Restoration: Grande Dame

The Lockheed L-1649A Starliner gets a makeover.

There were Boeing Stratocruisers, Douglas DC-6s, DC-7s, their big radial engines belching smoke, and, of course, the timeless DC-3.  But among the and some airliners on the taxiway in the 1940s and 1950s moved the Lockheed Constellation, shapely as a Bettie Page pinup.

During their heyday, more than 800 Connies plied air routes around the world, but today, only about 25 remain.  Just five are airworthy, but a sixth, an L-649A Starliner located at Sanford Airport outside of Orlando, Florida, will soon join that select group.  Owner Maurice Roundy and a handful of volunteers are in the final stages of preparing the old classic to fly again.

When work is complete, the Connice will be awarded a ferry certificate, which will enable it to be flown, but in good weather and away from populated areas only.  Roundy is looking for a buyer or corporate sponsor who can afford the aircraft's $250,000 asking price, completely restore the Connie, and fly it on the airshow circuit.  But even after the Starliner takes to the air again, it will still require an estimated $750,000 of work to make it ready for continual operation.

Roundy owns two other Constellations, both located in Main and awaiting refits and new owners.  All three of his aircraft are L-1649A Starliners--the Constellation's final version--which first flew in 1956.  Trans World Airlines, Lufthansa, and Air France bought a total of just 44 1649s, and the type enjoyed a few years of service on prestigious transcontinental routes before de Havilland Comets, Boeing 707s, and Douglas DC-8s relegated piston-driven aircraft to hauling cargo.

Roundy's Florida-based Constellation was a Lufthansa veteran and was configured for comforts unheard of in the current era of salted peanuts and knees in the seatback.  Talk about legroom: As part of the airline's Senator Service, the aircraft--capable of holding 86 passengers in standard configuration--was fitted with only eight first-class seats, 18 deluxe-class seats, and four beds.  On each transoceanic flight, 30 lucky Senator Service passengers were pampered with gourmet meals served on fine china.

With its gutted interior, N974R is a long way from its former glory as an international airline flagship, but the old Constellation waits patiently for new schedules to keep.

--John Sotham

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