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 were 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.
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.
Breitling Super Connie Completes Successful 2014 Flying Season – December 30, 2014
Breitling Super Constellation HB-RSC completed a successful flying season in October and is now undergoing annual winter maintenance. SCFA member Arie Wubben reports that, in addition to the normal checks and maintenance performed during the winter, one of the four engines will be replaced, and the landing gear assemblies will be overhauled. Both items are critical to safe flight and are receiving attention not as a result of a failure, but because SCFA follows prudent preventative maintenance practices.
A DVD titled “Breitling Super Constellation – HB-RSC – Star of Switzerland” was released in November and is now available on the SCFA website. Its priced at CHF48/€40 (plus shipping) and runs for 45 minutes. In addition, Terry Wall recently sent me a link to a very nice 10 minute HD video of HB-RSC flying over scenic Central Switzerland.
Qantas Founders Museum Crew Arrives in Manila – November 12, 2014
As reported September 22nd on this website, the Qantas Founders Museum was the successful bidder for Super Constellation N4247K at the September 12th auction in Manila. A crew from the Qantas Founders Museum recently arrived in Manila and began the task of preparing the aircraft for shipment to Australia. The aircraft has sunk into the ground and one of the first tasks the crew faced was digging out the landing gear. While the aircraft appears to be in less than stellar condition, it is essentially intact and should make a great exhibit for the museum once restoration is complete.
Good News on the Lufthansa Starliner Restoration Project – October 3, 2014
I visited the Lufthansa Technik hangar at Auburn-Lewiston Airport on October 1st and am happy to report that real progress is being made on the restoration of Starliner N7316C. The hangar was a beehive of organized activity with major milestones having been achieved in 2014. Reassembly of the aircraft has begun and rollout in the foreseeable future seems to be an achievable goal. My hat’s off to Lufthansa, Lufthansa-Technik and the team of professionals working in Auburn. They have definitely turned the corner on the project! A more detailed report to follow.
Amicale du Super Constellation Holds Open House – September29, 2014
The Amicale du Super Constellation organization has been working steadily on the restoration of Super Constellation F-BGNJ. They recently replaced the tires and the cockpit restoration is almost complete. They held an open house at the aircraft’s home at Nantes Atlantique Airport last weekend, where the public was invited to have a look at the old girl. Next on the group’s “to-do” list is the replacement of all of cockpit and fuselage windows. It's great to see the aircraft looking so good and being so well cared for.
Super Connie HI-542CT Sighting at Aguadilla, PR – September 28, 2014
Carlos Aleman forwarded me an aerial photo he took yesterday of Super Constellation HI-542CT at the Aguadilla-Borinquen Airport in Puerto Rico. The aircraft has been parked at the airport since it was hit by a runaway DC-4 back on February 3, 1992. The aerial photograph shows damage to the right wing caused by the collision. In 2003, the Ramey AFB Historical Association began restoration of the aircraft as a MATS C-121C but the effort appears to have been abandoned shortly after it began. The aircraft is parked in a remote location at the airport not accessible to the public. Many thanks to Carlos for sending the photo.
Yanks Museum EC-121T Engine Run-up – September 25, 2014
I recently received an email from Jim Cochran saying that the folks at the Yanks Museum in Chino had successfully run all four engines on EC-121T 53-548 on Sunday September 21st and that a video had been posted on Facebook. I contacted Frank Wright at the Yanks Museum and he confirmed the engine run went off without a hitch and forwarded me a YouTube video of the event. I believe this is the first time the engines had been run since the aircraft arrived at Chino on January 14, 2012 and its good to see that the old girl is getting some attention.
Breitling Super Connie Has Busy Day at Dübendorf – September 23, 2014
Breitling Super Connie has had an active flying season with membership flights and visits to quite a few airshow. Last Saturday was no exception when HB-RSC entertained spectators at Dübendorf, Switzerland with no less than five takeoffs and landings. Paul Zogg attended the event and forwarded me some very nice photos. He posted additional photos of the event on the Picasa Web Albums website. Paul hosts an outstanding website featuring an extensive collection of Constellation and
Super Constellation photos and information.
