Constellation News

Constellation News Archive - 2013

Lufthansa’s “Super Star” Restoration Project in Home Stretch – October 27, 2013

Two years had passed since my last visit to Auburn-Lewiston Airport (LEW), where Lufthansa Technik is in the homestretch of an amazing restoration project. When completed, Super Constellation Starliner N7316C will have been transformed from near derelict condition to essentially a new aircraft. While N7316C is still completely surrounded by scaffolding and support structure, it was obvious that significant progress has been made since my last visit in July 2011. The wing is essentially complete with most of the bottom planks replaced during the restoration. After completion of some additional minor detail work, the wing will be pressure tested to ensure its integrity. All leading edges will have new de-icer boots manufactured and installed by UTAS (formerly Goodrich). The boots will be installed in 2014 after the wing pressure testing has been completed.

At project completion, more than 95% of the fuselage skin will have been replaced as well as all of the lower and many of the upper fuselage frames. The front passenger door has been installed and the rear door will be installed after the rear fuselage has been re-skinned. Following completion of structural work, the fuselage will be pressure tested to ensure its integrity. Once pressure testing has been completed, work can begin on installing internal components and systems such as electrical, hydraulic and fuel systems along with a multitude of control cables. The cockpit will be completely rebuilt and include state-of-the-art glass panel displays for each pilot. These displays are an adaptation of those currently produced for the C-130J military transport. The original flight engineer panel configuration will be retained utilizing refurbished old-fashioned gages.
Six R3350-988TC18EA2 engines are being overhauled by radial engine specialist Anderson Airmotive in Grangeville, Idaho and, as of September 2013, four of six engines have been completed and successfully tested. Hope Aero of Toronto, Canada has been contracted to refurbish the massive three bladed propellers that were built by Hamilton Standard in the mid-1950s. The first propeller assembly was completed in April 2013, with the remaining five scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Overhaul of the landing gear assemblies is currently in the final stages at Lufthansa Technik shops in Hamburg and Frankfurt and should be completed in early 2014. The aluminum main landing gear wheels are currently being manufactured by the Meggitt Company in Akron, Ohio.
While it is too soon to make predictions on an exact date for the first post-restoration flight, it appears that barring any unforeseen circumstances, the aircraft should be totally reassembled sometime in 2014. After successful completion of the flight testing and recertification program, the passenger interior will be installed in Auburn. Interior designs have been developed in Hamburg using 3-D modeling software and two cabin mockups have been assembled. Finally, the aircraft will be painted in 1950’s era Lufthansa colors. The aircraft will be re-registered as D-ALAN and based in Hamburg, Germany, where she will be operated by the Lufthansa Berlin Foundation (DLBS).

A second Starliner, N8083H, has been parked next to the hangar in Auburn since 2008 and was used as a source of spare parts and as a “template” for work being performed on N7316C. When the restoration of N7316C is completed, the Lufthansa Berlin Foundation (DLBS) plans on offering N8083H to a yet-to-be-named museum for static display.

I’d like to thank all the folks at Lufthansa Technik for their hospitality. Special thanks go to Michael Austermeier, who is returning to Germany after 5+ years on the project, and to Manfred Rosenthal for taking time from his busy schedule to give me a great tour.

SCFA Super Connie Completes Successful Summer Flying Season – October 24, 2013

On Saturday October 12, 2013, SFRA Super Connie HB-RSC arrived in Zurich, after completing a very successful summer flying season. Arie Wubben reports that the aircraft flew 96 cycles for a total of 60 hours and 13 minutes without experiencing a major technical problem. The weather cooperated with only one flight canceled due to bad weather. During the summer, HB-RSC visited the Paris Airshow, RIAT Fairford, Sanicole Belgium and flew a private charter to Olbia, Sardinia. The Super Connie will spend the next few months undergoing her annual winter maintenance, where the current “To-Do” list includes 71 items. Arie also forwarded photos of HB-RSC taken after she arrived in Zurich on the 12th.
In other news, Yannick Barthe Films plans on releasing a 20 minute DVD on the Super Connie in 2014. Check out the film’s trailer.

