Following the profound shock and sadness we all felt in learning of Karl Stoltzfus untimely passing last November, there was an understandable concern over what his death might mean to the continuation of various historical aviation projects he had initiated. Such questions are never easy to articulate without seeming self-serving or callous, but Stoltzfus had been such a driving force in the restoration of Columbine II, President Eisenhower’s Lockheed VC-121 Constellation, that it was only natural for changes to occur. However, following staff-reductions on the project a couple of weeks ago at Dynamic Aviation, wild speculations began to spread on social media, which is never a healthy scenario, so we felt the need to help tamp down such nonsense.
Noted Constellation historian, Ralph Pettersen, has been following this restoration since its inception (as have we), but his recent conversation with Dynamic Aviation’s CEO, Michael Stoltzfus (Karl’s son), should help set the record straight on Columbine II’s present situation. Rather than duplicating his efforts, we asked Pettersen if we could reproduce his excellent report for our readers, and we were grateful to receive his permission…
Columbine II Restoration – February 2021 Update
by Ralph Pettersen
The aviation enthusiast community was shocked when word spread on Saturday February 6, 2021 that Dynamic Aviation had reduced the staff working on the restoration of ‘Columbine II’ in Bridgewater, Virginia. The former presidential Constellation had been rescued from an Arizona boneyard in 2015 by a team from Dynamic Aviation. From the beginning company CEO Michael Stoltzfus and his father, founder Karl Stoltzfus, shared a vision for the future of the iconic aircraft. However, Karl was the driving force behind the technical restoration of this unique aircraft. With his untimely passing in November 2020, many feared that the company may have decided to walk away from the project. The memory of how Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had shut down the Starliner restoration project in March 2018 was still fresh in the memory of many in the enthusiast community.
I’ve been following the project since its 2015 inception and have made annual trips to Dynamic Aviation to visit with Karl and to check on the project’s progress. Karl considered the aircraft ‘America’s Airplane’ and that it belonged to the American public. His vision was to restore the airplane and then showcase it around the country at airshow events. He thought it important that the American public be aware of the airplane’s history and specifically he hoped to inspire America’s younger generation to appreciate aviation history with the hope of inspiring them to pursue careers in aviation.
Shortly after my June 2020 visit to Bridgewater, I had a lengthy conversation with Michael who clearly shares his father’s vision concerning the aircraft. With this in mind I contacted him on Monday February 8th and, during our telephone conversation, he assured me that he and the Dynamic Aviation team still share Karl’s vision and are totally committed to the restoration of the aircraft. He reminded me that the six-year project has seen ebbs and surges in activity and Friday’s force reduction was an adjustment that needed to be made to ensure the eventual success of the project and stay on balance with the company as a whole. He explained that a small number of key employees are still assigned to the project and will continue to work on the restoration. Michael said that the ‘pause’ was required to take stock in the project and was not permanent. With that in mind, some of the employees with critical skills have been reassigned to the “revenue” side of the company and could be brought back at a later date.
Michael reiterated that he considers ‘Columbine II’ to be one of the most iconic and unique aircraft in the world and is fully committed to his father’s vision of completing its restoration to a flightworthy condition. After talking to Michael, I feel comfortable saying that I expect to see ‘Columbine II’ back flying, just not as soon as I would have liked. I’d like to thank Michael for taking the time to share his thoughts about the project.
We wish to thank Ralph Pettersen for his permission to reproduce his report here. For those with an equal fascination for the status and history of every surviving Lockheed Constellation, please do visit his remarkable website HERE… it is an extraordinary resource for detailed information on these magnificent survivors!