Manila Connie Heading to Australia – September 22, 2014
The Australian ABC News website reported on September 19th that the Qantas Founders Museum was the successful bidder for Super Constellation N4247K at the September 12th auction in Manila. This is really great news but now the museum needs to raise the funds to disassemble and ship the aircraft from the Philippines to Australia. Luke Gambrill sent me some photographs, taken a few days before the auction, that clearly illustrate the effects of 26 years of open storage in the hot and humid climate of Manila.
Manila Airport Auction of Super Connie N4247K Set for September 12th – August 18, 2014
The Manila Standard Today website reported on August 15th that the long awaited auction of Super Constellation N4247K, three DC-3's and a number of other abandoned aircraft at Manila International Airport will happen on September 12, 2014. The minimum bid for the Super Constellation is 1.1M Philippine pesos ($25,200) and it would be a real shame if this aircraft dosen’t go to a museum since available Constellations have become a rare commodity. While the aircraft has obviously deteriorated as the result of being stored outside for 26 years in the hot and humid Philippine climate, it still is essentially complete and intact. See my July 13, 2014 report for additional information.
SAA Museum Society Starliner Update – August 6, 2014
On July22, 2014 I reported that work had apparently come to standstill on the move of L1649A ZS-DVJ from Johannesburg to the SAA Museum facility at Rand Airport. John Austin-Williams, the museum’s PR/Media Liaison was kind enough to provide the following update on the project. While things have slowed down, the good news is that progress continues.
Our Museum Restoration Manager, Richard Hunt, has supplied the following answer to your question.....
"The long saga of the SAA Museum Society's Starliner continues with at least some progress if somewhat small. The aircraft has recently undergone, yet again, another move, this time into an open area where the final disassembly can take place in preparation for the attempted move to the Museum’s facility at Rand Airport. The much needed fuselage shoring material has been delivered to the aircraft with the exception of the final parts that will be delivered once the aircraft has been jacked up for landing gear removal. The location of suitable jacks is still troublesome as most people underestimate the size and height of the old Starliner. The engines that were on the aircraft were sent to Anderson Aeromotive, Idaho, USA, for component salvage/possible overhaul for the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS) Starliner. Four dummy engines were given to us and are now at Rand Airport. The empennage is also at Rand Airport. The Museum’s small but dedicated bunch of “Connie” volunteers continue to chip away at the project, with little to no financial aid, while the pressure to finally remove the aircraft mounts from the present facility owners."   Ralph, hope this helps.
Public Relations and Media Liaison Officer: South African Airways Museum Society
Constellation News Round-Up – July 22, 2014
---Korean Air Constellation---
I recently received an email from Keuntaeg Kim, who is a Service Engineer with Korean Air at Jeju Island, South Korea. The former MATS Connie was flown to Korean Air’s Training Center there in April 2005 and is currently on display in Air Korea colors as HL4003. Keuntaeg is preparing a display for the Connie’s cabin and forwarded some photos, which he kindly allowed me to include on this website. The aircraft photos were taken on November 4, 2013 and the cabin photos on June 5, 2014. It’s great to see that the old girl is being well taken care of.
For additional information about the MATS Connie’s 2005 flight to Korea, check out the April 2005 news piece and Bye Bye MATS Connie article on this website.
---Museum of Aviation EC-121K Interior Work Nearing Completion---
The Naval Aircraft Restoration Foundation (NARF) is dedicated to the restoration of historic US Navy aircraft and foundation volunteers have been working since 2007 on the restoration of the Museum of Aviation’s EC-121K BuNo 141297. In addition to performing regular preventive maintenance on the aircraft's exterior, volunteers have spent considerable time and effort recreating the original interior, which had been removed by the Navy when it converted the aircraft for R&D work. I visited the group in May 2008 and wrote a short article about their efforts. The organization is headed by Dr. Gerald Durbin, a retired Navy Commander, and 141297 is the group’s second EC-121K restoration. The group restored EC-121K BuNo 141311 at the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, Illinois from 2000 to 2005.
