumps, engine driven fuel pumps and fuel flow transmitters. All flex hoses have been replaced with new fire-sleeved hoses. Work continues on the hydraulic system but the Constellation has lots of hydraulic systems and a hydraulic mule is needed. One of the four brakes has been serviced and the remaining three have been evaluated but brakes and brake parts are going to be a problem. The team is currently scouring the world for Goodyear brake parts. Whoever absconded with one of the lower engine cowlings has yet to see fit to return it and the team is still searching for exhaust systems and other engine components for R3350-75 and R3350-749C-18BD-1 engines.
The team is making steady progress on a difficult project in a difficult environment and hopefully a positive decision will forthcoming shortly. The team, led by Brian Miklos, is composed of Dynamic Aviation employees and folks from the Mid America Flight Museum with valuable assistance provided by Marana Airport neighbor Bill Muszala and ATW Aviation. Check out the latest status report on the project website for additional information and updates.
With the recent news (See April 13 and 14 reports below) regarding the sale of “Baatan” and the decision by Lufthansa to base their Starliner in the United States, there could very well be three airworthy Constellations based and flying in the US next year. We’ve had a Constellation “drought” since the MATS Connie departed for South Korea in April 2005 and the return of three aircraft to the skies is almost too good to be true!
(April 16 Update: Work is temporarily on hold until the engine components sent out for overhaul have been returned.)
Lufthansa Starliner to Remain in US - April 14, 2015
The Germany.info website website reported on March 23, 2015 that Starliner N7316C, currently being restored by Lufthansa Technik in Auburn, Maine, will remain in the United States after restoration is completed later this year. The website reports that the announcement was made by German Ambassador Peter Wittig at a dinner honoring the airline. "The Starliner will serve as an ambassador of Lufthansa for pleasure flights -- not in Europe, but in the US, where the Starliner will remain." As of today, Lufthansa Technik has not confirmed this report on their news page. If true, this is an amazing development and, while US propliner enthusiasts will undoubtedly be thrilled, the same cannot be said for their European brethren.
VC-121A "Bataan" Sold to Lewis Air Legends - April 13, 2015
The Planes of Fame Air Museum issued a press release today announcing that it had sold VC-121A 48-613/N422NA to Lewis Air Legends of San Antonio, Texas. The aircraft was General Douglas MacArthur's personal aircraft for six months during the Korean War. After a complete restoration was completed in late 1994, the aircraft was flown to the museum's annex in Valle, AZ for static display. The press release states that Lewis Air Legends plans on making the aircraft airworthy and flying it on the airshow circuit. This is very exciting news and I look forward to the possibility of seeing not only this aircraft on the airshow circuit, but also VC-121A "Columbine II" which is currently being evaluated for sale.
Disassembly of C-121J N4247K Continues in Manila – April 7, 2015
The Qantas Founders Museum issued a media release today regarding the latest status of their project to disassemble and prepare C-121J N4247K for shipment to the museum's home in Longreach, Australia. This process began in November 2014 when a crew from the Qantas Airways Engineering Aircraft Recovery Team visited Manila to extricate the aircraft from its muddy bonds. As reported on this website on March 25th, a team consisting of former Qantas mechanics, museum volunteers and local mechanics/volunteers have being working to disassemble the aircraft. To date the engines/props, empennage, wings and landing gear have been removed. In the near future, the disassembled aircraft will be moved to a storage area to await shipment to Australia. The first two photos are dated March 19th and the third dated March 26th.
Photo Page Added to Constellation Survivors Website – March 30, 2015
I’ve added a photo page to collect and share the photos folks send to me. The link is located right after “Constellation News Archives” on this website’s home page.
Yannich Barthe Films Releases SCFA Super Connie Short Film - March 27, 2015
Yannich Barthe Films recently released a short film titled "Super Constellation--The Film" starring SCFA Super Connie HB-RSC. The 30-minute film, shot in 2013-14, features exclusive footage of maintenance operations; engine starts; takeoff and landings; air-to-air sequences; cockpit operations; and formation flying with Breitling Jet Team L-39's and Swiss Air Force PC-7's. The inflight sequences were filmed in both slow motion and real time, with the Alps footage being truly stunning. The film is offered via two DVD download options from the Vimeo website. A 48 hour streaming rental is available for $14.99 and the film can also be purchased outright for $29.99. Two trailers have been produced so that buyers can preview portions of the video before purchase: 2013 Trailer and 2014 Trailer For more information about the film, check out the Yannich Barthe Film website.