L’Amicale du Super Constellation Plans “Open House” for September 28th and 29th – September 21, 2013

L’Amicale du Super Constellation (Friends of the Super Constellation) is having an “Open House” on September 28th and 29th at Nantes Atlantique Airport (NTE/LFRS) to showcase Super Constellation F-BGNJ/F-BRAD. The organization wants to give both enthusiasts and the general public an opportunity to see their gorgeous Super Connie up close and personal. Built by Lockheed Aircraft at their Burbank, California plant in November 1953, F-BGNJ is the last Constellation in France still in good condition. F-BGNJ was the first aircraft to fly medical evacuation flights during the Biafra conflict in 1968. Restoration began in 2000 and the aircraft was ready for display in 2012. There is still quite a bit of interior restoration that needs to be completed, including the replacement of all windows, the complete restoration of the cockpit (in progress), seat restoration and restoration of the iconic "Paris Special" lounge. Check out the organization’s French language website for additional details.

SCFA Super Connie Photos - September 8, 2013

There hasn’t been much Constellation news this summer but it seems that the SCFA/Breitling Super Connie has been very busy on the European airshow circuit. Arie Wubben and Willy Stotzer recently forwarded photos of HB-RSC for your enjoyment. The first group of photos were taken on July 17th during the flight from Zurich to RIAT/Fairford.
The second group of photos were taken in late August and show the Super Connie flying in formation with Mk-68 Hawker Hunter aircraft and a nice solo air-to-air shot taken from a B50 Twin Bonanza.

Columbine II Needs a Home – July 15,2013

Dwight Eisenhower’s first presidential airplane, VC-121A Columbine II 48-610/N9463 has been privately owned since 1970 and is stored in good condition at Marana Regional Airport (AVQ), near Tucson, AZ. The aircraft, along with four other VC-121A aircraft were purchased by Mel Christler (Christler Flying Service) with all but -610 being converted to large acreage sprayers. Used as a spares airplane to keep the other four flying, it was restored in 1990 by Mel Christler, Harry Oliver and a group of friends and relatives using parts from VC-121B 48-608/N608AS. The Connie was flown to a number of events in 1990/91, including the Eisenhower Centennial and the Andrews AFB 1991 Open House in Maryland.
Columbine II is currently owned by a group, including Mel’s son Lockie Christler and Harry Oliver. There is no doubt this historic aircraft belongs in a museum and three of Mel’s grandson’s, Tim, Brett and Keith Crowley are attempting to broker a deal to have it go to the National Museum of the USAF (NMUSAF) for display at the AMC Museum at Dover AFB in Delaware. The owners want a surplus military aircraft in trade but NMUSAF management has informed the Crowley’s that this is not an option. With Davis Monthan AFB full of suitable aircraft to trade, it is very hard to understand why NMUSAF has taken this position. Perhaps it has something to do with the infamous C-119 for C-130 scandal of some years ago that resulted in some folks going to prison. I’m hoping that some semblance of sanity can prevail with the museum bureaucrats and this airplane can be preserved for future generations. If they can work a deal, the Crowley brothers would like to restore the Connie and fly it to its new home. The aircraft flew from Santa Fe, NM to Tucson in 2003 and all indications are that it could be made airworthy with a relatively modest effort.

The plight of this aircraft has been the subject of a number of aviation magazine articles but the mainstream media has recently picked up the story with a July 11, 2011 article appearing in the Arizona Daily Star and a July 15, 2013 AP article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It would be a real shame if this aircraft was lost, so hopefully a deal can be struck with the NMUSAF or perhaps even a private museum.

Auburn Starliner Project Update – July 15, 2013

Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung’s (DLBS) extraordinary rebuild of L1649A N7316C continues at a steady and deliberate pace in Auburn, Maine. Peter Ferraro recently spoke to Lufthansa’s Michael Austermeier who told him that the extensive wing box rebuild is 99% complete and they are nearly ready to start sealing and leak checking the wings. Wiring, component installation and systems checks are next in the plan and engine rebuild continues at Anderson Airmotive. Michael anticipates engine runs in 2014, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, the first post-restoration flight later in the year.

The DLBS website recently posted an interesting article about the overhaul of the aircraft’s unique Hamilton Standard propellers. When DLBS approached United Technologies Corporation/Hamilton Standard about overhauling six props, they were referred to 96 year old propeller expert Chet Heth. Chet is a Hamilton Standard retiree who was involved in the production of these same propellers in the 1950’s. Overhaul of the six props is being performed, under Chet's watchfull eye, by Hope Aero in Toronto, Canada, with the first prop being completed in April 2013. For additional information about Chet and the prop overhaul, check out the DLBS website.