When the current effort began in 2007, all EC-121’s had either been scrapped or were in museums and none of the original electronic gear was available. Faced with this dilemma, Dr. Durbin decided to recreate the equipment. He spent countless hours at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola taking measurements and photographing equipment installed in EC-121K BuNo 143221. He recently emailed members a status report, announcing that the interior work on 141297 should be completed during the group’s encampment in October. This is great news and I have included his report below.
"Busy working on the replacement panels for the Connie at Warner Robins. Spent many hours doing layout work and trying to figure out how to do white lettering on Black background in AutoCAD."
"Making good progress now and hope to have all the panels finished in a couple weeks. After I finish the panels (need to be installed during the first two weeks in October – hint), will start on the upholstery for the chairs and bunks."
These are the completed face plates:
"Since the originals were silk screened or engraved, and that is rather expensive, I have printed the faceplates out and passed the archival paper on the panels. Most have a aluminum back with a Plexiglas faceplate. The printouts could be used for silk screening also (if funds were available). I hope to have all the face plates and upholstery accomplished before October so they can be installed. This will almost complete the interior except for maintenance. Estimated time spent getting to this stage – probably in the neighbor hood of a thousand hours of effort. One has to love these old birds!"
Cdr Gerald Durbin, PhD
---South African Airways Museum Starliner Update---
Greg Smith visited the South African Airways Museum at Rand Airport and reports that only a few pieces of L1649A ZS-DVJ, including the empennage and four engines, have made their way to the airport. The empennage was removed in June 2013 and, according to the museum's website, the engines arrived from the US on June 4, 2013. Greg spoke to folks at the museum and they said the remainder of the aircraft was still in Johannesburg and they weren’t too optimistic about it being moved to Rand anytime soon. The project status was last updated on the museum’s website in June 2013 and a recent email to the media liason folks has yet to be answered. If anyone has any additional information about the project I would really appreciate if they would contact me via email .
---Interesting YouTube Video---
Andreas Schmidt recently forwarded me a link to vintage YouTube video documenting the development of the Allison 501-D13 turboprop engine used on Lockheed Electra. Constellations were used as engine test beds during development and the video contains some interesting Constellation footage. I greatly appreciate the help that folks like Andreas provide by passing on interesting pieces of information and news.
Lufthansa Starliner Project Update – July 17, 2014
Since my September 2013 visit to Auburn, Lufthansa has continued to make steady progress on the restoration of L1649A N7316C. Now in its 8th year, this monumental project is undoubtedly the most extensive and ambitious restoration ever undertaken of a classic aircraft and Lufthansa should be commended for their efforts. While no official completion date has been released, 2015 looks do-able for a first flight and I’ve got my fingers crossed that it happens.
Lufthansa’s goal of carrying passengers in the aircraft required compliance with strict current airline standards, thus considerably increasing the scope of the project. The cockpit required extensive upgrading, with Honeywell adapting their C-130J glass cockpit for use in the Starliner. The 1950’s era flight gages will be replaced, with the captain and co-pilot each having two state-of-the art displays. The overhead panels have been completely redesigned and modern radios, including a TCAS, will be incorporated. About the only thing that will remain unchanged in the cockpit is the original flight engineer panel. There are still some things are best accomplished by old fashioned “steam gages.”
