Lufthansa Starliner Restoration

Lufthansa Starliner Restoration Project Update

August 2016

The mother of all airplane restoration projects continues to make steady progress towards completion in Auburn, Maine. It had been almost two years since my last visit to Auburn and I was anxious to check on the project and talk to the Lufthansa Technik folks managing it. I contacted project lead Andreas Pakszies and we agreed on an August 24, 2016 date for the visit. Southwest Airlines now serves Portland, Maine with four flights a day and, after an uneventful afternoon flight up the east coast from Orlando, I met up with fellow Constellation enthusiast Peter Ferraro the next morning. The restoration hangar Auburn-Lewiston Airport is a busy place and, in order to keep work disruptions to a minimum, visits require prior approval. We were greeted at the hangar by Dan Stevens, who is the project’s Director of Maintenance and would be our escort during the visit. Dan is a Maine native and joined the project shortly after the aircraft was rolled into to hangar back in 2008.

During the 1980’s Maurice Roundy “rescued” Starliners N7316C, N8083H and N974R and ferried N7316C and N8083H Auburn-Lewiston Airport. (Note: While the official Lockheed name for the aircraft was Starliner, TWA marketed them as Jet Streams and Lufthansa as Super Stars. To minimize confusion, I will use the term Starliner in this article.) Maurice and his wife Jane had a home on the airport and I first met them in January 1998, when I made a trip to Maine to see the airplanes. My timing was awful, as I arrived in Maine just a few days after an epic ice storm had slammed New England. Maurice and Jane were still without electricity and were heating the house with a large woodstove, which doubled as their stove! We’ve been friends ever since and often chuckle about the poor timing of my first visit. Of the 44 Starliners built by Lockheed in the late 1950’s only four survive and, without Maurice’s efforts, there is no doubt that these three aircraft would have suffered a similar fate.
Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS) acquired Maurice’s three Starliners in December 2007 at a bankruptcy auction and, while N7316C was a TWA aircraft and never operated by Lufthansa, it was deemed to be in the best condition and thus the best candidate for restoration. N8083H was subsequently stripped of its useful components and parked outside the restoration hangar. This proved to be fortunate since many of the original Lockheed production drawings didn’t provide the detail necessary to fabricate items such as wiring harnesses and hydraulic lines and N8083H proved to be an invaluable “pattern” for the fabrication of these items. After an unsuccessful attempt to ferry N974R from Florida to Auburn in September 1988, it was parked at Sanford International Airport for thirteen years before Maurice made it airworthy and ferried it to Kermit Weeks Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida in October 2001. After being acquired by Lufthansa in 2007, its useful components were harvested and it was made externally complete and donated to Kermit. It is currently parked at Fantasy of Flight in faded Lufthansa colors.
The restoration of N7316C began in April 2008 when a small group of LHT employees, led by Michael Austermeier, began disassembling N7316C outdoors in the chilly early spring weather. With the new hangar finished in November 2008, the aircraft was moved indoors and the project began in earnest. Lufthansa’s ambitious goal of restoring N7316C to strict current Part 121 airliner standards exponentially 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.
The Lufthansa Technik website reported on March 31, 2016 that the major structural work on N7316C had been completed. This was an important achievement and had been delayed for almost a year when it was determined in June 2015 that the main frames attaching the wing to the fuselage would have to be replaced. The main frames are located in front and behind the wing and are critical as they transfer the flight loads from the wing to the fuselage. It was originally thought that they could be repaired but corrosion and drill holes made this impossible and new main frames had to be designed and fabricated. Guido Piette of Lufthansa Technik Hamburg led the team that performed the installation of the new main frames. This team was also responsible for the complex installation of the wing-to-body fittings. Dan said that there were approximately 35 LHT employees on-site working on the project. Work continues six days a week with Sunday being the only day off. With the major structural work complete, emphasis now is focused on secondary structures, sheet metal and systems. A sophisticated schedule and resource management system is in place, which tracks work status and efficiency on a real-time basis. Progress is monitored at the task level and, if a task isn’t progressing per plan, work is stopped and the cause is determined and remedied. System components are prepped and kitted at the nearby warehouse and delivered to the production floor with all associated hardware to maximize production efficiency. Using N8083H as a “pattern” most of the hydraulic lines and wiring harnesses have been completed and on the shelf waiting to be kitted and sent to the hangar for installation.
The empennage and front landing gear assembly were installed in early 2016. Both had been totally rebuilt and their installation served as an important visual reminder to the Auburn based workforce that real progress was being made on the project. The main gear trunnions have been installed but attachment of the landing gear assemblies is waiting for the engine nacelles to be completed. As with so many other components, the trunnions had to be redesigned and machined from a new material after the original forgings were found to be unusable. Due to the unavailability of forged magnesium main wheels, new wheels were also redesigned and machined from aluminum. They will utilize C-5 tires while the nose gear wheels and tires are from the Airbus A320. Once the main gear is installed, the aircraft will be back on its feet for the first time since restoration began in 2008.
In addition to the work being performed on-site, fabrication and overhaul of numerous components were subcontracted to specialty contractors. Included were major items such as the propellers, engines and deicer boots and a glass cockpit. Seventeen of eighteen propeller blades have been complete by Hope Aero in Toronto, Canada with final blade in work. Four engines have been overhauled and successfully test run by Anderson Aeromotive in Grangeville, Idaho. Another engine has been overhauled with the sixth engine awaiting overhaul. The completed deicer boots are in stock at Auburn and will be installed when the wing leading edge is completed. The glass cockpit being built by Honeywell is an adaption of the one utilized in the C-130J and is currently nearing completion. LHT engineers are currently working on the complex task of integrating the wiring between old and new systems. The septum, which provides the seal between the wing and fuselage has been fitted and is back in the warehouse awaiting final installation.
Work being performed on N7316C requires a highly skilled workforce and LHT specialists from around the world have been involved in the project. LHT specialists from Budapest, Hungary and The Philippines are still on-site providing valuable assistance to the project. A good example of their contributions is Hungarian sheet metal expert Gyula Nagy, who led the team that crafted the rear pressure seal. After inspection of the original seal, it was determined that it was unusable and several subcontractors made unsuccessful attempts to duplicate it. Gyula was given the task and, in less than a month, using traditional metal forming techniques, he and his team had crafted an exact duplicate of the original.

