LHT undertakes restoration of Super Star Constellation

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 9, 2009, 10:49 AM

The Lockheed L-1649A Super Star was the queen of the skies in the late 1950s and it might again become a familiar sight aloft, according to Lufthansa Technik. In cooperation with the company’s Tulsa, Oklahoma subsidiary, BizJet, restoration on one of the 50-year-old airliners has begun at a specially built hangar at Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Maine.

The final iteration of Lockheed’s successful Constellation series, the four-engine Super Star was the last word in long-range airborne luxury in the days before passenger jet travel. Joining Lufthansa’s fleet as flagship starting in 1958, the four Super Stars–out of a total of 44 built–were used on the nonstop transatlantic route until the Boeing 707 superceded them in the mid-1960s. The Super Stars saw the inauguration of Lufthansa’s first-class service. Onboard, a chef catered to the 32 passengers who made the nearly 15-hour flight from Hamburg to New York in the comfort of sleeper beds and nearly lie-flat seats.

In recognition of the Super Star’s role as an important part of its more than 80-year history, Lufthansa’s historic flight foundation Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung (DLBS) embarked on the mission to restore an L-1649A to flying status, joining other historic aircraft in the foundation’s fleet such as the Junkers Ju 52/3m and the Dornier 27.

The opportunity presented itself when a commercial pilot and Constellation enthusiast in Maine named Maurice Roundy was forced to sell the three L-1649s–long since converted to cargo hauling–that he had acquired. The airplanes had sat exposed to the elements for more than 20 years–two of them in Maine, the other in Florida.

“When we heard about these airplanes…we discussed if it would make sense to expand our foundation with one of these airplanes,” said August Henningsen, CEO of Lufthansa Technik. “We discussed it and decided [to purchase them] since these airplanes were for auction because the owner had to sell them due to financial circumstances. There was a danger that these airplanes would have been scrapped. There were also some people who were simply interested in the [Curtiss-Wright] R-3350 engines, which have 3,450 hp each, for use in racing machines.”

On Dec. 17, 2007, LHT purchased all three of Roundy’s Super Stars plus five containers of spare parts for $745,000. “We wanted to have one airplane,” Henningsen told AIN, “but finally we ended up with all three because we needed the engines and all the spare parts from the other airplanes as well.”

While one of the three aircraft was actually a former member of Lufthansa’s fleet, DLBS selected a retired TWA Super Star as the restoration candidate, based on the condition of the airframe.  The airplane rolled in to the specially built hangar on November 20.

“We jacked the airplane and took the landing gear off and dismantled all the flaps and the leading edges; all the engine cowlings are down and everything is out and down to the bare metal–so no more cockpit, no nothing. We have a team of 12 local people in Maine who are doing all the disassembly and cleaning work right now,” said Henningsen.

That local staff is supported on both sides of the Atlantic by LHT technicians, company trainees and even former Constellation pilots and maintenance workers. Various components such as the landing gear, control columns and hydraulic systems have been shipped back to Germany for reconditioning, while the empennage and flying surfaces were sent to LHT’s Tulsa subsidiary BizJet.

Thirteen of the mighty R-3350 Curtiss-Wright turbo-compound radial engines–from which LHT hopes to produce six working powerplants–went to a piston engine restoration specialist in Idaho. “What we are doing right now is inspecting from left to right and from forward to aft the pressure bulkheads and the primary structure of the airplane,” said Henningsen. “We have made the main analysis already, so there are hundreds of repairs but nothing that we would call a showstopper.”

One of the major concerns the restoration team faces is in identifying parts and tracking down their manufacturers. “We have many components in the electrical and hydraulic systems where we still need the documentation from the manufacturers of the past,” Henningsen said. “We have to find out if they still have some documents for overhaul of some of the components that we will keep integrated in the airplane. This is the biggest hurdle right now.” LHT (Hall 4 Stand E54) has received support from Lockheed Martin, which built the aircraft a half century ago, and OEMs such as Hamilton Standard and Goodrich are also providing service for the propellers and de-icing boots, respectively.

When complete, the aircraft will have a luxury interior that will invoke its vintage splendor. While the restorers hope to preserve and maintain as much of the original cockpit instrumentation as possible, Henningsen admits there will have to be some compromises and modernizations so the L-1649 can be certified as a commercial airliner under current regulations. Once the restoration is complete in an anticipated two years, the aircraft will join DLBS’s fleet of flying antiques, and will be used for corporate promotions and will be available for charter based out of Hamburg.

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