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Aircraft preservation : 'Connie' spy plane leaves Camarillo Airport for new home


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: ailesetplumes;
Date: Thu, Jan 19, 2012 at 8:36 PM
Subject: Fwd: Connie

via J-Luc


----------Original Message----------

From: "Joe Danely"
Date: Jan 17, 2012 9:14:24 PM

I wish I had known about the flight......I would have been there. Joe

It took seven years to get the "Connie" Cold War spy plane at the Camarillo Airport into flying condition, but only 45 seconds for it to take off Saturday afternoon.
Preceded by a few Cessnas and Pipers that appeared tiny in comparison, the massive plane with its 123-foot wingspan and distinct three rudders thundered down the runway and lifted effortlessly toward the overcast sky above.
A collective sigh could almost be heard among the 200 or so aviation enthusiasts gathered along the runway. They were witnessing what they felt was a momentous historic event — the last flight of a Connie in the U.S.
"Listen to that rumbling," said Jeff Whitesell of Downey, a pilot with Delta Air Lines, of the plane's total 13,600 horsepower from four engines. "That's power."
Tarzana resident Benny Younesi listened to the smooth, distant rumble as the plane climbed before turning toward its final home at the Yanks Air Museum in Chino. The museum bought the vintage aircraft in 2004.
"It's good to see it go, finally," he said.
The Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star Super Constellation arrived at the Camarillo Airport sometime around 1995 after the late Moorpark resident Wayne Jones bought the plane — spy technology intact — in 1994 and moved it to the airport to be flown in air shows.
In an earlier interview with The Star, Jones said he was amazed to find the plane in one piece because it had been at a salvage yard since 1978 and "somehow this thing slipped through."
Connies initially were designed by Lockheed to be commercial airliners that could carry up to 40 passengers, based on a design from aviator and Trans World Airlines owner Howard Hughes.
The plane, once considered the top of the line, set speed and distance records at one time.
Those speed and distance records and the weight capability caught the eye of the U.S. military, and Connies were slated to become spy planes. Lockheed retrofitted them with the most high-tech surveillance equipment the U.S. had at the time.
During the Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Connies often stayed in the air for 23 hours at a time, according to the Yanks museum.
Their radar and surveillance equipment monitored telemetry for satellites, missiles and space shots. They also gathered data on weather, communications and radar signals. At 113.5 feet long, the craft could fit 31 people, two bunks, tables and booths, a kitchenette, a bathroom, seats and lots of technology.
Frank Wright headed the repair effort as restoration operations manager for the Yanks museum, owned by Charles and Judith Nichols. The museum tracks down vintage aircraft to be restored and displayed.
To get to the Chino museum, the Connie needed a ferry permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, showing it was safe for flight, Wright said.
That meant a major overhaul of every system, he said. The crew also had to remove extensive corrosion on the wings and put new skins on the rudders.
Work on the Connie was spread out over seven years, Wright said, as money, weather, time and daylight hours permitted. Six to eight mechanics worked on the plane for weeks at a time, some from the museum's restoration department while others were contracted.
The team included air frame and power plant mechanics and sheet metal experts, Wright said, and included himself, as he also was an aviation mechanic and pilot. The exhaustive job needed each one's specialty, he said.
"We picked the best people capable of getting this plane home safely," Wright said. "It's huge because of the expense, cost and knowledge that the people have had to get together."
An example of just some of the expense was a bill for $10,400 worth of fuel delivered to the plane Friday afternoon. And that was just one of the deliveries, Wright said.
Several of the crew members were there Friday before the plane's final voyage: Bobby Carter of Moreno Valley; Gary Graves of Riverside; Al Malecha of Tucson, Ariz., who piloted the Connie to Chino on Saturday; Timothy Coons, also of Tucson; and Frank Orrantia of Redlands, a volunteer who helped chase down the obsolete parts and deliver them, among other things.
The men talked about the challenges of getting such a retired craft flyable. Lockheed didn't make the parts anymore, they said, so they had to be tracked down. There was limited information on the systems. Working outside meant a full day could be spent on the project only during the summer when daylight held. And the crew would work on it for a while and then not again for two years, and have to redo all the work. It was a labor of love, according to the men.
"It's in your blood to work on these old planes," Coons said.
Inside the old Connie and stuffed inside a desk was a reprinted poem titled "Remembering the Forgotten Mechanic" from an unknown author. The poem reminds the reader that behind the pilot who gets most of the glory is "the greased-stained man with the wrench in his hand" and that "he is the man who put them there."
Camarillo Airport employees got accustomed to seeing the plane in its spot on the runway.
"It's kind of sad to see it go," said Manager Jorge Rubio. He said people driving on Las Posas Road would see the plane and call asking about it, and the staff sometimes would give them a short tour.
"The people interested knew more about the aircraft than we did," Rubio said. "They were usually involved in the war and worked on the aircraft before and wanted to see it again."
Inside, the Connie holds messages from its last crew after its final military flight Oct. 15, 1978.
Jim Davis signed as the last radar technician, and the rest of the crew signed the clear compass panel. Air Force Lt. Col. Dennis Brown signed as "El Supremo," although it was unclear whether he meant the Connie or himself.
On Saturday after the flight, Wright expressed relief that years of effort succeeded in the Connie's flight and arrival in Chino.
"I felt wonderful," Wright said. "I told you it would fly."
© 2012 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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