HB-RSC will celebrate her 60th birthday later this year and SCFA plans on commemorating the event by scheduling a special 70 minute sightseeing trip on June 20th. Routing will be Basle - Delémont – Biel – Neuchatel – Yverdon – Lac de Joux – Fleurier – Creux du Van – Le Locle – La Chaux de Fonds – Saignelégier – Porrentruy – Laufen – Basel.
Disassembly of C-121J Begins in Manila - March 25, 2015
Bob Bogash reports that disassembly has begun on C-121J N4247K in Manila. A crew from the Qantas Founders Museum, assisted by students from a local aviation training college, has been on site at MNL for about two weeks. To date, they have removed the engines, props, tail and outboard wing panels. Next on the agenda is the removal of the landing gear and wings. Bob, who spearheaded the Museum of Flight’s acquisition of Super Constellation CF-TGE, is advising the Australians along with technical support from Carlos Gomez and Stef Bailis. Bob is awaiting promised photos, which will be posted on this website as soon as he forwards them to me.
Detailed Survey of "Columbine II" Underway at Marana Regional Airport - March 24, 2015
On March 6th I reported that Karl Stoltzfus and a 15 person team would be performing a detailed survey and inspection of VC-121A N9463/48-610 “Columbine II” at Marana Regional Airport. Instead of the one week effort I had reported, the survey is much more extensive and is not scheduled to be completed until the week of April 5th, when the engines will be run. Karl’s brother Ken posted a March 24th update on the project website summarizing progress to date. He also included a detailed status report compiled by team member Brian Miklos. As of the 24th, the team's effort has been focused on the engines, AD compliance and airframe inspection with no “show stoppers” uncovered.
In a March 22 email to Columbine II's owners Karl said "We have found the airframe to be in quite good condition with very little corrosion but with the normally expected things that you would find with an airplane that was parked outside and subjected to extreme heat. However the engines needed a lot more work than we expected before we feel comfortable to even run them. We determined very early that we were not going to run them until we had carefully inspected them and made necessary repairs to give us the best potential to have successful engine runs and ferry. Before final acceptance we would like to make sure the engines run, and remove enough floor under the forward and aft potty area to inspect for corrosion as well as confirming AD compliance."
Scott Glover and a team from the Mid America Flight Museum rode into town the morning of March 10th in a gorgeous Lodestar and dove into the project with both feet. During the week they were at Marana, they played a crucial role in completing a number of critical work assignments and are scheduled to return the week of April 5th. Sure is nice having friends like them!
Also check out the warbirdsnews.com website for an interesting report about the project .
Propliner Magazine Ceases Publication with Issue #141 – March 16, 2015
Today Tony Merton Jones performed the familiar task of mailing out the latest issue of Propliner Magazine for the final time. Tony has been editor of Propliner since 1985, when he took over reins of the magazine after the tragic May 1984 death of Stephen Piercey. The final issue, #141, will be Tony's 120th at the helm. It’s been an amazing run and what makes it even more amazing is that it was all done by volunteers. The dedication of Tony and his small publication staff was remarkable considering the effort required to publish a magazine like Propliner every three months. The decision was not based on a lack of quality material being submitted by contributors but by falling subscriber numbers, soaring postage costs, the loss of the US distributor and other distribution issues. Unfortunately, time takes its toll and every year there are fewer and fewer propliner enthusiasts, with young aviation enthusiasts having no interest in these relics from a bygone era. For me it’s hard to remember when there wasn’t a Propliner Magazine and the news of its demise felt to me like the death of a family member. I’m grateful that I was able to be part of the experience and proud that Tony saw fit to publish 54 of my articles. Thank you very much for all you’ve done Tony, Propliner will be sorely missed.
Indian Naval Air Museum Super Connie Receives Facelift – March 12, 2015
Michael Tosta visited the Naval Air Museum at Dabolim, India in November 2014, where he photographed L1049G IN315 midway through a much needed cosmetic restoration. The contrast between the “painted” and the “yet to be painted” sections of the aircraft was dramatic and it’s good to see the old girl getting some attention. The aircraft served with Air Indian from 1955 to 1961, when it was transferred to the Indian Air Force. It was transferred to the Indian Navy in 1976 for maritime reconnaissance, replacing ancient B-24 bomber aircraft. Retired in 1983, it was stored at Dabolim until moved to the Naval Aviation Museum for display in 2000. Thanks much to Michael for sharing his photographs.
