The Swiss-based Super Constellation Flyers Association (SCFA) recently came one large step closer to realizing its dream of operating a Super Constellation on the European airshow circuit. Formed in 2000 by Francisco Agullo and a group of Super Constellation enthusiasts, the SCFA recently reached agreement with Benny Younesi to lease/purchase the famous “Camarillo Connie”, N73544 (C-121C c/n 4175). This beautifully restored airplane, currently operated by the Constellation Historical Society (CHS), has been for sale since 2002. In January 2002 it was offered on eBay and a bid of $600,000 was received and declined by owner, Benny Younesi. At that time, Benny was quoted as saying that he “would be willing to sell the aircraft for $1,000,000”. The deal with SCFA involves joint operation in Europe by SCFA and CHS for five years after which the aircraft will be purchased by SCFA.
After the MATS Connie’s wildly successful tour of Europe during the summer of 1998, it was obvious that operating a Constellation on the Europe airshow circuit could be profitable. The key to success was the ability to carry paying passengers during the airshows. Francisco first considered purchasing one of Maurice Roundy’s L1649A Starliner Constellations, which at the time were for sale for $250,000 a piece. He visited Maurice Roundy at his home at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Maine and inspected the two Starliners (N7316C and N8083H) which were parked in Maurice’s front yard. While the aircraft were in relatively good condition, Francisco was concerned about the availability of spares and engines and decided not to purchase either aircraft. Francisco then turned his attention to an ex-Aerochago C-121G, HI-583CT, parked at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Although HI-583CT (c/n 4137) had only been flown once since 1993, it appeared to be in good condition and, in June 2000, the SCFA purchased the aircraft at a very good price. They planned to ferry the airplane to The Constellation Group’s maintenance facility at Avra Valley Airport near Tucson, Arizona where the restoration would take place. It was made ready for a ferry flight, re-registered N105CF and, on November 7, 2000, was successfully flown to Opa Locka, Florida by a crew consisting of Frank Lang, Francisco Agullo and Carlos Gomez. Additional work was performed on the #2 engine and, on January 4, 2001, the same flight crew set off for Avra Valley. Due to problems with the #2 engine and hydraulic system an unscheduled stop was made at Conroe, Texas, where additional repairs were made. The final leg from Conroe to Avra Valley was made on January 7, 2001 and she joined the MATS Connie (C-121A N494TW) and C-121A N749NL, which was being restored by the Dutch Aviodome Museum.
Volunteers quickly began the restoration and a spares airplane, EC-121T 53-535, was acquired by the group. By June 2002 four layers of paint had been removed, the #2 and #4 engines overhauled, fuel tanks cleaned and sealed, rudders from 53-535 removed and recovered, wing attachments inspected, flight and engine gages overhauled , master control units overhauled, interior and cargo holds cleaned , and AD work completed on the #2 and #4 propellers. Parked adjacent to the Aviodome’s C-121A, the two groups shared information and tools and all seemed to be going well. Both groups planned on restoring their aircraft for the European airshow circuit with the goal of having their aircraft receive “standard” airworthiness certificates from the FAA. The FAA became very inflexible with certification requirements and it became obvious, from the Aviodome’s experience with N749NL, that the FAA would only certify the ex-military aircraft to the “Experimental” category, thus prohibiting the carriage of passengers. After the expenditure of considerable resources, the SCFA was faced with this reality and, in August 2002 decided to halt the restoration of N105CF and explore other possibilities.
That other “possibility” was C-121C N73544 which is affectionately known as the “Camarillo Connie”. Operated by the CHS and based at Camarillo, California, it had received a “standard” airworthiness certificate years ago and could thus carry passengers. The SCFA entered into negotiations with owner Benny Youensi in the Fall of 2002 and in December 2002 announced to its membership that it intended to bring N73544 to Europe. Just when things seemed to be falling into place, the project’s major sponsor pulled out due to concerns about the financial viability of the project. After several months of additional negotiations with Benny, a five-year lease/purchase agreement was verbally agreed to and the project was back on track. Lawyers are currently preparing the required paperwork and plans have begun for the ferry flight.
