During the past twenty years, one man has become synonymous with the L1649A Super Constellation Starliner. This man is Maurice Roundy and he currently owns, through Maine Coast Airways, three aircraft representing three quarters of the surviving population. I have know Maurice since 1997, have followed his L1649A adventures since 1982 and was pleasantly surprised when I recently received an email from him informing me that he planned to restore his two long dormant Auburn, Maine based L1649A’s to airworthy condition.
Maurice has been fascinated with airplanes and flying since childhood. He followed his dream and during the 1960’s and 70’s flew commuter and corporate aircraft for a number of New England based operators amassing a total of 14,000 flying hours. Maurice claims that he first became interested in the Lockheed Constellation while reading an Air Classics magazine article way back in 1969. That interest grew to a passion and he bought his first Starliner, N7316C, in May 1983; his second, N974R, in 1985; and the third, N8083H, in May 1986. All had been stored for a number of years and required extensive restoration prior to successful ferry flights. N7316C and N8083H were flown to Auburn, Maine where they are currently parked adjacent to Maurice’s airport home while the third, N974R, was ferried from Sanford Airport, FL in October 2001 to its new home at Kermit Week’s Fantasy of Flight Museum. Maurice feels that he doesn’t own the aircraft but, in actuality, they own him! He also feels a deep responsibility for their preservation and, for almost twenty years, has dedicated himself and considerable resources to achieving that goal. The vintage airline enthusiast community truly owes him a deep debt of gratitude for these efforts.
Lockheed produced 856 Constellations at their Burbank, California factory for military and airline customers between 1942 and 1958. The Starliner was the last model of the line and is considered, by most, to be the finest piston-engined airliner ever produced. It was called Starliner by Lockheed, Super Star by Lufthansa, Jetstream by Trans World Airlines and Super Starliner by Air France. By the time deliveries of the Starliner began in 1957, the jet powered Boeing 707 was only eighteen months away from airline service and, as a result, only 44 were produced for three airlines. The Starliner was truly the long-range champion of its day, capable of 6,000 mile flights and routinely flying the non-stop polar Los Angeles to London route. The longest recorded flight of a Starliner was 23 hours and 19 minutes on a London to San Francisco trip where head winds were particularly strong. A completely redesigned wing with a span of 150 feet incorporating seven fuel tanks, with a total capacity of 9,800 gallons, allowed this extraordinary range to be achieved. Starliners normally cruised at 20,000 feet at 350 miles per hour with a passenger load of between 32 and 100 plus passengers. Gross weight for takeoff was 160,000 pounds and, when converted to freighters, these aircraft were capable of carrying upwards of 40,000 pounds of cargo. For overseas flights, the crew normally consisted of a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio operator and navigator, plus three to four flight attendants. In addition, on long flights polar flights, extra crewmembers were on-board due to the length of the trip.
All three of Maurice’s aircraft have similar histories. While N7316C and N8083H were delivered to TWA and N974R to Lufthansa as D-ALAN, all had their days of carrying passengers cut short by the advent of the jet age and, by 1961, had been converted to freighters. The two ex-TWA aircraft went to Alaska Airlines in 1962 where they carried passengers and freight for six years before being sold to Purdhoe Oil Distributing who converted them to bulk fuel carriers. By 1972 they were parked at Anchorage before being sold to West-Air, Inc. where, in 1974, they were joined by N974R. Having little business for the two aircraft, West-Air, Inc ferried N8083H and N7316C to Kenai for storage in late 1974.
By 1976, all three aircraft had been sold to a short-lived outfit named Burns Aviation. In January 1976 N7316C departed for Stewart Airport in Newburg, NY where the aircraft had a short but somewhat exciting career with its new owner. After two relatively uneventful trips carrying livestock to Puerto Rico, it left on a marathon twelve-day trip from Stewart Airport, NY to Le Bourget Airport near Paris with a load of livestock in July 1976. Returning to Stewart on three engines, after a thirteen-hour non-stop flight from Shannon Ireland, the crew found that Burns Aviation had ceased to exist and paychecks were nowhere to be found. The airplane was abandoned and towed to a deserted ramp on the other side of the airport. While N7316C completed the three flights for Burns in 1976, N8083H remained grounded at Kenai, Alaska and N974R at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
During the next seven years, the aircraft went through a number of owners until bought by Maurice on May 23, 1983. Maurice talked Ray Porter, a retired Constellation expert, out of retirement and the two of them set out to restore the long neglected airplane to airworthy condition. After almost six months of hard work, the FAA granted a ferry permit and, on November 9, 1983, a one hour, forty five minute ferry flight was successfully made to Auburn, Maine. The flight was commanded by Frank Lang, of MATS Connie fame, with Maurice as co-pilot, G.V. Hill as flight engineer and Ray Porter as flight mechanic. Maurice had originally planned to convert the aircraft to a restaurant but it had flow so well that he couldn’t bring himself to do so and it was parked adjacent to Maurice’s unique house at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport to await its future.