Columbine II Moves One Step Closer to Possible Sale - March 6, 2015
Karl Stoltzfus and a 15+ person team of mechanics and technicians from Dynamic Aviation and The Mid America Flight Museum will be at Marana Regional Airport next week to perform a detailed survey of VC-121A N9463/48-610 “Columbine II”. Engine runs will be performed and, at the end of the week, a final decision on whether or not to move forward with the purchase of the aircraft will be made. Here’s a link to the project website with some additional information. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all goes well next and this historic airplane move to a new chapter in her life. I will pass along updates as I receive them.
Super Connie Appears in Forgettable 1977 Moonshiner Movie - March 1, 2015
While not about a "survivor" and thus slightly off-topic, I decided to include this piece since I thought it would be of interest to most readers. I recently received an email from Duane Hester asking if I’d seen the 1977 movie “Thunder and Lightning,” which featured Super Constellation CS-TLB in a supporting role. The movie, starring David Carradine and Kate Jackson, is about competing moonshiners and would be totally forgettable if not for the fact that it included some brief clips of the former TAP L1049G. After being retired by TAP in July 1967, CF-TLB was sold to Miami aircraft dealer International Aerodyne, where it was used for spares until being disassembled and mounted atop a restaurant near Naples, Florida in about 1971. Unfortunately, the aircraft was scrapped in early 1978 but it lives on in the movie, which can be viewed on YouTube. The Super Connie makes her brief appearances in the video at 1:19:11 and 1:21:16. For additional information about the aircraft, check the February 27, 2009 submission on this website's Q&A Forum.
Air Korea Starliner Photos from 1968 – February 28, 2015
Steve Miller recently emailed me two very interesting photos of Air Korea L1649A Starliner HL4003 taken on May 5, 1968 at Kimpo International Airport in Korea. Air Korea was a short lived Korean based airline that operated the Starliner on non-scheduled flights between Korea and South Vietnam from March 1967 to August 1968. While the Starliner was scrapped many years ago, its image is preserved in the form of former VC-121A/L749A MATS Connie N494TW, which is on display at the Korean Air maintenance base at Jeju Island in Air Korea colors with HL4003 registration markings. The first two photos are of the Starliner and the last of N494TW. Many thanks to Steve for providing the two photos and the many other vintage photos he posts via the Classic-Propliners Yahoo Group.
Fox News Airs Piece on "Columbine II" – February 18, 2015
Tim Crowley seems to finally be getting some traction in his quest to publicize the plight of VC-121A 48-610/N9463 “Columbine II”. On February 16th (Presidents Day) Fox News aired a short news piece on the aircraft and the need for this unique and historic aircraft to find a new home. CNN is also working on a news story to be aired in the not too distant future. It’s great to see that the aircraft is finally getting some recognition. It’s a shame that the bureaucrats at the National Museum of the USAF haven’t shown any interest in acquiring "Columbine II" for their presidential aircraft collection. What makes this even more puzzling is the fact that they are currently building a new wing for the collection at Wright Patterson AFB.
Kermit Weeks Produced Video of Starliner N974R Final Flight – February 12, 2015
I was surfing the internet the other day and found a very interesting YouTube video about the ferry flight of Starliner N974R from Sanford, Florida to Fantasy of Flight on October 19, 2001 that was produced by Kermit Weeks. The 10 minute 39 second video starts out with a short history of the Lockheed Constellation followed by video of flight preparations, the takeoff from Sanford International Airport, air-to-air footage and finally the landing on Fantasy of Flight’s 5,000 foot turf runway. I was at Sanford for the departure and it was quite a thrill to see the old girl take to the air one last time. I also remember Kermit's folks taking alot of video and, up until now, wondered if any of it ever got published. I'm glad to see that some of it did.
"Columbine II" Could Be Heading to New Home – February 7, 2015
Mel Christler’s grandson, Tim Crowley, has been spearheading the effort to find a permanent home for VC-121A 48-610/N9463 “Columbine II” and his efforts appear to finally be bearing some fruit. The aircraft served as Dwight Eisenhower’s first presidential aircraft and is the only primary presidential aircraft not preserved in a museum. The aircraft owners and Karl D. Stoltzfus, Sr. signed a formal “due diligence” agreement in late January 2015, which allows Karl 90 days to evaluate the aircraft’s condition and the feasibility of performing a ferry flight to Bridgewater Air Park (VBW) in Virginia. Karl is the owner of Dynamic Aviation, which has operated DC-3 and more recently King Air aircraft out of company headquarters at VBW. A two-day preliminary inspection of the aircraft was performed in November 2014 and it was found to be in good condition with minimal corrosion. The engines were run in 2014 and, while the Curtis Electric props appear to be in good condition, they will probably have to be x-rayed prior to any flight.