In the meantime, the four pilots and three flight engineers chosen to fly the Starliner, continue their training. Since the Starliner and Super Constellation share the same type rating, crews have been training on the HARS and SCFA Super Constellations to maintain their proficiency and retain their type ratings. In addition to aircraft training, the crews are required to complete an annual ground refresher course and two days of normal and emergency procedures training in the Berlin Technical Museum’s L1049 static simulator.

As can be expected, there have been a number of leadership and organizational changes during project’s eight year tenure. Former Lockheed-Martin Engineering VP Tom Blakely succeeded Dr. Rainer Sebus on April 1, 2016 as head of engineering in Auburn. Blakely retired from Lockheed-Martin in 2012 after a 33 year career with the company. He held many senior engineering management positions on programs ranging from the P-3 Orion to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In addition, ownership of N7316C was recently transferred from DLBS to Lufthansa Super Star GmbH (LSSG), which is a newly established subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa AG. DLBS will continue to own and operate vintage Lufthansa aircraft such as the Junkers Ju-52 and Dornier Do 27, while LSSG will be responsible for completing the Starliner restoration and future operations of the Starliner. Due to its non-profit status in Germany and the United States, donations to LSSG are tax deductible in both countries.

It was a great visit and I’d like to thank Andreas Pakszies for his help in coordinating the visit and Dan Stevens for taking time out of his busy day to show us around the hangar and answer our many questions.

Ralph M. Pettersen
November 2016

Photo Credits: Ralph M. Pettersen

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----Created 6 November 2016----