A deal that could return an early “Air Force One,” possibly the first airplane to fly with that call sign, to the sky has taken a step forward.
Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater, Virginia, has opted to proceed with the purchase of Columbine II, an aircraft that flew President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Constellation was the primary presidential aircraft from 1952 (when Eisenhower, then president-elect, made a top secret flight to Korea) until 1954, when it was replaced by a Super Constellation, thought it remained in service as a backup for presidential transport.
Karl D. Stoltzfus Sr., founder of Dynamic Aviation, said in a news release that an inspection and repairs have been completed satisfactorily, and he plans to close the deal in June.
“Many challenges remain before we can fly it to Virginia but we are now confident that it is feasible," Stoltzfus said. He credited the current owners for the work they’ve done to preserve the aircraft from destruction—a story reported by AOPA in 2012.
Columbine II was retired from government service in 1968 and sold as surplus government property. Christler Flying Service purchased a set of the aircraft and used Columbine II for spare parts, supporting a small fleet of Constellations used for pest control and other missions.
Alerted by the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in 1980 that the Christler “spares” airplane had a presidential history, the family began restoring it. Harry Oliver, a current co-owner, joined them in 1989, and Columbine II was airworthy in time to fly to various events commemorating Eisenhower’s 100th birthday in 1990.
The aircraft has more recently slumbered in Arizona, its owners working to find a suitable new home.
Stoltzfus wants to preserve Columbine II as a symbol of America's integrity, and a tribute to the nation’s leaders of that era. Once airworthy, it will be flown to Virginia for further restoration and operation on the airshow circuit. Plans to fly Columbine II to various major anniversary celebrations commemorating events of the 1940s and 1950s are being contemplated.
"While Dynamic is heading up this project, it could certainly only happen with the generous participation of others,” Stoltzfus noted in the news release, naming Scott Glover of the Mid America Flight Museum in particular. “Glover and his team have provided many hours of skilled labor and support in various ways."
No date has been set for the next flight of Columbine II, but regular updates will be posted online, and the team hopes to get the aircraft fully airworthy so it can be flown to Virginia without requiring a ferry permit.