Glistening the past; 4 veterans restore retired plane

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The year is 1948, the gentle voice of Frank Sinatra is singing, "It only happens when I dance with you," out of the speakers of the new '48 Tucker sedan. Then, like a flash of lightning, the sleek new Lockheed Constellation bolts overhead, streaking across the California skyline, whizzing by at a remarkable 300 mph.

Time has marched on and the once extraordinary 300 mph capability of the
C-121 Constellation is a thing of the past.

Today, there are fewer than 17 Constellations left worldwide. The Air Mobility Command Museum is currently restoring one of them.

The Constellation was the first plane to be designated as Air Force One. It was used militarily in the 1950s and 60s by modifying it with radar capability and using it as an aerial extension of the Distant Early Warning Line. It was used in aiding the rescue of downed aircraft in Southeast Asia.

"The Constellation that we are restoring was flown by several commercial airlines," said Les Stiller, AMC Museum restoration crew member. The retired Army veteran continued, "She (The plane) was originally ordered by Norwegian Airlines and flown by Cubana, Seaboard World Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Irish Airlines and Intercontinental US."

He also said that the plane being restored here was used as a cocktail lounge for a period of time.

"She sat on top of Jim Flannery's Constellation Lounge in Penndel, Pa.," he said. "There was thick carpeting on the walls, a dance floor and even a bar inside."

In 1996, Amoco Corporation purchased the lot that Jim Flannery's Constellation Lounge once sat on. Amoco, realizing the historical significance of the plane, offered it to the AMC Museum.

"The plane was transported to the Museum in December 1997," said Ed Barnes, AMC Museum restoration crew leader. Mr. Barnes, a Korean War veteran who served in the Army Air Corps, remembers the Constellation in its prime.

Although this particular aircraft was not flown by the military, it will be restored for display as a military C-121, said Michael Leister, AMC Museum director.

"It's ironic," said Mr. Leister, "this plane was originally registered by Cubana Airlines in Dover, Del. "Now," he continued, "the plane is right back here in Dover, being restored so it can be displayed at the AMC Museum here."

The plane was neglected for many years prior to the beginning of the restoration project.

"The whole plane was in shambles," said Larry Phillips, AMC Museum restoration crew member. "It was junk from nose to tail. We replaced a lot of metal, most of the floor and are restoring the interior now."
The restoration crew is made up of retired servicemembers who take great pride in the historical significance of the plane.

"Larry (Mr. Phillips) is a retired Air Force C-133 pilot," said Lud Possenti, AMC Museum restoration crew member, former Navy gunnersmate and retired 21 year veteran of the New York Police Department. "He and the crew are pouring their hearts into this project."

The restoration is scheduled to be complete in about a year, said Mr. Barnes. After completion, the plane will be displayed at the museum.

The world has changed greatly in the 59 years since the release of the Lockheed Constellation. The new-release music of Sinatra has been replaced by many other bands. Cars like the Tucker sedan have ceased to exist and been surpassed by the fuel-efficient, economic and computer automated vehicles of today. The cutting-edge 300 mph speeds of the Constellation would be a slow-crawl compared to the speeds at which Air Force jets fly today.

In remembrance of a time past, a picturesque world of yesteryear -- the world that they devotedly served their country during -- the restoration crew of the AMC Museum works tirelessly, dedicated to preserving their own piece of history.