Work continues on the rest of the aircraft with the wings nearing completion. If they haven’t already been pressure tested, this testing should be completed in the very near future. Lots of sheet metal work is currently happening with flaps completed, cowling nearing completion and many other sheet metal items in work. Work was also recently completed on the landing gear assemblies, which were found to be in worse condition that originally thought. Adding to the problem were incomplete or missing technical drawings in repair manuals and the need to replace materials that were no longer available or suitable for use. An example was the magnesium nose wheels that were replaced with Airbus A320 wheels. Including brake and hydraulic components, the landing gear assemblies required over 80 special repair procedures.
Work continues on the cabin interior in Hamburg. Three mockup sections of the Starliner fuselage were built and apprentices have been fabricating interior components. To reduce costs and save time, B737 and A320 cabin components are being adapted for use in the Starliner including overhead baggage racks, passenger service units, air ducts, passenger oxygen units, toilets and the front galley. Fit checks will be performed on the mockups prior to installation in the aircraft thus allowing 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.
Ray Sheehan, Jr. recently sent me some photos he took of N7316C back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s when the aircraft was abandoned at Stewart Airport in New York. At that time the aircraft was essentially worthless and, if not for the heroic efforts of Maurice Roundy, would probably have been scrapped in place. I’ve included a few of the photos to give a bit of perspective on how far Lufthansa has taken the aircraft.
For regular updates on the project, check out the DLBS-Starliner Project website. Also check out the netAirspace.com forum for some interesting photos and updates.
Manila Airport Authority Plans to Auction Super Connie – July 13, 2014
The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) announced on July 7, 2014 that it was moving forward with a plan to auction 12 “abandoned” aircraft that are currently stored in the airport’s general aviation area. MIAA Legal Department Manager Perla Eslao Dumo said that “abandonment proceedings” are in process for the disposal of 12 aircraft, including Super Constellation N4247K, three DC-3’s and five DC-9’s. The MIAA is currently waiting for clearance from the Hearing and Adjudication Board of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, where a petition to auction the aircraft is pending. While the MIAA has threatened this action in the past, it appears the authority is serious this time as a private firm has been employed to appraise the value of each aircraft. While no date has been set for the auction, one can reasonably assume that it will happen in the not too distant future. Check out the February 19th, March 9th, and March 31st news articles from the 2012 Constellation News Archive and the May 25th and November 10th news articles from the 2011 Constellation News Archive for additional information about the MIAA’s efforts to rid the airport of what the administrators consider an eyesore.
N4247K has been stored at the airport since 1988, when it was impounded by authorities after a dispute between owner William “Winky” Crawford and some local businessmen. Crawford has been deceased for a number of years and while there have been a number of organizations and individuals interested in buying this aircraft, its uncertain ownership and the Philippine bureaucracy have made this all but impossible. Hopefully this provides a clear path for one of these parties to purchase the aircraft thus saving it from the scrapman.
New Columbine II Video Released – June 4, 2014
On May 18, 2014 I reported that Tim Crowley would be releasing a short documentary video about the current situation involving VC-121A Columbine II . The video was posted June 2nd on YouTube so have a look at it and pass the link on to your enthusiast friends. This airplane is definitely worth saving.
Super Connie F-BGNJ Celebrates Her 60th Birthday – May 27, 2014
Amicale du Super Constellation held a party on Saturday May 24, 2014 to celebrate the 60th birthday of their gorgeous L1049G Super Constellation F-BGNJ. The aircraft was delivered to Air France in November 1953 and served with Air France, Air Fret and CATAIR. Re-registered F-BRAD by Air Fret, the aircraft flew in the Biafran Airlift in 1968/69 before being sold to CATAIR on December 31, 1969. F-BRAD was retired by CATAIR in early 1973 and ferried to Nantes, France in May 1974 for use as a tourist attraction. Amicale du Super Constellation has restored the aircraft to her original F-BGNJ Air France colors. To celebrate the event, Amicale du Super Constellation organized a luncheon for association volunteers, which was served inside the aircraft. The menu was very similar to what a passenger might expect to be served on an Air France Super Constellation flight in the 1950’s. Each "passenger" received an invitation with a boarding ticket and was invited dress in 1950’s era attire. Also invited to the party was a restored 1958 Renault. The little boy in the photo is association member Pierre Biron’s son, Nino who was very proud to pilot the old lady! Many thanks to Pierre Biron for forwarding the report and photos.