The planned departure date from Camarillo is April 26, 2004 with stops at Omaha, Nebraska, Missouri, Manchester, New Hampshire, Stephenville, Newfoundland, Keflavik, Iceland, Prestwick, Scotland, and LeBourget, France before finally arriving at Basel, Switzerland on May 8, 2004. Forty passenger seats will be installed for the flight and have all been sold. Seats are limited to SCFA members and cost $5,000 apiece for the entire US to Europe flight. The Super Connie will be operated jointly by the CHS and SCFA on the European show circuit for five years. If all goes as planned, at the end of five years, the aircraft will be purchased and operated solely by the SCFA. Due to Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation regulations, flights on N73544 will be restricted to SCFA members and the sale of tickets at airshows will be prohibited. How can one become a member of the SCFA? Cost of membership is 80 Euros and information on how to join the organization can be found on the group’s website: www.superconstellation.org
The future of N105CF remains in question. The aircraft, currently stored at Avra Valley Airport, is close to being airworthy and hopefully will find a new home at an organization or museum that completes the restoration started by the SCFA. Maybe one day it will be restored and flown on a regular basis but a more likely fate is that of a static display.
I'd like to thank Francisco Agullo and Richi Wegier of the SCFA for the help they provided in preparing this article.
- 2000 -- SCFA formed
- 2000 -- SCFA considers purchase of one of Maurice Roundy’s L1649A’s
- Jun 2000 -- HI-583CT bought by SCFA
- Sep 2000 -- Aircraft re-registered N105CF
- Sep 10, 2000 -- Original ferry flight date. Problems with gear hydraulic system
- Nov 7, 2000 -- Ferry flight from Santo Domingo, DR to Opa Locka, FL. #2 engine was shut down due to problems with two cylinders
- Dec 2000 -- Inspection of five R3350 engines in Antwerp, Belgium
- Jan 4, 2001 -- Ferry flight originally planned to Avra Valley but landed in Conroe, TX due to problems with #2 engine and secondary hydraulic hydraulic system.
- Jan 7, 2001 -- Ferry flight from Conroe, TX to Avra Valley
- 2001 -- EC-121T 53-535 acquired by the SCFA
- Sep 2001 -- Constellation Group takes lead in restoration of aircraft
- Sep 20, 2001 -- In addition to the #2 engine the #4 engine will have to be overhauled. Carlos Gomez will do the work
- Jan-Jun 2002 -- Paint stripped, wing attachments inspected, fuel tanks cleaned and sealed, fuel quantity system overhauled, three rudders from 53-535 recovered, #2 and #4 engines overhauled and reinstalled, master control units overhauled, #2 and #4 props sent to shop for AD work, interior and cargo holds cleaned, thirty seats obtained, all fuel, oil, manifold, etc pressure transmitters overhauled.
- Early 2002 -- Major sponsor signs on
- Aug 30, 2002 -- Due to problems with obtaining standard airworthiness certification, restoration of N105CF halted.
- Sep 28, 2002 -- Birthday celebration for N105CF at Avra Valley
- Late 2002 -- SCFA enters into negotiations with Benny Younesi (Consteller Historical Society) to purchase N73544
- Dec 2002 -- SCFA announces its intentions to operate N73544
- Jan 2003 -- Main sponsor backs out of project
- Spring 2003 -- Agreement reached with Benny Younesi (Constellation Historical Society) on a lease/purchase deal where the two groups will operate N73544 jointly after which SCFA will buy the aircraft.
- Sep 2003 -- Lawyers preparing contract for lease/purchase of N73544.
- Dec 17, 2003 -- Agreement signed between the SCFA and CFS.
- Apr 26, 2004 -- Planned departure date to ferry N73544 to the EuroAirport in Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, Switzerland. Route will be Omaha, Nebraska, Manchester, NH, Stephenville, Newfoundland, Keflavik, Iceland, Prestwick, Scotland and LeBourget, France. Arrival in Switzerland is May 8, 2004. Price of seats (40) for entire flight is $5,000.
- May 8, 2004 -- Planned arrival date at Basel-Mulhouse Airport, Switzerland.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Super Constellation Flyers Association, Andy Martin, Ruud Leeuw, Graham Robson, Ralph M. Pettersen
----Created 15 February 2004------Updated 6 March 2004----