Columbine II Restoration - July 2022
Columbine II Restoration Update
The Shenandoah Valley is not the place one would expect to find the First Air Force One but Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential aircraft is currently undergoing a remarkable restoration by Dynamic Aviation near the small town of Bridgewater, Virginia. Company founder Karl Stoltzfus rescued VC-121A 48-610 Columbine II from a small airfield near Tucson, Arizona in 2015 and spent a year getting it back into an airworthy condition. With that complete, the Constellation made its first flight in almost 13 years when it was flown to Virginia in March 2016.
Karl’s vision was to transform the aircraft to how it appeared while in service as Eisenhower’s Air Force One during the mid-1950s. While great progress has been made since its arrival, a considerable amount of work still needs to be completed before Karl’s vision can be realized. Unfortunately, Karl passed away in November 2020 and will not be able to witness the fulfilment of this vision.
I’ve been making annual summer visits to Dynamic Aviation and my July 25, 2022 visit was my seventh since the aircraft arrived from Arizona. Karl was always a gracious host and encouraged my visits…fortunately his son and company president Michael Stoltzfus has continued this courtesy. Karl considered the aircraft “America's Airplane” and that it actually belonged to the American public. He thought it important that Americans be aware of the airplane’s history and Dwight Eisenhower’s legacy. His goal was to showcase it around the country at airshow events hoping the restored aircraft would inspire future generations to learn more about our history and motivate them to pursue careers in aviation.
I met with Michael during my recent visit and we discussed the project in detail. Based on our conversation, I’m convinced that he also feels a moral obligation to preserve the history of the aircraft and is committed to the completion of its restoration. To that end, Phil Douglas was recently named Executive Director of the First Air Force One project and assigned overall responsibility for the restoration of this presidential airplane. Phil met me at the reception area and our first stop was the hangar where the vintage aviation collection and Columbine II are housed. During the past year the pace of the restoration has been significantly dialed back with Bill Borchers working on the interior while Michael Morin continuing installation of electrical wiring on a part time basis.
There was no one working on the aircraft during my visit as Bill was at Air Venture in Oshkosh along with a sizeable contingent of Dynamic Aviation employees participating in the NEXTGEN Aviators program. The program involves a three-hour immersive experience for teenagers interested in aviation careers. Students participate in an aviation maintenance lab, conduct a preflight of an airplane with a company pilot and practice flying skills in a flight simulator. Finally, they get to fly in a company Beechcraft King Air 90, although that part of the experience was not able to be provided during Air Venture. In addition, the company’s C-47 Miss Virginia was on display, and also flew during the week-long event.
The project pace will pick up shortly starting with a group of interns being assigned to polish the exterior of the aircraft. Phil has prepared a detailed restoration plan and assured me that significant progress would be evident during my visit next year. He even went as far as projecting a December 2025 completion date! Information and updates on the restoration progress can be viewed at the website FirstAirForceOne.org.
The next stop on my visit was the partially completed museum hangar, which is located at the south end of the airport. While the shell of the building is complete, the interior is largely unfinished. The facility will house the First Air Force One/Columbine II and the vintage aircraft collection when completed. It will also include meeting rooms, office space, shop areas (avionics, electrical, sheet metal, hydraulics, etc.) and library. In addition to the Constellation, the vintage fleet includes the following aircraft.
- Travel Air 4000 – N469N
- Beech G18S – N18G
- Beech E18S – N1400E
- PT-17 (as a N2S-4) – N17N
- North American T-6G – N12V/39-788
- Super Legend Cub – N14C
- Douglas C-47 – N47E/0-30665 Miss Virginia
I asked about the three former military Super Constellation fuselages that Karl had acquired over the years and Phil said he would be happy to take me to the other side of the airport where they were stored. In addition to the three Super Connies, this area was previously home to a considerable number of stored Dash 8’s and King Airs that have been either scrapped or moved into storage.
The Super Connies include the forward fuselage sections of N51006/53-535 and BuNo 141292 along with the disassembled remnants of N105CF/54-4062. All are neatly arranged adjacent to a berm that provided an excellent photo op. Hopefully these relics will one day be restored. Of special note, BuNo 141292 conducted the final U.S. military Constellation operation in June 1982 before being flown to the now defunct Florence Air and Missile Museum in Florence, South Carolina. The fuselage, wings and tail of DC-3 N96H were also stored at this location and I’m assuming the aircraft serves as a parts donor for C-47 Miss Virginia.
I’d like to thank both Phil and Michael for their hospitality and providing for what amounts to a VIP tour of Columbine II, the hangar facilities and the storage area. I’m heartened by their determination to see the restoration of this iconic aircraft to completion and their long term vision for it future.
While visitors are welcome at Dynamic Aviation, tours of the restoration hangar must be scheduled in advance due to availability of staff, the sensitive nature of work being performed on military contracts and COVID-19 concerns.
Ralph M. Pettersen
August 11, 2022
Photo Credits: Ralph M. Pettersen
----Created 11 August 2022----