Lufthansa Starliner Starliner Restoration - September 2013 Update

Homestretch For Lufthansa's Starliner Restoration Project

September 2013 Update

Two years had passed since my last visit to Auburn-Lewiston Airport (LEW), where Lufthansa Technik is in the homestretch of an amazing airliner restoration project. At project completion, Super Constellation Starliner N7316C will have been transformed from near derelict condition to essentially a new aircraft. My timing for the visit was excellent as Michael Austermeier, my contact in Auburn for the past five years, was finishing up his stint as production manager and returning to Germany for some well deserved R&R and a new assignment. Michael has been working on the project from its inception in 2008 and was officially succeeded by Edmund (Eddy) Weber, who assumed Director of Production duties at Auburn on April 1, 2013. In addition to Eddy, the senior management team in Auburn includes Andreas Gherman, who has overall program responsibility; Dr. Rainer Sebus who is responsible for overseeing engineering efforts both on-site and in Germany; and Manfred Rosenthal who has operational support responsibilities including cost accounting, component purchasing, inventory control, and systems/configuration management.

Michael and his wife Emily arrived in Auburn in April 2008 to lead the ambitious restoration of N7316C, one of two L-1649A Starliner aircraft that had been parked in front of Maurice Roundy’s former home at the airport since the mid-1980s. Other than a number of storage containers, there was no infrastructure in place with Michael setting up the original project office in the basement of his rented home. Until the hangar was completed in November 2008, Michael and his small team had to work outside exposed to all types of weather. From these humble beginnings, Michael has seen the project grow to the current workforce of 80 Lufthansa-Technik and on-site subcontractor personnel supported by a staff of more than 30 engineers, located both on and off-site. The 50,000 square foot heated hangar was built by the local airport authority and dedicated on November 20, 2008 at a ceremony witnessed by Lufthansa executives, local politicians and 250 invited guests.