I will be visiting Maine in mid-September and will provide a full report on the progress of this exciting project. Many thanks to Peter for his report.

On a related matter, "Porrohman" recently sent me some photos of Starliner N974R, which is currently on static display at Fantasy of Flight in Central Florida. The aircraft was one of three L1649A aircraft formally owned by Maurice Roundy and acquired by DLBS. N974R was donated to the museum in July 2012 and recently received a new coat of paint.

SCFA Super Connie Off to a Great Start in 2013 – July 12, 2013

What a difference a year makes! SCFA Super Connie HB-RSC has successfully completed multiple member flights and visits to the Paris and Farnborough Air Shows. If things go to plan, HB-RSC will arrive at Fairford on July 17th at about 3:30pm local time to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). She returns to Zurich on July 22nd, with a planned departure from Fairford at 10:30am local time. My hat goes off to the staff and members of SCFA for their dedication and perseverance in keeping this wonderful and extremely complex aircraft flying. It is not a trivial or inexpensive endeavor and they have succeeded when many predicted they would fail.

The National Airline History Museum (NAHM) Needs Your Help – May 13, 2013

NAHM NEEDS YOUR HELP! The Kansas City based museum has ambitious plans to reenact the record setting April 17, 1944 flight of the second prototype Constellation, 43-10310 (c/n 1962). Howard Hughes and Jack Frey flew non-stop from Burbank, CA to Washington, DC in 6 hours and 51 minutes at an average speed of 331 mph. Even though they were delivering the aircraft to the Army Air Force, they had arranged for the aircraft to be painted in Transcontinental & Western colors and the passenger list included Hollywood celebrities and Orville Wright. The military brass were none too happy about the aircraft being painted in civilian colors but Hughes and Frey scored a publicity coupe when the aircraft was greeted in Washington by a large contingent of press.

The museum plans on re-enacting the flight on its 70th anniversary with their Super Constellation N6937C. The aircraft, painted in 1950’s era TWA colors, hasn’t flown since 2005, when it suffered an engine failure. The failed engine has been replaced and all four engines have recently been run with no significant issues noted. In August 2012 the aircraft underwent an extensive inspection for corrosion and none was found. Having determined the aircraft to be in excellent condition, the museum set a goal of returning her to the skies in 2014.

N6937C is an L1049H Super Constellation and was one of the last Constellations built. If all goes according to plans, it will be the only airworthy civilian example as all other fliers are former military aircraft. Stored for a number of years in Mesa, AZ, she was made ready for a ferry flight by a group of former TWA employees and flown to Kansas City Downtown Airport in July 1986. After a two year restoration, she was ready for prime time and was the centerpiece of many airshows until grounded in 2005 by the engine failure. The NAHM estimates that it will need approximately $3.7M to make the aircraft airworthy and stage the re-enactment. Inspection of the aircraft is expected to begin on September 1, 2013 with the first flight tentatively scheduled for January 1, 2014. Most museum staff are volunteers and it has undertaken a massive fundraising effort to raise the necessary funds. Check out the museum’s website for current information on the project and how you can make a donation. Sure would be nice to see N6937C back at Oshkosh in 2014!

SCFA Super Connie First Flight of 2013 – May 11, 2013

SCFA Super Connie HB-RSC made her first flight of 2013 on April 28th, when she flew from Zurich to Epinal. Willy Stotzer was kind enough to forward two photos of her departure from Zurich a day later but I was in Alaska and was unable to update the website until today. (Lots of propliners in Alaska but unfortunately no Constellations.) Good luck to the SCFA folks and here's hoping them a successful 2013 flight program.

SCFA Super Connie HB-RSC Received C of A Today – April 24, 2013

Arie Wubben reports that SCFA Super Connie HB-RSC received her Certificate of Airworthiness today and will be back on the European airshow circuit in 2013, including an appearance at the Paris Air Show. My hat’s off to all the folks at SCFA for their perseverance and hard work in overcoming the frustrating engine problems they faced in 2012. Check out the SCFA website for the latest airshow and flight schedule. I wish them a successful 2013 and hopefully HB-RSC will be thrilling airshow crowds for many years to come.

Sao Tome Super Connies Doing Well in Retirement – April 20, 2013

L1049H Super Connies CF-NAL and CF-NAM were parked at Sao Tome in January 1970 after use on the Biafran Airlift. Both aircraft had been originally delivered to National Airlines in October 1957 and had flown with Canadian operator Nordair between 1964 and 1968 before being acquired for the airlift by CanRelief Air Ltd in April 1969. With no buyers for the aircraft, they were abandoned and had been slowly deteriorating.