Columbine II Update – May 18, 2014
On July 15, 2013 I reported on the efforts of Mel Christler's three grandson's to find a suitable home for former Eisenhower presidential aircraft VC-121A Columbine II . This historic aircraft, USAF serial 48-610, has been stored at Marana Regional Airport (AVQ) near Tucson, AZ since May 2003 and, to date, the brothers have been frustrated in their efforts to find a new home for her. 48-610, along with four other VC-121A aircraft were sold to Christler Flying Service in 1970, with the other four aircraft being converted to large acreage sprayers. It is the only primary presidential aircraft ever sold by the government and it definitely belongs in a museum. The owners would like to trade Columbine II for a surplus military transport, such as an early model C-130, but the bureaucrats at the National Museum of the USAF (NMUSAF) have been unwilling to do so, citing a myriad of rules and regulations. It’s interesting to note that it was recently reported in the Coulson Group’s May 2014 newsletter that officials at the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) in Pensacola are currently finalizing a deal with Coulson, which will bring former US Navy Martin Mars “Philippine Mars” to the museum in exchange for two C-130’s and a Grumman F-6F Hellcat. Now a Martin Mars is a very cool aircraft but the Mars being traded doesn’t have nearly the historical significance of Columbine II and you've got to really wonder what the NMUSAF folks are thinking. Could there be two sets of rules? Are there one set for the Navy and one for the Air Force? I doubt it.
Tim Crowley is heading the brother’s efforts and has also been in contact with a number of private museums, warbird collectors and even the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas. Tim has received upwards of 20 inquiries over the past year, but to date no serious offers have been received. It appears that everyone wants the aircraft but no one has the funds to buy the aircraft and make her ready for a ferry flight to a new home. The owners have recently hired former Constellation Group mechanic and flight engineer Tim Coons and another mechanic to determine what it will take to get the old girl airworthy. To date, 3 of the 4 engines have been run and they have a good idea on what the path forward will involve. Matt Larsen recently forwarded me a link to a YouTube video showing the #4 engine being run up on March 14, 2014. If the required funding can be raised, the plan is to resume the restoration in earnest around November and depart Marana next spring.
Tim is currently pursuing a new plan to raise the required funds. He has hired a film crew to document the aircraft's history and current situation in an effort to generate interest in the project and convince the folks running the likes of the History, National Geographic and Discovery channels that there might be some money to be made in producing a documentary about the aircraft. With all the mindless reality show garbage that these folks produce every year, perhaps they would find it refreshing to produce something worthwhile. One can only hope so. Time is running out on the aircraft at Marana Airport...the parking lease expires in 2017 and the airport has already indicated that the lease will not be renewed. If the airplane is still at the airport in 2017, the owners will have to either spend the money to move it to another location or part it out. Not a happy thought.
I’d like to thank Matt for the link and Tim for the status update. In 2013, Larry Hatteberg produced an interesting short news documentary on the aircraft. The video that Tim is having produced wll be released shortly and posted on this website.
Breitling Super Connie Ready for Her 10th Anniversary Celebration - April 29/30, 2014
It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since HB-RSC arrived in Basel, Switzerland on May 8, 2004 after an epic 12 day journey from California. I heard from Arie Wubben this week that, after spending the winter in a hangar in Zurich, HB-RSC received her CoA, which is valid until May 2015. There will be training flights in Epinal, France this week followed by a flight from Zurich to Basel to on May 10th to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the aircraft’s arrival in Basel. For more information about the 2004 flight, check out my article chronicling the event. Also, a 20 minute video about the aircraft will be released later this year. The following photos were taken at Zurich on April 20th.