Along with N7316C, N8083H had been ferried to Kenai in late 1974 to await sale. After Burns Aviation ceased operations in July 1976, N8083H was abandoned at Kenai and became the center of controversy for the next six years. Parking fees of over $10,000 went uncollected and in 1979 it was auctioned to the only bidder, Gerald McNamara, for the paltry sum of $150. The aircraft was sold to Hank Maierhoffer, of Fort Lauderdale based Aeroborne Enterprises in May 1980, and N8083H finally departed Kenai, to the relief of the airport authorities, on August 26, 1980.
By early February 1981 it had arrived at Chandler Memorial Airpark in Arizona, where it was sold to a clandestine company, Canary Leasing Company. A small fortune was expended during 1982 to restore the aircraft and by early 1983 it was in immaculate condition. Residents of the desert valley between Chandler and Tucson began noticing the aircraft making low-level flights with the rear cargo door open and bales of hay being dropped. What was not know at the time was that the aircraft had been fitted with a system for dropping bales of hay and other “agricultural” products from the rear door of the aircraft. It headed south one day in February 1983 towards South America and turned up in Belize in March 1983 with an inoperative engine. By late August it was reportedly stuck in axle-deep mud in Columbia with two damaged propellers. Replacements were dispatched from Miami and the aircraft reappeared in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in September 1983, where it was abandoned.
Maurice Roundy purchased N8083H from Canary Leasing for $1 and departed for Honduras in April 1986 to restore it to flying condition. Accompanying Maurice was Frank Lang, G.V. Hill and Ray Porter, all experienced Constellation mechanics. Six weeks later N8083H was deemed airworthy, parking fees were paid and she departed San Pedro Sula on May 31, 1986 for Maine. The crew overnighted in Ft Lauderdale and the next day the airplane completed its journey and joined N7316C at Auburn. The airplane performed flawlessly on the flight and Maurice now had two of his three prized possessions parked in his front yard.
On October 19, 2001, Maurice proved all the skeptics wrong when he successfully ferried N974R fifty-five miles from Sanford Airport to its new home at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk, Florida. The airplane had been parked at Sanford since September 1988 when it arrived after a short, but exciting flight from West Palm Beach, Florida. The flight to the museum culminated a two-year restoration effort by Maurice and a small group of volunteers. Lufthansa used D-ALAN on its prestigious trans-Atlantic routes from December 1957 to April 1960 outfitted with a plush 32-seat cabin. Converted to a freighter in 1960, it was leased to World Airways, as N45512, from July 1962 to February 1964 when it was returned to Lufthansa and utilized on domestic routes until February 1966. Sold to a US aircraft broker and registered N174AV, it was leased to the travel club Air Venturers and later Trans Mediterranean Airways before winding up in Alaska with West-Air Inc. as N974R. Operated sparingly by West-Air, it was ferried to Houston, Texas in 1974 for storage before being leased to Burns Aviation and flown to Miami in April 1976. A short flight to Fort Lauderdale was made on June 6, 1976 where the aircraft remained parked for over twelve years. Burns Aviation never operated this aircraft and it was sold to Hank Maierhoffer’s Aeroborne Enterprises in June 1980 and to Maurice Roundy in 1985.
On August 18, 1988, after a two and half year restoration effort by Maurice and a small group of volunteers, N974R was ready to depart Fort Lauderdale for Auburn, Maine. The crew, consisting of Captain John McBride, Philip Kemp, Ralph Dominguez and Ray Porter, began experiencing problems almost immediately. Due to a locked brake, the aircraft used all but 500 feet of Ft Lauderdale’s 9,800-foot runway for takeoff and was faced with a nose gear that wouldn’t fully retract and a blown left main tire. It was decided to head for Maine but shortly thereafter this was abandoned when the number one engine lost most of its oil, necessitating a three-engine emergency landing at West Palm Beach.
