Article published and copyright Jun 8, 2007. - Rome Sentinel Newspaper

’Connie’ nesting at Empire Aero for refit as a museum piece

High-flying planes aren’t an unusual sight. But a former luxury airliner making way along the streets of Rome with its fuselage, wings and tail fins lashed to five flatbeds?  For folks along Black River Boulevard last night it was, well, the best show in town.

The oversized trailers snarled traffic and attracted lots of curious stares along the route as the trucks slowly maneuvered their way to Griffiss. The 53-year-old Super Constellation, once the pride of Trans Canada Airlines and most recently a diner/lounge called "Super Connie", will be restored — though not to flying condition — at Empire Aero Center.

When the work is done, the aircraft will hit the road again via truck — this time to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash., where it will be put on static display.

"As far as I am concerned, it had to come home to the United States of America" where it was built, said Catherine Scott of Mississauga, Ont., Canada, as she watched a crew prepare to unload the aircraft parts on the Griffiss tarmac this morning. "This thing’s my baby. I’m the owner of the plane. I’ve sold it to the Museum of Flight."

She accompanied the convoy from the start of its journey from Toronto.

"It’s a great project for aviation," said Randy Buol, vice president of maintenance at Empire Aero. "We were awarded the contract to restore it to its original condition. "There’s years of neglect on this aircraft."
What parts did not come with the plane and can’t be located elsewhere will have to be custom made.
"The landing gear is in pieces," Buol said.

He said when the plane heads west in about six months, it will be painted back to the original Trans Canada colors.

"It ought to be a fun project," he said, even though the convoy’s arrival encountered some glitches. He said the restoration is something both his company and employees will take pride in.

The wide-load trucks entered Rome on Black River Boulevard from Boonville, along the twists of the Route 46 gorge. The state-set "flight plan" directed the the convoy to reach Griffiss via Floyd Avenue from Bloomfield Street instead of simply making a left turn onto East Chestnut Street.

After a tortured traffic-stopping turn-around at Bloomfield Street Thursday night, parts of the convoy, including the trailer hauling the fuselage, reversed course on Black River Boulevard and reached Empire Aero via Chestnut with the assistance of the police — who knew better than state experts.

SUPER TAKE OUT — It wasn't a plane crash, but it easily could have been if the trucker hauling a Lockheed "Super Constellation" fuselage from Canada to Griffiss had followed the prescribed flight plan over Floyd Avenue. After a tortured traffic stopping turn-around at Bloomfield Street Thursday night, the convoy reversed course on Black River Boulevard and reached Empire Aero via Chestnut Street — under police escort. The 116-foot long dolphin shaped-fuselage was part of a five flatbed "flight." The triple-tail four-propeller classic could carry 62 to 92 passengers, depending on configuration. The airliner was in service between 1943.

Earlier in the journey, it had trouble clearing the Customs booths at the border because of the size of the cargo. Buol said ultimately the trucks drove around the booths.

Such hitches seem to be par for the course for this plane. This "Connie" has been through more than a few twists and turns, reports the Toronto Star.

Sold and resold, it wound up on a Quebec farm before being rescued by a real estate developer. He brought it to Pearson Airport, oversaw a pricey refurbishment, and the once-glorious plane began a new life in 1996 as a conference facility outside the Regal Constellation Hotel in Toronto.

But the conference-in-a-plane idea didn’t really fly. And so the aircraft — with an apparently mint interior — got towed down the road to the corner of Derry and Torbram a couple of years later. There, the Super Connie was billed as "the world’s most unique cocktail lounge, restaurant, bar and meeting place."

Observes Buol: "it’s outfitted with a complete bar and tables."


WHALE OF A TAIL — The signature triple-tail of the "Super Connie" rests on its side aboard a flatbed at Empire Aero today. The non-conforming configuration avoided the requirement of a single high tailpiece that would have kept the tricycle-gear airliner out of most hangars. For movie fans, the "Connie" was the aircraft Tom Hagen rode to Hollywood in the Godfather film. (Sentinel photo by Scott A. Gwilt)

Before Scott struck an agreement with the Museum of Flight, there was plenty of back-and-forth over several years about whether the last Super Constellation in Canada should be allowed to leave the country. Some wanted it to stay on Canadian soil because the plane was of cultural and historical significance.

The airplane is a 1954 Lockheed Super Constellation and was built in Burbank, Calif. Three vertical fins at the back distinguish it from the other airliners of the era.

The Museum of Flight is a leading air and space museum, attracting more than 400,000 visitors annually.

"It’s the biggest museum in the world and the best," says Scott.

THE CREW — There were more than a few twists and turns along the way, but a convoy of trucks brought a disassembled Super Constellation airliner from Canda to Rome Thursday. From left are Watson Trucking Co. drivers Dennis Ridley, J.F. Turcotte, Norm Robert, Marc Bouchard and Sylvain Charron, and Catherine Scott, who owned the plane that is being restored at Empire Aero Center. Scott has sold "Super Connie" to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash.

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Copyright 2007  Robert A. Bogash.  All Rights Reserved.
Text and photos Copyright Rome Sentinel.  Used with permission.