As I was driving from my motel to Sanford Airport I couldn’t help but think back to my first meeting with Maurice Roundy some 2˝ years ago in Auburn, Maine. It was the day after a major ice storm and the entire state of Maine was without electricity. Ice coated everything, including his two L1649A Constellations (N7316C and N8083H) and it seemed like we were dodging icicles for most of my visit. No icicles today, it was early June in Florida and the weather forecast said sunny and warm with temps in the mid-90’s.
I knew that Maurice had been trying to sell his three Constellations so I was very surprised when he replied to my e-mail saying he was in Sanford getting his third L1649A, N974R, ready for a ferry flight to Maine. Seemed like a story in the making so I decided that an immediate trip to Florida was in order. We had agreed to meet at the airplane at 9:30am and when I got there, Maurice and one of his volunteers, Matt Burdett, were getting ready to start on the day’s chore..... scraping the old adhesive and de-icer boots off the large triple tail. I was immediately enlisted to assist in the effort and given two scrapers and a pair of coveralls.
N974R, c/n 1040, was delivered new to Lufthansa in December 1957 and was fitted with a 32-seat interior for first class service. In very short order, the jet age caught up to this fine aircraft and it was leased to World Airways, as N45512, from September 1962 to June 1964. In March 1966 it was sold to AirVentures, a U.S. based travel club as N179AV. Many changes in ownership and leases followed with the airplane being re-registered N974R in October 1968. She was eventually abandoned at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1976. Maine Coast Airlines, of which Maurice Roundy is president, bought the airplane in 1985 and began a 2˝ year restoration project to return it to flightworthy status.
How this airplane got to Sanford is a very interesting story. In August 1988, an attempt was made to ferry the airplane from Ft Lauderdale to Maine. A large oil leak in the #1 engine and a nose gear that refused to fully retract necessitated a diversion to West Palm Beach Airport. Repairs were made to the engine and nose gear and another attempt to reach Maine was made in September 1988. This time they got about an hour north when escalating problems necessitated an emergency landing at Sanford. Problems included a runaway #1 prop, a fuel pump failure on the #4 engine and a rough running #2 engine. Philip Kemp, who was the co-pilot on this flight, tells the full story about this event in Propliner Issue #38.
The authorities at Sanford Airport are not admirers of old propliners and very much want N974R removed from their facility. That, along with a $200 per month parking fee convinced Maurice it was time to have N974R join her two sisters in Maine. Although the airplane is not a good candidate for restoration to full flying status due to extensive corrosion from its many years of storage in Florida, Maurice wanted to save it as a static display to be parked next to his house at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport. After considering the options, including disassembly and hauling the pieces to Maine by truck, he decided that a ferry flight was the cheapest and most efficient way to move the airplane. Maurice has been working on N974R for about six months and hopes to have her ready for the flight by September.
With an A&P license now in hand and a mini-shop set up inside the airplane, Maurice is confident he can make the September deadline. After 24 years sitting in Ft Lauderdale and Sanford without any hurricane damage, he doesn’t want to tempt fate by having the airplane spend another hurricane season on the ground in Florida. He works on the airplane seven days a week and gets occasional help from volunteers such as Matt and myself. Earlier this spring, he had a group from the South African Airways Museum visit him for a few weeks. The museum owns one of the few other remaining L1649A’s, ZS-DVJ, which flew for Trek Airlines in the 1960’s. The group is very familiar with Constellations from working on their own and provided Maurice with some much needed assistance. The enormity of the job can be overwhelming when you stand back and look at the size of the airplane. Even by today’s jumbo jet standards, N974R is a large and complex airplane. As Maurice says, he is now down to the “short strokes”. The #1 engine has been replaced with an engine from N7316C, rudders have been installed, new outer main tires installed, new windows installed, fuel tanks inspected and repairs begun, flap actuators reworked, fuel lines inspected and repaired, and engine run-ups performed. Maurice is using the “one system at a time” method taught to him by Ray Porter who assisted him in restoring N7316C and N8083H.
What still needs to be done? The fuel tanks continue to be a problem and a number of leaks need repair. The brakes and main wheel bearings require attention and, when this work is completed, a gear retraction test will be performed. The cockpit instrumentation is incomplete due to vandalism that occurred several years ago. Luckily, the thief was only interested in flight instruments and the flight engineer’s panel is complete. Several areas of skin are badly corroded and need to be repaired or replaced. The engines are not developing full power and the fuel control systems need to be “tweaked” and a full power run-up performed. Once all repairs are completed, a high speed taxi test will be performed. In anticipation of her first flight in twelve years, Maurice plans on doing a little touch-up painting and cosmetic work to spruce up the old girl for the big occasion.
Another important block that needs to be checked off is FAA approval for the ferry flight. Maurice has met with the local FAA inspector who was very familiar with Maurice’s past exploits and the history of the airplane. He voiced concern about a number of issues, which will need to be resolved before the ferry permit is issued. Maurice is confident that he can successfully address these concerns, as he has done in the past when restoring his other two Connies.
Where is this all going? Hopefully N974R will make it to Maine and serve as a static display. Maurice would very much like to get his other two airplanes passed on to an individual or group that has the resources to properly care for them. There is serious interest from several groups, including ones in Canada and Europe. Multiple scenarios for a deal are possible. The two most obvious include selling the airplanes outright for $250,000 apiece or selling them for $1 each with the stipulation of a long-term contract for Maurice to maintain them. Maurice would like to see at least one of these airplanes on the show circuit similar to the MATS and Save-A-Connie programs. The large hangars vacated by the Air Force at Loring AFB in Maine would make a perfect base of operations for such an operation.
Hopefully I will be able to report in an upcoming issue of Propliner that a successfully ferry flight was made and the airplane is safely parked in Maurice’s backyard in Auburn. I plan on being at Sanford to witness the airplane's first flight in twelve years. You can read more about Maurice and his airplanes on his website at www.starliner.net.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Graham M. Simons, J. Roger Bentley, Maurice Roundy, Ralph M. Pettersen
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----Created 7 February 2004------Updated 13 March 2004----