After five weeks of hard work the aircraft was again deemed airworthy and it set off on September 19, 1988 with the same flight crew. The aircraft became airborne after only a 5,000 foot takeoff run, the landing gear retracted properly and all appeared to be going well one hour into the flight. This all changed very quickly and dramatically when the number one propeller went into flat pitch and ran away. As the flight engineer, Ralph Dominguez, struggled with the number one propeller, fuel pressure was lost in the number four engine and the number two engine began running rough. Obviously N974R was not going to make it to Maine and it was decided to land at Sanford Airport, which became its home for the next thirteen years.
The Sanford Airport authorities were not big fans of old Constellations and continually badgered Maurice about his “wreck”, even threatening to have the airplane scrapped if he didn’t remove it from the airport. The good folks at the Star Port FBO allowed him the use of their ramp and, with the help of Kermit Weeks, N974R was successfully flown to the Fantasy of Flight Museum where she is currently a star attraction. Maurice has an agreement with Kermit to display the aircraft at the museum for five years and, with a safe home found for this aircraft, he could now turn his attentions to his Maine based aircraft.
It had always been Maurice’s dream to return one or more of his prized possessions to flying status and tour the airshow circuit but, for almost twenty years, this goal eluded him. Maurice had the vision, desire and knowledge to make it all happen but lacked the financial backing. This changed recently when Charlotte, North Carolina businessman Roy Guignet saw Maurice’s webpage and became interested in the project. Roy has always had a passion for old airplanes and Maurice and he plan to restore both of the Maine based Starliners to flying condition. Although Roy is funding the startup of the project, they plan on selling shares of Maine Coast Airways, a sub-S corporation currently owned by Maurice, to raise the remaining capital. The corporation will be operated as a profit making entity and, one only has to look at Vern Raburn’s very successful Constellation Group which flies the MATS Connie, to see that it can be done.
The plan is to sell shares of the corporation for $5,000 each. Shareholders will be entitled to travel on the airplanes and, depending on their qualifications, become qualified flight crew members. Training for flight engineer and aircraft type ratings are also planned. Shares would be transferable and could be sold at a later date. Maurice has also created the “Starliner Support Group” which offers lifetime memberships for $500 or annual memberships for $100. Membership includes basically the same rights as shareholders but memberships could not be sold or traded. The aircraft would be operated in accordance with Part 125, which would allow stockholders and Starliner Support Group members to travel on the airplanes but not the general public. Once all the legal questions have been answered and Maurice is assured that all Security and Exchange Commission requirements are being satisfied, shares will be made available for sale.
How does one set up a Part 125 operation? While the requirements are not as strict as the Part 121 requirements that airliners operate under, they still are more stringent than Part 91 general aviation requirements. Make no mistake, it will take a large team to get the two aircraft back to airworthy condition and keep them flying. The FAA requires a Director of Operations, a Director of Maintenance, a full set of operation manuals and system for maintaining records. In addition, each aircraft requires at least three flight crew (captain, copilot and flight engineer) and three mechanics. While not type rated in the L1649A, Maurice has extensive knowledge of these aircraft and could fill a number of positions, including either director position, copilot, flight engineer or mechanic. Where will the rest of the people come from? According to Maurice, his website at www.starliner.net has generated major interest in the project with a number of airline captains ready to become stockholders. The thrill of flying a classic airliner, such as the Starliner, seems not to have lost its appeal even after all these years. Building a cadre of type rated pilots would be a major undertaking, but it can be done.
Restoration of two 45-year old airliners that haven’t flown for almost twenty years is a daunting task. Most skeptics talk about the lack of spare parts, especially the R3350-EA2 engine, when they say it can’t be done. Maurice has thirteen engines amongst his three airplanes with ten being serviceable. He also has four forty foot trailers full of parts in Auburn and another at the Fantasy of Flight Museum. The plan is to undertake a complete airframe and engine inspection of both aircraft with N7316C leading the way. This is currently ongoing as the result of the start-up funding provided by Roy with the list of items needing attention including the following.
Ray Porter taught Maurice to work one system at a time, correct problems as they occur and the scope of the effort becomes manageable. He has used this system successfully on the restoration of N8083H in San Pedro Sula and N974R in Sanford.
- All seven fuel tanks per aircraft must be opened for inspection. With one thousand screws per tank, this is quite an undertaking. Five of the seven tanks have been completed on N7316C with the work only starting on N8083H.
