The Liberty Gazette
April 12, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Nothing sounds quite like the throaty roar of a big 2,500-horsepower radial engine. If you make it a quartet the music is thusly amplified. When blue smoke belches from exhaust stacks and dust and gravel are flung into a sandstorm behind the four big 19’ diameter propellers of the beast you might get a notion of the calamity and commotion such a sight could generate.
Amidst this chaos a big bird from one of the most romantic eras of aviation history emerges. At the beginning of its takeoff roll it seems to stand still as the engines wind up franticly. The airplane starts trundling along. As it passes a crowd of well-wishers and cheering fans the sound of those supercharge radial engines becomes a symphony to their ears. Gaining speed it breaks ground, slowly climbing into the desert sky. Its been a long time since the majestic aircraft has experienced flight.
Our July 1, 2014 piece chronicled the efforts of a group in Arizona to restore the first Air Force One, President Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation ("Connie") named Columbine II. It is our pleasure to announce they are succeeding.
Recapping what we presented in the previous installment, Eisenhower had three airplanes. Each was named Columbine after the state flower of Colorado where his wife was born. Columbine II was the first designated as Air Force One so there would be no confusion with air traffic control as to the importance of the aircraft. It was later parked in the Air Force’s boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson and eventually sold to an aerial spraying operator. After service with that company it was parked at an airport just north of Tucson. There it sat waiting for either the scrapper’s torch or to one day fly again. We finished by stating the then owners were looking for a museum interested in restoring the aircraft for display.
Last year, Dynamic Aviation, a multi-facetted aviation company headquartered in Bridgewater, Virginia bought the airplane, thus, continuing the journey restoring it to flight status. Karl Stoltzfus, Dynamic Aviation’s CEO says they plan to restore it to just as it was when President Eisenhower was using it.
Expertise provided for the project came from Texas’ own Mid-America Flight Museum in Mt. Pleasant that volunteered the work to get the "Connie" back into the air, the first step to returning it to show quality and hopefully flown about the country retelling the story of how the most recognizable aircraft call-sign in the world came to be.
On March 21, Captain Lockie Christler, son of the former owner, Mel Christler, slowly advanced the throttles as the plane’s flight engineer monitored the engine gages. Captain Christler released the brakes and the "Connie" began rolling. A post on the Mid America Flight Museum’s Facebook page reads "At 12:28 – after over a year of preparation, Columbine II once again took to the sky. Tears of joy are watering the desert."
On its journey eastward, the Constellation was flanked by a Boeing B-25 - a medium-size WW II bomber, and a Beechcraft King Air, making their first stop Mt. Pleasant, Texas. Two days later amidst creaks and groans from its 70-year-old airframe, the first Air Force One landed at its new home in Virginia. With a new lease on life she will inspire and educate a whole new generation.