In addition to a large fleet of Super Constellations, Lufthansa operated four L-1649A Starliners (D-ALUB, D-ALAN, D-ALER, and D-ALOL) in passenger and cargo service from 1958 to 1966. The airline named these aircraft “Super Stars” and operated them on the airline’s premier North Atlantic passenger routes from February 1958 to the summer of 1960 when they were replaced by Boeing 707 aircraft. The L1649A could reliably fly non-stop in either direction between Germany and the United States and by the summer of 1959 Lufthansa’s “Super Stars” were operating no less than eleven round-trip flights a week to the United States. Included was a twice-weekly all first class service that Lufthansa dubbed “The Senator Service”. The flight was the ultimate in luxury airline service with the aircraft configured with 32 seats, some capable of being converted to sleeping berths. D-ALUB and D-ALAN were converted to freighters during the summer of 1960 and operated cargo services for Lufthansa before being leased to World Airways during the summer of 1962. D-ALER and D-ALOL followed a few months later when they were leased to World Airways in October 1962. All four aircraft were returned to Lufthansa in February 1964. D-ALUB and D-ALAN flew domestic passenger flights for another two years before being sold while D-ALER and D-ALOL were sold almost immediately to Trek Airways. Two of the Lufthansa L-1649As have survived with D-ALAN/N974R (c/n 1040) on display at the Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk, Florida and D-ALOL/ZS-DVJ (c/n 1042) currently owned by the South African Airways Museum. D-ALOL/ZS-DVJ is currently being prepared for a move from Johannesburg to the museum’s facility in Rand, where it will be put on display.
Even in their heyday, L1649A Starliners were a rare breed with only 44 being built before the advent of the jet airliner made them obsolete. During the ensuing years, all but four were scrapped and for 30+ years Maurice Roundy owned three of them. N7316C and N8083H, both former TWA aircraft, arrived at Auburn/Lewiston in 1983 and 1986 respectively and had remained grounded since arriving. N974R made the short flight from Sanford, Florida to Kermit Week’s Fantasy of Flight in October 2001 and, as previously noted, is on display at the museum in Lufthansa colors. This former Lufthansa aircraft would have been the natural choice for restoration but a detailed inspection found it to be an unsuitable candidate and N7316C was selected. 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.
N7316C was delivered to TWA in June 1957 and named “Star of Tigris”. She had a brief passenger career before being sent off to Lockheed Air Service in 1960 for conversion to a freighter. After less than two years hauling freight for TWA, N7316C headed north where she saw service with Alaska Airlines and later with Prudhoe Oil in support of the Alaska pipeline construction project. By the mid-1970’s N7316C had passed through a number of small operators and was abandoned at Stewart Airport, New York in July 1976 after a short stint hauling livestock for Burns Aviation. By the early 1980’s, airport authorities had lost all enthusiasm for their “Aluminum Albatross” and Maurice was able to pick N7316C up on the cheap in May 1983. With the help of Constellation master mechanic Ray Porter, Maurice had her ready for the short ferry flight to Maine on November 9, 1983.
Having flown to Maine the previous day from my home in Florida, I met up with fellow Constellation enthusiast Pete Ferraro at the Lufthansa hangar at 0930. Security at the facility had tightened up since my last visit and after signing in at the front entrance we were greeted by Michael Austermeier. Michael has been packing for his move to Germany and very graciously took time from his busy day to meet with us and introduce us to both Eddy Weber and Manfred Rosenthal. With Eddy heading to a meeting with a subcontractor in Bangor that morning, Manfred volunteered to give us a tour of the facility and 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 to Auburn in July 2011. If the aircraft was being restored for static display, the project would have been completed long ago. The added requirement of restoring N7316C to an airworthy condition and numerous findings in the aircraft structure have made the project far more complex than anyone could have anticipated in 2008. All modifications and/or repairs to the aircraft structure require formal engineering changes and documentation. Category 1 changes, which are considered flight critical, have to be prepared by an engineer, reviewed by a designated engineering representative (DER) and approved by the FAA. All other changes can be approved by a DER. The wing is essentially complete with most of the bottom planks replaced during the restoration. The wing is a giant fuel tank commonly referred to as a “wet wing.” After completion of some additional minor detail work, the wing will be pressure tested to ensure its integrity. Manfred told us that they hoped to have this completed in early 2014. All leading edges will have new de-icer boots manufactured and installed by UTAS (formerly Goodrich). It’s been many years since Super Connie de-icer boots were produced but the original design drawings are still available, enabling UTAS to manufacture the de-icer boots. 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. The re-skinning cannot be performed until the tail assembly has been temporarily installed to ensure structural integrity of the rear fuselage during this operation. Following completion of structural work, the fuselage will be pressure tested to ensure its integrity, which will allow the aircraft to be pressurized during flight. 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. Anderson is one of a very small number of shops capable of overhauling large radial engines 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. They are the largest propellers ever used on a civilian aircraft and turn at a relatively low RPM to keep the tips from traveling at supersonic speed. This resulted in them being more efficient and quieter than the propellers installed on previous Constellation and Super Constellation aircraft. Overseeing the overhaul of the propellers is 96 year old prop expert Chet Heth, who worked at Hamilton Standard field servicing these propellers back in the day. The first propeller assembly was completed in April 2013, with the remaining five scheduled for completion by the end of the year. In the fall of 2011, Lufthansa Technik was licensed by the FAA to overhaul the L1649A landing gear assembly, which includes landing gear and brakes. This work is currently in its 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.

An international team was created by Lufthansa Technik which included staff from Lufthansa Technik´s facilities in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Budapest, Sofia as well as staff from its subsidiary Bizjet in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The on-site staff of Lufthansa Technik–North America in Auburn, is supplemented with personnel from Aeronautica, Global Air Service, Tailwind and Stellar Avionics. From very early on in the program, third year apprentices from Lufthansa Technik Hamburg have been involved in the project while on temporary rotational assignments.

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. Engine runs and system checks will have to be completed before the first flight, so optimistically the first flight could still happen as soon as late 2014. After successful completion of the flight testing and recertification program, the passenger interior will be installed at the Lufthansa Technik-North America facility in Auburn, Maine. Finally, the aircraft will be painted in 1950’s era Lufthansa colors. Interior designs have been developed in Hamburg using 3-D modeling software and two cabin mockups have been assembled. At some point, the aircraft will give up her US registration and be re-registered in Germany as D-ALAN. The Super Star will be based in Hamburg, Germany, where she will be operated by the Lufthansa Berlin Foundation (DLBS).

I’d like to thank all the folks at Lufthansa Technik for their hospitality. Special thanks goes to Michael Austermeier for his help during the past 5+ years and to Manfred Rosenthal for taking time from his busy schedule to give Pete and myself a great tour. I look forward to continued progress on the program and to a first flight in the not too distant future.

I visited the Lufthansa Technik hangar at Auburn-Lewiston Airport on October 1, 2014. For a 2014 update on the project, check out my January 2, 2015 Constellation News article.

Ralph M. Pettersen
February 2015

Photo Credits: J. Roger Bentley, Roy Blewett, South African Airways Museum, Jon Proctor, Ralph M. Pettersen

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----Created 5 February 2015----