Karl is currently undertaking a worldwide search for critical parts and technical help to restore the aircraft. He’s reaching out to all his contacts for leads on L749A Constellation parts plus contact information on mechanics with the skills that will be useful in preparing the aircraft for a ferry flight. Locating the following parts is critical to the project moving forward:
Lower Engine Cowling. Cowlings were removed from the #1 and #4 engines a number of years ago and apparently someone decided one of them would make a nice souvenir. The cowling is crucial to a ferry flight and it would be a shame if the aircraft was left behind at the airport and scrapped due to a missing cowling. Hopefully a cowling can be found or the missing cowling returned.
17:00-20 main wheels
Six-puck Goodyear single disk brakes
Civilian R3350-749C18BD or military R3350-75 engines
The final decision on the purchase is dependent on the success of this search followed by the successful completion of a comprehensive pre-buy inspection. If the decision is made to move forward with the project, the first phase will be to make the aircraft airworthy for a ferry flight from Marana, AZ to Bridgewater, VA. The ultimate goal is to return the aircraft to fully airworthy status and participate in the airshow circuit. This decision will be made once the aircraft has arrived in Virginia. Karl plans to launch a small museum at Bridgewater Air Park, which will include a hangar for Columbine II and his aircraft collection, which includes a beautifully restorted C-47, a T-6G, Stearman and Beech 18. He is deeply committed to Columbine II as a matter of principle because of his sense of the need to communicate “heritage” to the younger generations.
Karl’s brother Ken is the project's communication coordinator and can be contacted via email. For more information, check out the project website. The website also contains a nice collection of current photographs.
Museum of Flight Super Constellation Moved to Make Way for Construction of New Exhibit Hall – February 3, 2015
The Museum of Flight moved Super Constellation CF-TGE on Saturday January 31st from the museum’s Air Park to the berm behind the museum. The Super Connie was positioned next to the museum’s B-47 51-7066, taking the place of B-17 NL17W/42-29782 which had previously been on display at this location. According to Bob Bogash, the Super Connie was one of four aircraft moved from the Air Park location to make room for the start of construction of a new covered Air Park, which should be completed in about two years. Check out Bob’s website for a full report on the move.
Interesting Photos Received from Website Visitors – January 23, 2015
I recently received some interesting photos from website visitors. The first set was from well-known aviation photographer Ron Mak and included photos of C-121J N4247K taken at Arlington, WA back in June 1986 before the aircraft departed on its ill-fated mission across the Pacific. Check out the cockpit and cabin photos and compare them to current photos. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the aircraft is out of Manila and on its way to Australia for restoration by the Qantas Founders Museum.
The second set of photos are of 48-610/N9463 “Columbine II” taken at Andrews AFB in May 1991 by John Benton. The aircraft had recently been restored by Mel Christler and Harry Oliver and was on display at the base’s annual open house. John was stationed at Naval Air Facility Washington at the time and managed to hang around after the show was over. He was rewarded with a ride in Columbine II when the crew taxied her over to the tower for some "official" photo ops. I had recently moved to Maryland and made an unplanned quick visit to the show where I was pleasantly surprised to see this historic aircraft on display. Unlike John, I didn’t have my camera with that day and wasn’t able to capture that very unique moment in time.
The third set of photos are of the "Breitling Connie" HB-RSC taken at RIAT-Fairford in July 2013 by Peter Fothergill. This aircraft is the most photographed Constellation of all time and hopefully she will remain active on the European airshow circuit for many years to come.
Last, but not least, is an interesting photo of one of the engines from L1049G 121J 5T-TAF taken by Eskender Ganiev in October 2014 and forwarded to me by Stipe Zivaljic. The Biafran Airlift veteran was used as a restaurant from the mid-70's to mid-80's in Kirkop, Malta before it was adandoned and finally burned by vandals on January 30, 1997. Its remains, including the wings, undercarriage and engines, were acquired by the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation.
Lufthansa Starliner Restoration Project Update – January 2, 2015
Happy New Year to everyone! Back on October 3rd I promised a report on my visit to the Lufthansa Technik hangar in Auburn and, while it took a bit longer than I anticipated, I hope it's worth the wait....