HB-RSC successfully completed crew training flights on Monday and Tuesday, April 28/29, at Epinal, France and returned to Zurich on Wednesday. Rolf Eichenberger forwarded the following photos from Epinal.
New Photos Uncovered of 1952 TWA Crash Landing at NAS Fallon – April 10, 2014
A few months back I received an email from Stan Kindig saying that he was at NAS Fallon when TWA Super Connie N6904C made a crash landing on the base’s 7,000 foot runway during the early evening hours of December 7, 1952. The next day he took some photos of the aircraft with his Kodak Brownie camera and still had the photos, and more importantly, the negatives which he generously allowed me to scan. The 60 year old negatives were in remarkably good condition as evidenced by the photos below. As seen in the photos, the aircraft was severely damaged but, with only 699 hours of flight time, it was decided to repair the Super Connie and a team from Lockheed was dispatched to Fallon. N6904C reentered service with TWA on September 24, 1953 and served with the airline until leased to Worldwide Airlines in 1960. After a year with Worldwide, the aircraft went on to serve a number of small airlines but by 1968 it was stored in derelict condition at Miami and presumed scrapped shortly thereafter. For additional information about this incident, including the NTSB report, check out my January 2006 article on this website. I’d like to thank Stan for allowing me to publish these very interesting photos of a long ago event.
Forward Fuselage of EC-121H 53-535 "Found" at Pima Air and Space Museum – March 23, 2014
Acquired for parts in 2007, the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) scrapped EC-121H 53-535/N51006 at the Pima Air and Space Museum in August 2011. It was reported, at the time, that the forward fuselage section had been saved by HARS and would be transported to Australia for restoration. Since that time, there have been no reports on the fuselage until Nigel Hitchman photographed her tucked away in the restoration area of the Tucson museum in early March 2014. Museum visitors are not allowed in the restoration area so I asked my friend Ben Fisher, who is a docent at the museum, to help me get a close up photograph. As luck would have it, the fuselage had been moved and was now completely surrounded by “stuff” but Ben and museum staffer Louie Lopez managed to get some interesting photographs of not only the exterior, but also the interior. Thanks much to Nigel, Ben and Louie for forwarding their photos.
New Photos of Helena EC-121T – March 18, 2014
Steven Van Horn visited Helena Regional Airport on Sunday and passed along some great photos of EC-121T 52-3417/N4257L. While all four engines were uncowled and the rudders were missing, the aircraft otherwise appears to be intact and in good condition. The rudders are at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum and will be forwarded to Castle Air Museum. Steven lives in Bozeman and his father was an EC-121 radar operator with the 552nd AEW Wing at McClelland AFB until he retired in 1975. Many thanks to Steven for the photos.
Super Connie AP-AFQ Removed From Survivor List – February 27, 2014
On February 4, 2014 I reported that the fuselage of Super Connie AP-AFQ had been noted by a spotter at the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Training Center at Karachi International Airport (KHI). While it seemed unlikely that the fuselage could have survived unnoticed all these years, the spotter was quite certain that it was a Constellation fuselage and I added the report to this website. Sameer Haqqi volunteered to help confirm the identity of the fuselage and got in touch with his contacts at KHI.. They performed a thorough check of the training center and surrounding area and unfortunately what they found was not AP-AFQ but the fuselage of B737 AP-BCB. I’d like to thank Sameer very much for his help in providing a final resolution to this matter. It would have been nice to add another Constellation to the survivor list but it was not to be.
Castle Air Museum Acquires Helena EC-121T – February 21, 2014
On January 7, 2014 I expressed concern about the future of the Evergreen Air and Space Museum's EC-121T (52-3417/N4257L), which has called the Helena Regional Airport in Montana home since the early 1980's. This concern was based on the museum's parent company, Evergreen International Aviation, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on December 31, 2013. I contacted the museum’s curator Stewart Bailey and received encouraging news on the future of both the EC-121T and the museum.
