A Bangor-based aviation company will help a grounded “Connie” fly again.
The tri-tailed, Lockheed-built airliner known as the Constellation once graced American and international skies while carrying 40-plus passengers in the 1940s’ and 1950s’ equivalent of today’s first-class style. Unveiled as a four-engined military transport in early January 1943, the Constellation flew until the late 1960s with various airlines, such as Lufthansa. Longer-range jet airliners like the Boeing 707 phased out their prop-driven cousins, and the venerable Constellation faded into history.
Except at the Lewiston-Auburn Airport, home to three Constellation L-1649As since their purchase years ago by Maurice Roundy. The last Constellation variant built before Lockheed ended the plane’s construction, the L-1649As slowly deteriorated until Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung bought them in 2007; the acquisition included many spare parts, including 13 piston engines.
Planning to make one “Connie” fully operational, Lufthansa named a subsidiary, Lufthansa Technik AG, to restore the plane. The project presented unique challenges,
“All three of them (Constellations) were not in very good conditions,” said Maine Aero Services President and CEO Gene Richardson. “There was a lot of corrosion from the planes being stored outside.”
Located at 154 Maine Ave. at Bangor International Airport, Maine Aero Services operates a flight school and an FAA-certified repair station for general aviation aircraft and helicopters weighing less than 12,500 pounds gross weight. The company “is an authorized Cessna service center,” said Richardson, who bought MAS from Wisconsin-based Aircraft Cargo Carriers on April 10, 2010.
According to General Manager Ray Lane, MAS technicians also fabricate extra fuel tanks for single-engine aircraft being flown to Europe. The company currently employs 12 people; the hiring sign is “out” as MAS gears up to help an L-A Airport Constellation fly again.
Lufthansa built a $3 million hangar especially for the aircraft’s restoration. Technicians carefully disassembled the Constellation targeted for restoration; in 2010, Lufthansa Technik AG hired Maine Aero Services to weld the air-conditioning ductwork. “They liked the work we did for them,” Richardson said.
Earlier this year, Lufthansa Technik AG hired MAS to do additional work, and “right now we have hundreds of parts,” with thousands more to come, many from the other two Constellations, he said. Including four large engine nacelles, the parts are only from the airframe; MAS will not service engine components.
“We’ve got racks of parts [that] they’ve shipped here,” Richardson said.
The work involves skilled technicians carefully photographing and inspecting each part, manufactured primarily from aluminum “in different thicknesses,” Lane said. “They don’t make [aircraft parts to] those specs any more; the alloys they had in aluminum back then is different than what we have now.”
Inspection reveals which parts can be reused and which must be replaced. According to Lane, some parts “are so badly corroded” that MAS technicians must fabricate new parts. All fabrication and welding must be approved by a specialist known as a “designated engineering representative” or DER; Maine Aero Services contracts this service.
Those parts that pass inspection must be cleaned and primed. Cleaning takes place by hand or inside blast machines that use baking soda or glass beads. Baking soda “doesn’t damage the metal, but it takes the paint and corrosion off,” Richardson said. Technicians remove old rivets and install new ones while reassembling serviced parts, which are then primed.
Maine Aero Services already leased 12,000 square feet inside the 154 Maine Ave. hangar; with the Lufthansa project, MAS expanded into an adjoining 12,000 square feet on Aug. 1, 2012 after signing a lease with BIA Director Tony Caruso.
The airport and MAS split the cost of installing new, energy-efficient hangar lights; BIA will refurbish the sliding glass doors that open into the newly leased space. During a tour, Richardson indicated that MAS will install a natural gas-fired heating system in the space; “we’re going to paint all these walls here,” he said.
Maine Aero Services has already “hired a few people” for the Lufthansa project, Richardson said, and he wants “to hire three or four more people.” A few Lufthansa Technik AG technicians also work on the parts, and inspectors from the company visit MAS weekly to check on work quality and progress.
“It is creating jobs in Bangor,” Richardson while referring to the Lufthansa project. “It’s a neat thing to be part of this. It’s all about nostalgia.
“Lufthansa is going to fly the airplane. One day we’ll see it come here into Bangor, and we’ll be able to say that we played a role in getting it in the air again,” he said.