- Three engines need to be overhauled. Two for N7316C and one spare.
- The remaining engines require inspection, compression testing, timing and pre-pre-oiling prior to engine test runs.
- The instruments and radios need to be inspected and replaced/overhauled as necessary. This should not be a problem since most are commonly available.
- The radios no longer meet FAA requirements for frequency separation and a modern GPS/Nav/Com, such as a Garmin 430, will have to be installed in each aircraft.
- Transponders will have to be installed in each aircraft.
- All flexlines need replacement. This includes eighteen fuel injector lines per engine, engine accessory lines, fuel tank lines, and landing gear lines.
- All hardlines and b-nuts will have to be inspected and replaced as necessary. This represents a considerable task, which most men would shudder to undertake.
The interior and color scheme are two decisions that will be addressed at a later date. Maurice is currently inclined to attempt replicating the 1950’s passenger interior these aircraft were delivered in. As for the color scheme, since so few airlines operated the aircraft this poses a more difficult decision. N974R already is painted in Lufthansa colors; the Airline History Museum’s L1049H sports a TWA scheme so Air France or one of the second hand owners would be a logical choice. Another option might be a corporate advertising logo, similar to what Southwest and other airlines have done. Maurice is even contemplating a “Color the Connie” contest on the intranet with the winner being awarded a free Starliner flight.
Many readers are probably aware of Maurice and Jane’s rather unique house, Starliner Place, which has been for sale for some time. The house sits very close to the main runway at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport and airport authorities would very much like to purchase it from Maurice. The sticking point becomes how his two very large aircraft will be moved. They cannot be disassembled due to their one-piece wing design and the airport is not too thrilled with having to foot the bill for preparing them for a ferry flight. Maurice is currently negotiating with the airport with a number of options being considered.
The fourth surviving Starliner, ZS-DVJ, is owned by the South African Airways Museum Society and is on display at the Johannesburg International Airport, South Africa. It was delivered to Lufthansa as D- ALOL in 1958 and later flew with World Airways and Trek Airways/Luxair before being retired in 1968. Its last flight was on October 9, 1971 when it was flown from Johannesburg to Warmbad, North Transvaal for use as a café. It was never converted and remained on display at Warmbad until the museum purchased it in 1978. The move back to Johannesburg in 1979 required disassembly of the aircraft, which rendered it permanently unairworthy. Since the aircraft was never converted for use as a freighter, its passenger interior remained intact and has been restored to its former glory.
- Option 1 – The airport authority buys the house and leases it back to Maurice for a twenty-five year term. This would allow Maurice to invest in a hangar large enough fit a Starliner and headquarter his operations in Maine.
- Option 2 – The airport authority buys the house and pays to have the two aircraft restored to a ferryable condition. This would allow Maurice to move the aircraft to a location, such as central Florida, and headquarter his operation there. A very real advantage of this option is the pool of knowledgeable individuals still residing in Florida, which has become a Mecca for warbird restoration and activity.
- Option 3 – The airport authority buys the house and aircraft and disposes of them as they see fit. To say the least, not a good option!
Maurice and the SAA group have established a very close relationship and they have visited the United States four times. During these visits they have worked on all three of Maurice’s aircraft providing invaluable assistance. They have provided serviceable parts from their aircraft in support of Maurice’s efforts as he has provided needed parts to them from his considerable inventory. During their latest visit in early October this year, they met with Maurice and Roy to discuss the possibility of formally merging their two efforts. A wealth of knowledge exists between the two and a merger of efforts makes much sense. An agreement has been made that members of each group will enjoy the benefits of both groups.
Maurice has succeeded in the past where skeptics counted him out and it would not be a wise bet to take his current plans too lightly. His aircraft would be a most welcome addition to the airshow circuit. For additional information and updates, Maurice’s website can be accessed at www.starliner.net. The SAA Museum Society’s website can be found at www.saamuseum.co.za.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Maurice Roundy and his wife Jane Theberge in the preparation of this article. Their hospitality and enthusiasm for this project is much appreciated.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: J. Roger Bentley, Carl Kramer, Ted Quackenbush, Mel Lawrence, Peter de Groot, Maurice Roundy, Graham Robson, Michael Zoeller, William L.B.J. Dekker, Roy Blewett, SAA Museum Society, Ralph M. Pettersen
----Created 9 February 2004------Updated 14 March 2004----