It had been a year since my 2013 visit to Auburn-Lewiston Airport (KLEW), where Lufthansa Technik is in the final phase of an incredible 6+ year restoration of Starliner N7316C. Having received approval from Lufthansa Technik North America for a October 1, 2014 visit, I arrived at the Lufthansa Technik hangar with fellow Constellation enthusiast Pete Ferraro. In order to keep work disruptions to a minimum, visits to the hangar now require prior approval. A “no-photography” policy has also been implemented at the hangar so no current photographs will be included in this update. There have been a number of management changes during the past year and we were greeted by Heiko Schroth, who joined the project in June 2014. Heiko is responsible for operational support/procurement and he and production manager Eddy Weber manage day-to-day operations. Andreas Pakszies assumed overall management of the project in early 2014 and all three men are veteran Lufthansa Technik employees with many years of experience in their respective fields.
Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung acquired N7316C, along with Starliners N8083H and N974R in December 2007 and, while N7316C hadn’t been operated by Lufthansa, it was judged to be in the best condition and thus the best candidate for restoration. Lufthansa’s ambitious goal of restoring N7316C to strict current airline standards considerably increased the scope and complexity of the project and it’s safe to say that a static display restoration would have been completed years ago. When the restoration is complete, the aircraft will receive a standard airworthiness certificate with no restrictions and will be certified to carry passengers.
It didn’t take very long to realize that the project had kicked into high gear, with the hangar a beehive of organized activity. Heiko said that 120 employees were working on site with a goal of increasing that number to 140. The operation runs seven days a week with two 12-hour shifts Monday through Friday and a single 12-hour shift on weekends. Sheet metal and structural mechanics are in high demand and have been actively recruited to supplement the current 70 man mechanic workforce. Standards are very high and once a prospective candidate arrives, they are given a practical test before being allowed to join the project. The workforce is truly international with mechanics from Shannon Aerospace in Ireland and Lufthansa Technik facilities in Budapest, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Manila. These folks were recruited because of their specialized skills, which have proven to be invaluable. In addition to the journeymen workforce, twelve apprentice mechanics from Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg rotate through on four to six week assignments.
Parts management is a critical function of any production program and Lufthansa Technik was faced with some unique and challenging problems. In addition to the enormous amount of parts involved, there were quite a few parts using materials from the 1950's that were either no longer available or no longer suitable for use. Magnesium and asbestos parts are just two examples. Since only 44 Starliners were built by Lockheed and the last one was built 55 years ago, many parts are very scarce and hard to come by. One example is passenger windows, which were found only after an exhaustive worldwide search. Other parts were not available and had to be manufactured using original Lockheed drawings. There are also parts that couldn’t be manufactured using these drawings because materials weren’t available and new drawings had to be created and approved before replacement parts could be manufactured. Some original drawings were not detailed enough and the production team resorted to using N8083H as a template. An example is the hydraulic tubing, which was removed from N7316C at the start of the project. Using tubing from N8083H as a pattern, 1,500 pieces were fabricated in Hamburg with the remaining pieces now being fabricated in-house. This was done to save time and is led by a retired aircraft tubing expert with assistance from a group of very capable German apprentices. Another source of help has been the German military, which flies the P-3 Orion. The P-3 was first flown in 1959 and a number of parts are very similar to the Starliner.
Material planning, parts inspection, NDT, painting, heat treating, storage and parts kitting are performed in nearby Building 2, thus freeing up hangar space for production activity. A number of these functions were brought in-house to reduce lead times including heat treatment. Heat treatment lead time was reduced from 6 week to 24 hours by doing the work in-house. Used parts are inspected in Building 2 and a determination is made on whether they can be used as is, refurbished or need to be scrapped. Material planning and inventory management has been computerized and the system was being used during our visit to kit parts for the production effort. In addition to the in-house staff, the project team has utilized retired Lockheed production planners that are very familiar with Lockheed processes and procedures. While none worked at Lockheed during the Constellation production era, their knowledge and insight have proved very helpful to the project.
While the aircraft was still supported in cradles and surrounded by scaffolding, significant progress had been made since my last visit, with sheet metal and structural work nearing completion. One of the remaining items to be completed is the keel and beam assembly, which was being worked on by a group of Lufthansa Technik mechanics from Hamburg and Frankfurt. Once this is finished, the three center section fuel tanks can be completed and pressure tested. The structural modifications required to accommodate the front and rear passenger doors have been completed and the doors are ready for installation. A significant milestone was achieved this year with the successful pressure testing of the four wing fuel tanks. Reassembly of the wing has begun and, when completed, will include newly manufactured deicer boots. The tail structure is being rebuilt in Auburn by a group of Lufthansa Technik sheet metal mechanics from Manila. Heiko estimates that at project completion, 85% of the original structure and sheet metal will have been replaced.
