Connie's Comeback !

On Sept.28th 2002 the Lockheed Constellation N749NL completed years of restoration in the desert of Arizona, with its arrival at Lelystad Airfield in the Netherlands. It was a day to rejoice for all those who put hard work in this project and those who share an interest in aviation history
A quick word about its history: Lockheed VC-121A 48-0612 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in January 1949 and retired in October 1967. Its construction number is 2604. Christier Flying Service Inc. bought it in May 1970 and registered it as N9465. Beaver Air Spray Inc. bought it in April 1979, registered it as C-GXKR and sold it to Conifair in 1979. After many years of storage it was bought by Vern Raburn and reregistered as N749VR. The DUTCH NATIONAL AVIATION MUSEUM AVIODOME INC took over and had its registration changed to N749NL (10Mar01).
The actual restoration project took 18 months, before that it took years to buy it, get the parts complete and set up a team (for a large part on a rotational basis) for the restoration project.

Photos © R.Leeuw

(c) Ruud Leeuw

The welcoming crowd at Lelystad Airfield had been scanning the horizon for an hour or so, anxiously awaiting the arrival of N749NL 'The Dutch Connie". Would she be as beautiful as promised, would she sound the way we remembered ? Finally, after a few false alarms: THERE SHE WAS !!!
And of course she was everything we expected it to be ! 'The Queen of the Sky' made a beautiful flypast over the airfield, in the confident hands of Captain Frank Lang. What-a-sight !!

(c) R. Leeuw N749NL

Only a few feet seperate it from Dutch soil, the moment is almost there...! For a larger image click here

(c) Ruud Leeuw
The moment is there: firmly on the ground ! Titles read: The blue feeling,

N749NL taxies to the ramp

N749NL taxies slowly but surely to the ramp, flags waving from the cockpit and the sun broke that day through the clouds just in time, as if it had to be.

The door already open, the crew is anxious to complete the mission and the crowd is anxious to meet and welcome the "Connie". The ferry flight went well and without much trouble; weather at Keflavik caused some delay and then a startermotor and a stuck throttle caused further delay; but all in all the crew was very pleased with how things had progressed.

Taped to the bulkhead a North Atlantic plotting chart with the main part route thru the USA, over the North Atlantic, thru UK airspace and to final destination: the Netherlands.
The ferry flight started on Sunday Sept. 15th 2002 from Avra Valley,AZ (home since 1994) to Dallas-Ft.Worth Alliance Airport (over 4 hours); crew consisted of: Frank Lang, Don Schnider, JR Kern, Pete Phillips, Tim Coons, William Groot en Raymond Oostergo. On tuesday a fuelpump of the APU was replaced. Departure was made to nearby Denton,TX due to more economic fuelcosts.
On wednesday departure was made to Alpena, Michigan and arival there caused quite a sensation. Crew composition had changed to: Frank Lang, Rick Volosen, Timothy Coons, Pete Phillips, Dave McDonald, William Groot en Raymond Oostergo. The flight went smoothly.
On friday Sept. 20th the next leg was made: to Goose Bay, Canada. Crew now consisted of Frank Lang & Rick Volosen, the flight engineers Pete Phillips, Dave McDonald & Timothy Coons, the "support crew" William Groot, Jan Schenk and Raymond Oostergo and the filmcrew Mick Dorland, Erwin Kwisthout & Jan Cocheret. The flight took 5 hours to complete. The wind carried the smell of the ocean !
During the saturday some local flights were completed for the purpose of filming N749NL.
Sunday 22nd: from Goose Bay to Keflavik, Iceland, a leap of almost 7 hours ! It started on the wrong foot when it appeared that one of the engines was loosing oil and it was decided to return to Goose Bay; it was quickly repaired when a seal of the fillplug was found to be at fault. The flight went smoothly though the crew wore triple layers of clothing to fight the below freezing temperature on board: during the restoration the cabinpressurization system had been removed and the cabin isolation too. Well, all for the good cause....
On monday the Connie needed a good going over and some well deserved attention.
On tuesday a starterengine of no.1 engine needed replacement and caused delay; upon engine run up for departure one engine did not produce fullpower and this was quickly corrected. But meanwhile the weather had closed in and departure was set for the next day.
Wednesday Sept. 25th saw a smooth flight to Duxford in the UK, paying tribute to this center of aviation preservation; later that day that day's program was completed with a flight to Manston, UK.
And of course, on saturday the 28th, the ferryflight was completed to Lelystad, NL.