I had received reports from time to time and in 2007 there were plans to declare the aircraft national monuments to commemorate the humanitarian airlift, which was based out of the airport. It also appeared from December 2008 photos that the two aircraft were being used as centerpieces for a bar or restaurant.

I received an email and photos today from Rob Schleiger, who flies Dornier 328 jets in Nigeria and had the opportunity to visit the restaurant yesterday and sample its menu. Rob gives the restaurant a thumbs-up and reports that the food is excellent with the fish dishes being his favorite. French or Portuguese is spoken at the restaurant but Rob says that simply pointing to the menu pictures also works well for ordering your meal.
Rob’s photos show a well kept facility with a swimming pool, which will hopefully bode well for the aircraft. The right photo shows CF-NAM with Nordair and JointChurchAid titles still visible. Hopefully, as long as the aircraft still have a function, in this case being part of the restaurant, they will not be cut up for scrap. Thanks much to Rob for his report and photos.

Disturbing News from the Museum of Aviation – March 24, 2013

I received an email from Patrick Carry today with some disturbing news from the Museum of Aviation at Warner-Robins, GA. The website reported on March 23, 2013 that, due to Air Force personnel cuts in 2011 that resulted in the elimination of 8 civilian positions, the museum is getting rid of 29 aircraft, including EC-121K BuNo 141297. Most of the lost positions were restoration specialists and the museum claims that it doesn’t have enough personnel to properly maintain the aircraft, especially those on display outdoors. The report goes on to say that the National Museum of the Air Force will decide the fate of the affected aircraft with decisions having being made to date on only half of them. Citing the prohibitive cost of moving the larger aircraft to other museums, the museum has already decided to scrap their B-52 and EC-135 and at this point, things don’t look good for the Super Connie.
During the past 10 years, Dr. Gerald Durbin and a group of dedicated volunteers have spent countless hours during May and October each year working on the restoration of BuNo 141297. During its long military career, the aircraft was assigned to the Naval Research Lab for special testing and all of the equipment normally installed on an EC-121 had been long removed before the aircraft was retired. Using the consoles and electronic equipment installed in the National Museum of Naval Aviation’s EC-121K (BuNo 143221) as patterns, Dr. Durbin was able to replicate most of the equipment and install it in BuNo 141297. For more information on Dr. Durbin’s efforts, check out my May 2008 article on this website.

Many thanks to Pat for passing on the article, which can be viewed on the website .

Vintage L049 Photo – March 21, 2013

Frank Miklos recently emailed me a photo of L049 N90831 taken in Pittsburgh, PA (probably Allegheny County Airport) in 1951. The photo was taken by Frank’s grandfather, Charles L. Miklos, and shows his father getting on the airplane. N90831 is currently on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, AZ painted in the same early 1950’s color scheme shown in the photo. Many thanks to Frank for sharing this photo.

First News of 2013 – March 17, 2013

It’s hard to believe that it’s mid-March and this is the first news item for 2013! Arie Wubben recently emailed me with the great news that the SCFA Maintenance folks will hand over Super Connie HB-RSC to the Operations guys on April 17th. The 2013 flying program includes flights to the Farnborough, Fairford, Olbia and Paris Air Shows. The schedule also includes numerous flights for members, which were also canceled last year after the engine failure. Arie was kind enough to also send me a presentation, which included some very nice photos of HB-RSC. For more information about the 2013 flying program, check out the SCFA website.

From the other side of the world, David Wood reports that HARS Super Connie VH-EAG attended the “Airshows Dowunder Airshow” held at Avalon, Victoria on March 1-3. She was sporting her newly repainted “lipstick” engine cowls and will undergo a fuselage repaint during the upcoming offseason. For additional information about the Super Connie and other aircraft in the collection, check out the HARS website.
I visited the AMC Museum in early March and had a look at their “faux” C-121C with its new extended nose radome. Other than lacking a front cargo door, the aircraft looks very much like a real C-121C. The folks at the AMC Museum deserve a lot of credit for a job well done. Who could have ever imagined that the pile of aircraft parts, including engines, rear cargo door and landing gear from NC-121K BuNo 141292, would have ever turned out this well.

See Constellation News Archive - 2012 For Additional News

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----Updated 23 March 2014----