The National Airline History Museum of Kansas City, Missouri is on a drive to raise $3.2 million for the restoration of its Lockheed Constellation and to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Howard Hughes’ record-setting cross-country flight in the plane that transformed commercial air travel.
The museum’s Constellation is one of only a handful of the 856 that were built had been airworthy until an engine failure grounded the craft in 2005. The museum is planning restore the plane to flying condition and to fly it on April 17, 2014, the 70th anniversary of the 1944 inaugural flight, recreating the journey with the aid of a copy of the original flight log, beginning in Burbank, California, and ending in Washington, D.C. Along the way, it will pass over the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and the Virginias.
“It was a major leap forward, which is why we want to do the flight because it was so significant in the development of the airline industry,” said John Roper, the museum’s vice president of operations. “It was more than national travel; it ushered in global travel.” Roper said he hoped that a few celebrities who are aviation enthusiasts would join a volunteer crew of pilots, flight engineers, mechanics and flight attendants. “What we are really trying to do is by getting the aircraft flying is to bring attention to a time in the airline industry when air travel was much more luxurious and it was elegant affair and there was some romance to flying on the airlines,” said Roper.
The plane, a Model L-1049H, was one of the last Constellations off Lockheed’s assembly lines in 1958 and was found in storage at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona under registration number N6937C, It was officially donated to the Save-A-Connie foundation in 1986 and was affectionately nicknamed the “Star of America”. After 18 months in a hangar at the Kansas City Downtown Airport, the Connie emerged, resplendent in TWA livery and she promptly began flying the Air Show circuit.
Roper said the museum plans to spend around $1 million to make the plane ready for flight. The remaining money would be used to cover the cost of operating the plane. In addition to recreating the 1944 flight, the museum plans to spend a couple months beforehand stopping in different cities in the western U.S. and then touring cities in the eastern half of the county afterward. The crew that accompanies the plane will talk about the history of the airlines and commercial aviation aircraft. “Hopefully, this is going to be one those things that captures the heart of America a little bit,” Roper said. “We definitely intend to have the aircraft be an ambassador to Kansas City and promote the history of the airline industry in Kansas City because TWA started here in Kansas City.”