SCFA Flying Adventure - Part 1

SCFA Flying Adventure - Part 1

June 2006

On June, 7 2006 my absolute aviation dream was supposed to become reality: A flight in a Lockheed Super Constellation from Basle, Switzerland to Epinal, France and return. At that time there were only two regularly flying Connies in the world: The Australian HARS Super Constellation VH-EAG and the Swiss Super Constellation Flyers Association (SCFA) N73544. The Airline History Museum’s (AHM) Super Connie N6937C “Star of America” in TWA colors was still grounded due to an engine failure. Fortunately the SCFA Connie has an FAA “Standard Airworthiness Certificate”, which allows registered SCFA club members to fly in her. Today it is almost impossible to get a standard certificate for a vintage piston powered aircraft.

One day before the intended flight I drove 325 miles from Duisburg, Germany to Basle to take photos of her first flight of the season after completion of a winter overhaul. This flight was also supposed to be the annual certification check flight for the crew. Touch down training would be held in Epinal. This flight had to be successful because otherwise no flight with passengers would be allowed the next day. The takeoff was delayed to 6:15 p.m due to a last minute change of a prop dissimulation unit. Time was tight since the training flight had to be completed by 8:00 p.m. when Epinal Airport would close for the evening! Anyways, in best evening light the Connie took off from runway 34 and passed over the famous spotters point “Belvedere”. With the help of the very cooperative SCFA staff member Marcel Bitter I changed my photo location to the approach end of runway 34. After less than one hour, at 7:15 p.m., the Connie landed back in Basle. Although the flight appeared to be quite short we were not anxious because all four props were turning. So I checked into the captain’s hotel in Blotzheim in the French side of the airport to get a good night’s sleep for the next day. The dinner was fine up to the moment when Marcel rang my mobile phone and told me that the next day flight’s had to be cancelled. The test flight had been cut short due to a malfunctioning landing gear indicator light. Therefore they had to return to Basle without training and made a precautionary landing, accompanied by a fire engine. The result: No training for the crew, no flight next day! What a disappointment!
But this was the only possible and right decision of the SCFA. The next morning it was still not clear if the flight could be made the day after and so I decided not to wait and rang up Marcel to tell him. Then he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: The Connie was under maintenance with compression checks on the apron by US technicians and I could watch it if I wanted to. And of course I wanted to! Marcel picked me up, went with me through the Swiss administration and the Jet-Aviation hangars (many interesting biz jets under maintenance, but sadly strictly no photos allowed) and on to the apron. Shortly after arrival I was told that cylinder compressions on two engines were not within limits and no flight would be made the next day. The well known piston prop engine specialist Carlos Gomez and other engineers took very
intensive care of the engines. After two hours of very satisfying and intensive photography I began my way back to Duisburg, with a little break at Frankfurt Airport’s runway 18. After a quite intensive conversation with Marcel from the SCFA I can say that the SCFA organization is highly professional. Everyone works very hard as a volunteer to keep the Connie flying. Extensive administration work has to be done. Ernst Frei, the chief pilot of the SCFA wrote in an article that he needs around 30 hours of administrative work for every hour the Connie is in the air. It is even worse in the maintenance section! The challenge for the future will be to find certified crew members, especially flight engineers and check captains, because the most of them are 70 years and older now.

I’m very grateful to Marcel Bitter who took care of me in a fantastic manner. Without him this report would not have been possible and my trip so interesting and satisfying.

Happy Ending Number 1: I was booked on the Basle-Epinal-Basle flight in September 2006 (report to follow)

Happy Ending Number 2: After the intensive care of Carlos Gomez and the crew the engines performed better than ever and no more technical cancellations had to made through the entire season.

Rainer Spoddig
June 2006

Photo Credits: Rainer Spoddig, Craig Murray, Ralph M. Pettersen

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----Created 27 February 2007----