The landing gear assemblies were refurbished at the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg and illustrate just one of the many unanticipated challenges encountered during the restoration. A detailed inspection by the Hamburg technical staff determined that the landing gear assemblies were in much worse condition that originally thought. Adding to the problem were incomplete or missing drawings in repair manuals and the need to replace materials that were no longer available or suitable for use. Including brake and hydraulic components, the landing gear assemblies required over 80 special repair procedures. New landing gear brackets were required and they will be milled rather than forged. Drawings were prepared and plastic parts for fit checks were created using a 3D printer. With fit checks confirming the design, the new landing gear brackets can be manufactured with a high degree of confidence.
Four R3350 engines have been overhauled by Anderson Airmotive, with the spare 5th and 6th engines to follow. Four of eight propellers have been refurbished at Hope Aero in Toronto, Canada as have all of the spinners. When propellers are refurbished, metal is removed and the remaining four propellers are near the limits of what can be removed. Lufthansa Technik is currently in discussions with the South African Airways Museum to exchange these propellers for those that had been installed on the museum’s static display Starliner ZS-DVJ. Previously the museum allowed the use of the passenger doors from their Starliner in exchange for two non-airworthy doors, so hopefully a deal can be struck.
The cockpit will receive a total makeover to bring it into compliance with current standards and requirements. Honeywell has adapted their C-130J glass cockpit, which includes state-of-the art displays for both the captain and first officer. The overhead panels have been completely redesigned and modern radios, including a TCAS, will be incorporated. Constellations were different from their Douglas counterparts in that they had a dedicated flight engineer position and instrument panel. The existing flight engineer panel will be refurbished and used for flight certification testing in the United States. Once testing is complete, the project will enter Phase II when a redesigned panel will be installed. As with the original pilot instrument panels, the flight engineer panel was arranged in an illogical manner with system components spread across the panel. In a joint effort between Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS) and Lufthansa Technik, a new panel was designed in accordance with current design standards. While instruments on the new panel will be located in different positions, they will perform the same functions as before. One change will be the incorporation of a new engine graphic monitoring panel, which will visually display multiple exhaust gas and cylinder head temperatures. The current gauge only displays these parameters for one cylinder at a time and the multi-cylinder display will allow the flight engineer to better monitor engine performance and spot individual cylinder deviations much easier.
The passenger cabin will be installed in Maine during Phase 2 and will include 44 A300 business class seats that are being refurbished in California. Three fuselage mockups have been built in Hamburg and second and third year apprentices are fabricating interior components. To reduce costs and save time, B737 and A320 cabin components are being adapted for use, including overhead baggage racks, passenger service units, air ducts, passenger oxygen units, toilets and the front galley. Once completed they will be temporarily installed in the mockups allowing fit checks to be performed and also providing the cabin design staff a realistic look at the completed cabin. This approach allows production of these components in parallel with the work being performed in Maine and minimizing issues when it’s time to install the cabin interior in the aircraft.
The two other Starliners have also played an important role in the restoration of N7316C. Before being donated to Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida, many useful components were removed from N974R for use on the project. Made externally complete, the aircraft was on display at the museum until it recently closed its doors to the public. The aircraft appears to be safe for the time being as the restoration facility is still open and Kermit Weeks plans on reinventing the facility as an aviation theme park. N8083H is parked next to the restoration hangar and, in addition to providing many useful parts, it has served as an extremely useful reference point during the restoration. I asked Heiko about the plans for N8083H and he said it still wasn't decided but that it wouldn't be scrapped.
Frank Sangers recently forwarded me a link to a 29 minute YouTube video of a publicity film made by Lufthansa in 1958. The professionally produced high quality film beautifully illustrates airport operations at Hamburg Airport and a family taking a flight on a Lufthansa Starliner from Hamburg to Chicago. Unfortunately, the narration is in German but the video is definitely still worth a viewing.
I’d like to thank Lufthansa Technik for allowing the visit and especially Heiko Schroth for taking the time out of his busy day to answer our many questions and for escorting us around the facility. I look forward to being in Auburn when the aircraft is rolled out in 2015. For additional current information about the project, check out the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung website.
See Constellation News Archive - 2014 For Additional News
----Created 31 January 2004------Updated 25 November 2015----