”To give you the latest, I can tell you that the Constellation is no longer ours. The whole Evergreen bankruptcy thing got someone at the GSA to remember that we had GSA aircraft in the museum and they pulled our files. At that point, the regional office determined that because we had not moved the “property” in the one year time frame in the standardized contract, that we were in breach of contract and they essentially took it away from us. Our GSA rep in Salem argued with them, that you don’t just turn the key and fly a 60 year old airplane away, but to no avail. Luckily, at the same time as the GSA was repossessing it, the Castle Air Museum called expressing an interest in acquiring the aircraft. In very short order, since they are a GSA qualified museum, the ownership was transferred to them.”
While I’m sorry that my friends at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum lost the aircraft, I am very relieved that it was quickly acquired by Castle Air Museum, which is a first rate and very capable organization. Stewart goes on to provide a good news update on the Evergreen Air and Space Museum.
”As to what is going on with the museum; that is a much better story. Evergreen International Aviation, which was the parent company to the museum declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy (i.e. liquidation) on December 31, 2013. This did not affect the museum too much, because we are a separate 501(c)3 non-profit educational charity, not part of the company. The problem for us is that for all the years of its existence, the museum has been piggybacked onto the Evergreen corporate services such as IT, networks, HR and Payroll. We have spent the last 6 weeks trying to disentangle ourselves from that and set up new separate stand-alone systems for the museum. That has cost us a lot in time and resources, but when we are finished, we will be wholly free of Evergreen, the company. One issue we do have is that our restoration shop was in an Evergreen owned building, and even though all of the contents of the building belong to the museum, we have been locked out of the building by the court appointed trustee. All of my volunteers are just beside themselves, as they are bored and want to get back to work on our other projects which include an F-89J Scorpion, a Piasecki HRP-1 and a Boeing A-160 Hummingbird.”
“As far as the collection goes, the media have far overstated the impact to the museum. At this point, we only stand to lose two aircraft, the TBM-3 Avenger and the Ford Tri-Motor which Mr. Smith had used as collateral on a loan. These, along with most of the warbirds belong to Mr. Smith and as such are on loan to the museum and are not really the museum’s aircraft, so their departure, while sad, is nothing we can control. (Same as when a couple years ago, the National Museum of the Marine Corps took back the F6F Hellcat they had on loan to trade it to the Collings Foundation for a Boeing FB-5.) The press reports on the Spruce Goose were way out of line, as there is no potential of the Aero Club of Southern California taking it back. As they said, “They couldn’t keep it, which is why it was sold to Evergreen 20 years ago. They certainly don’t want it back.” The issue, which is being negotiated by the lawyers, is what we owe the Aero Club on the final payment. The negotiations are ongoing and will be settled soon, so there is no chance that the Spruce Goose will be going anywhere.”
I followed up with an email to the Castle Air Museum and received the following response.
“Yes, we have accepted the EC-121 from Helena. Stewart Bailey and Evergreen have graciously helped us in the transfer of responsibility. We are very excited about acquiring the aircraft because it fits our museum's mission statement; To Preserve Military Aviation for Future Generations. Many of our museum aircraft flew in the Cold War and Vietnam, so the early warning and control systems of the EC-121 fits in well. We understand that the aircraft systems and interior have been well preserved, so therefore the aircraft will serve as a wonderful classroom for students who are interested in history and that time-frame of military aviation. Castle Air Museum has been reaching out to students of all ages to teach them about military aviation. We are currently in the infancy stages of acquiring the EC-121. Proper planning is the key to getting it here safe and sound. It will make for and exciting and proud display at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California.”
At this time it hasn't been decided whether the aircraft will be disassembled and trucked to California or made airworthy for a ferry flight. I missed the Yanks EC-121T flight from Camarillo to Chino in 2012 so perhaps there might still be another chance for me to witness the final EC-121 flight. One can only hope to be so lucky!
