Soon after starting my first "real" job out of college in 1973, I found myself living in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Imagine my surprise when I came upon a Super Constellation mounted above a restaurant less than two miles from my apartment! What I had stumbled on was Jim Flannery's Constellation Lounge on US Route 1 in Penndel, Pennsylvania. Jim bought the Super Connie, N1005C (c/n 4557), from Capitol Airways in August 1967 and had it dismantled and trucked from Wilmington, Delaware to its new home above his restaurant. Its passenger interior was removed and converted into a cocktail lounge, complete with thick pile carpeting on the walls, a parquet wood dance floor and a functioning wet bar. When I came across her in 1973, she was minus her engines and landing gear but still in basic Capitol Airways colors.
This Super Connie was one of a few L1049E's manufactured and had flown for many airlines prior to becoming a cocktail lounge. She was originally ordered by the Norwegian airline, Braathens SAFE, but never delivered. She was instead delivered to Cubana who operated her for a few years in the mid-1950's. From 1956 to 1964 she was owned by Seaboard World Airlines who leased her to a number of airlines including BOAC, Eastern Airlines, Irish Airlines and Intercontinental US. She was leased to Capitol Airways in 1965, sold to them in 1966 but by mid-1967 had been withdrawn from service and stored at Newcastle Airport in Wilmington, Delaware.
As fate would have it, I only lived in Levittown for nine months before moving on to a new job in the Washington, DC area. While I was living in Levittown I never took the time to have dinner or a drink at this most unique restaurant. Today, twenty-eight years later, I ask myself why and the only reason I can think of is that I just never got around to it. What a shame! Since leaving Levittown I hadn't returned to visit and occasionally wondered what had become of the airplane. I found out some years ago while reading the September 1996 issue of Airliners magazine. There was a photo of the old girl with the news that the Amoco Corporation had purchased the restaurant and property and was planning to build a gas station. The article went on to say that a number of museums had expressed interest but the cost of moving the aircraft was proving to be a significant obstacle. Two years later I was happy to read that the airplane had found a new home at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB in Delaware, which planned on restoring it as a C-121 military transport. Credit must be given to the Amoco Corporation for their efforts in finding this airplane a new home. In the end, they donated the airplane to the museum when it would have been easier, and more profitable, to have sold it for scrap.
I had honestly never heard of the Air Mobility Command Museum and decided to see what I could find out about them on the worldwide web. It has an excellent website at www.amcmuseum.org which provides an overview of the museum and its extensive collection of "round engine" airplanes. The Super Connie restoration project seemed like good material for a Propliner article but would have to wait until the completion of a number of other ongoing projects. Finally, in December I contacted Mr. Mike Leister, the museum's director, and set up a meeting for early January. The museum's roots go back to 1978 when Mike, then an aircraft mechanic working for the 512th Military Airlift Wing, had the idea of using an aircraft restoration project as a means to attract new recruits to the Air Force Reserves. Mike's idea was simple. Recruit at air shows using "real" mechanics/technicians with the restoration project acting as an attention-getter. After several potential candidates were evaluated, B-17G "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" was received from the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB and the project was launched. Ten years later, the B-17G had been restored to airworthy condition and was flown to the Air Force Museum for permanent display.
Because of the success of this project, the 436th Wing Commander, Colonel Walter Kross asked Mike what it would take to start a museum. The rest is history. The museum began in 1986 with a single C-47A that had been deemed "beyond salvage" by several other museums. It had been used at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds for target practice and at Muir Army Airfield in Pennsylvania as a "lift load" for helicopter training. As luck would have it, this aircraft had dropped paratroopers on D-Day and had the bullet holes and the original load manifest to prove it. In 1990, after restoration had been completed, the museum held a reunion with the aircrew and paratroopers that had participated in the D-Day invasion. It was an emotional event for all who attended, including both museum staff and veterans.
The museum is located in Hangar 1301 at Dover AFB and is open to the public, free of charge. This WW II hangar has been fully restored and is listed on the National Historic Register due to its use, during WW II, as the Army Air Force's rocket test center. The hangar and adjacent buildings comprise over 28,000 square feet of exhibit and workshop space. The outside ramp comprises another 100,000 square feet of display space.
Since arriving at the museum in October 1997, N1005C has been stored adjacent to the old F-106 ready hangars waiting her turn for restoration. Ahead of her in the queue are KC-97L, 53-0230 and C-133B, 59-0536. Both are currently in active restoration and Mike estimates restoration of the Connie will begin in about 2-3 years and take about 1-2 years to complete. It is interesting to note that the C-133B has been airlifted, in pieces, from Offutt AFB in Nebraska to the museum in a specially modified C-5C transport. This unique aircraft was modified for NASA for use in hauling Space Shuttle canisters and is the only C-5 type aircraft large enough to fit the fuselage sections of the C-133B.
Before Mike took me out to see N1005C, he warned me that she looked "rough" after many years of neglect. He also assured me that some of the museum's pristine aircraft had looked even worse before restoration and promised equal results with this project. N1005C, her paint peeling badly, sits disassembled on what appears to be hundreds of old tires. The wings, fuselage and tail sections are complete minus landing gear and engines. Mike assured this wouldn't be a problem since engines, landing gear and a cargo door were salvaged a few years ago specifically for this project from WV-2/EC-121 BuN 141292, formerly part of the Florence Air and Missile Museum collection. Interestingly, this aircraft was the last military Constellation in service when she was retired in June 1982.
The interior of the Super Connie proved to be even more interesting than the exterior. The cockpit was relatively intact but the rest of the airplane had been extensively modified to suit its role as a cocktail lounge. Thick pile blue carpeting still covered the walls and the parquet wood dance floor, installed so many years ago, is still in place. Remnants of the wet bar were found and the two toilets in the rear of the aircraft had long ago been converted from chemical to more suitable flushing models. Although much work needs to be done to restore the interior, all major components are in place and essentially undamaged. I was very encouraged by what appears to be the very real possibility that this aircraft will someday soon be returned to her former glory. Sadly, due to the fact that the wings of N1005C were cut off rather than being removed properly in 1967, the aircraft will be restored for static display only and will never fly again.
My tour of the museum continued with Bill Hardie. Bill, a retired USAF colonel, is a docent at the museum and had flown two of the museum's aircraft during his military flying career. He had flown C-7A Caribou, 63-09760, in Vietnam during the late 1960's and C-141B Starlifter, 64-0626, later in his career at McGuire AFB in New Jersey. Bill flew the Starlifter, when it was still a C-141A and had not yet been stretched or modified to allow air-to-air refueling. Bill was a most gracious host and gave me a personal tour of almost every aircraft on the ramp, both inside and out, despite the cold temperature and a brisk 25-knot wind.
In addition to the aircraft described above, the museum has a fine collection of aircraft that would be of interest to a propliner enthusiast. A beautifully restored B-17G, 44-83624, serves as the centerpiece of the hangar display area along with C-47A 42-92841. Outside on the ramp, ex-Hawkins and Powers C-119G N3559 sits awaiting restoration. This ex-Royal Canadian Air Force airplane starred in the Richard Dreyfuss movie Always and was used by Hawkins and Powers as a fire bomber. Although delivered to the museum in 1991 she is still owned by the US Forest Service and restoration cannot begin until ownership is transferred to the museum.
Another airplane with an interesting history is C-123K Provider, 54-0658. This Vietnam veteran was often used for low-level missions and has a multitude of patched bullet holes to prove it. She was later used by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Peru, where she reportedly collected a number of addition bullet holes. Parked next to the C-123K is C-131D Samaritan, 55-0295, which was the military's version of the CV340 civilian airliner. The aircraft, formally assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard, has a fully intact VIP passenger interior. Probably the most interesting airplane on the ramp was C-54M, 44-9030. It flew the Berlin Airlift and, after being retired from the USAF, was used by the FBI as their sky marshal trainer at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. The story of how this airplane was transported from Quantico to Dover AFB by CH-54 helicopter could well be the topic of future article in Propliner!
The AMC Museum is a truly impressive example of what a dedicated group of individuals can accomplish on a "shoestring" budget. As museum director, Mike is one of less than a handful of full-time paid employees. The museum has thrived under Mike's leadership and through the efforts of its many volunteers. If you're ever in the vicinity of Dover, Delaware, the museum is well worth a visit. It is open to the public, free of charge, seven days a week. For more information on the museum, its website can be accessed at www.amcmuseum.org
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: J.Roger Bentley, Art Carter, Harry Heist, Ralph M. Pettersen, AMC Museum
----Created 4 February 2004------Updated 11 March 2004----