1980's Era Photos of N6931C Cockpit Section Surface - February 17, 2014
Every once and a while I receive an email that adds a piece to the puzzle regarding the fate of a particular airframe. Today I received such an email from Olivier Richard with photos he took in the early 1980's of the cockpit section of L1049H N6931C. The aircraft made an emergency one-engine landing at Point-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe on September 3, 1975 and was subsequently scrapped there during the latter part of 1979. In Peter J. Marson’s 2007 Constellation book, it was reported that the cockpit section was salvaged and sent to the Musee de l’Air for preservation. It has since disappeared and I had never seen a photo of the cockpit section until I received Olivier’s email today. While it was quite battered, it was essentially intact and could have been restored. If someone can confirm the final disposition of the cockpit section, I would surely appreciate an email. Many thanks to Olivier for sending these most interesting photos!
HB-RSC Winter Maintenance Photos – February 5, 2014
Arie Wubben sent me the following photos of Super Constellation HB-RSC undergoing winter maintenance in Zurich Switzerland. All is going to plan and SCFA plans a full flying season for HB-RSC in 2014.
Super Connie AP-AFQ Added to Survivor List – February 4, 2014
Andy Martin recently forwarded me an email from a spotter who had visited Karachi International Airport in January 2014 and noted the fuselage of L1049C AP-AFQ at the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Training Center. While not visible from the street, the fuselage is visible from a nearby hotel. AP-AFQ was delivered to the Pakistani Government on February 1, 1954 for use by PIA. It was the first of five Super Connies operated by the airline and the first to be withdrawn from service. Parked at Karachi in 1964, it was cannibalized for spares and the fuselage salvaged and moved to the PIA-KLM Hotel Midway House for use as a cabin crew trainer. A 1969 photo shows the fuselage still in use as a trainer with at least its nose landing gear still in place. An early 1980’s photo shows the fuselage clearly out of use but still in place at the hotel. At this point it was assumed that the fuselage had been scrapped but apparently this is not the case. Thanks much to Andy for forwarding this very interesting spotter's report.
Helena EC-121T Faces Uncertain Future – January 7, 2014
The future of EC-121T N4257L/52-3417 became very tenuous on December 31, 2013 when Evergreen International Airlines and six other Evergreen entities filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy at the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The aircraft is owned by the non-profit Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which could possibly be eventually drawn into the bankruptcy proceedings. Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires liquidation of a company’s assets and the filing estimated total company assets at $100M and total debt at $500M. While the museum and the other companies were supposed to be separate entities, over the years Evergreen owner Del Smith provided considerable monetary support to the museum and it’s uncertain whether it could survive without this support. What seems fairly certain is that, without Del Smith’s support, the museum doesn’t have the financial resources to complete the expensive restoration of the EC-121T for a ferry flight from Helena, Montana to the museum’s headquarters in McMinnville, Oregon.
After being retired by the USAF, the EC-121T was ferried to Helena, Montana in 1981 and used for aviation maintenance training at the University of Montana. Declared excess to the school’s needs in 2008, the aircraft was acquired by the museum in May 2009. A preliminary examination in July 2009 determined that the aircraft appeared to be in good condition and this was confirmed in late May 2010 when the museum performed a two week detailed survey of the airplane. The electrical, fuel and hydraulic systems were tested with no major issues and most of the instruments came back to life. The engines were pre-oiled and the team discovered that one of the engines had a bad cylinder and another was totally seized. While the scope of work required to prepare the aircraft for a ferry flight appeared to be do-able, apparently other museum priorities intervened and not much has been done with the aircraft since then. It would be a real shame if this airplane was lost but, with the recent reductions in federal and private funding to museums, it is entirely possible. One only has to look at what’s happening at the Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB in Georgia, where the museum is looking to scrap a number of aircraft in its collection.
See Constellation News Archive - 2013 For Additional News
----Created 31 January 2004------Updated 23 January 2015----