The unique 3-tail is shown here to its full advantage, while N749NL is almost on chocks. The titles on the fuselage read: "The Blue Feeling,".

Frank Lang, the no.1 Connie pilot Frank Lang, interviewed by press and media

Frank Lang "Superstar" ! Already in his seventies, he is still master of his trade, being the most famous Connie pilot. His "day job" is Director of Operations of the Constellation Group, which owns the "MATS" Connie. He is very active flying the MATS Connie in the airshow circuit, mainly in the USA. But for operations like these, he is very much sought after and he aims to please. If he wanted to write a book about his flying career, it would have to be multiple volumes... After arrival of N749NL he was interviewed by Erling Brom, speaker and great orator for the Aviodrome (though his day-job is engineer with KLM). Like I said: Frank Lang Superstar !
Frank Lang passed away in July 2010:
"Frank Lang passed away early this morning in a hospital in Houston, where he had been staying with his son. 
He went into the hospital just over a week ago with a bladder and kidney infection, which led to complications that proofed fatal. "

The Wright Duplex Cyclone R-3350-C engines leak oil and everyone knows that; it should leak oil ! The engines are very temperamental and the engineer, watching over the cylinderhead temperatures and what-not, is certainly a very, very important crewmember. But these engines did ok: after the flight from Manston,UK the readings were 50 gallons of oil remaining in engine no.1 and 30 gal each in the others.

The no.2 engine wore "Aviodome"- titles.

Connie and the webmaster of this site...

The nosegear with its typical alignment of the wheels. Nice touch: the last two digits of the tailnumber spell -NL-, the Netherlands.
Couldn't resist to have myself being photographed with this proud bird ! (Photo by Michael Prophet, 'radial fan' for ages...)

The fuselage has "" applied to it. The website was swamped by visitors that weekend and many found the message: "403.9 Access Forbidden: Too many users are connected". Hopefully donations will follow in the same quantities as complications during the restoration to airworthiness took longer than expected and costs ran over budget.

A look in the interior: oildrum (there were 3 more tied down in the center of the cabin) and other paraphernalia. The ferry flight had been no pleasure cruise, with the cabin pressurization and isolation materials removed, the temperature dropped below freezing on the sector Goose Bay to Keflavik,Iceland. A triple set of clothing hardly did the trick to keep warm and crew relayed the anecdote that at some point they found their coffee frozen in the cups ! And consider that some of those guys had themselves accustomed to working in the desert on this plane !

Some of the windows can be removed in order to escape during an emergency or for crew access to the wings .

A glance in the cockpit. The extra piece of equipment on the captain's side is not standard issue and is probably a GPS.

Two more close ups, showing the tail where the letter -C- reappeared from its past tailnumber C-GXKR and a shot from the nose with the "Connie's Comeback"-emblem.

At the end of the afternoon preparations were started for departure to Amsterdam International Airport Schiphol, where KLM will repaint it. An oil check on all engines was carried by one of the flight engineers and everything was found in order.

Then it was time to depart and with an impressive cloud of smoke, engine no.4 sprung to life; all 18 cylinders of engine no.3 were churning out a pleasant rhythm and nos 1 and 2 provided no problems either.

And N749NL is seen here leaving the ramp for the taxiway of Lelystad Airfield, leaving many behind with a sense of fulfilment. The Connie will return to Lelystad to take its place in the Aviodome Museum. The Douglas DC-2 "Uiver" is already there. Unfortunately, while both of these planes are now airworthy it will take a lot of funding and political goodwill to keep them in that condition, in order to see them participate in future air shows.

A few pictures made on Oct.02nd at Amsterdam Int'l Airport Schiphol; the engineers are busy dismantling the props.... The props were leased and need to be returned to their owner. The guys in the KLM overalls are just visiting, like so many others who wandered over to have a close look at this beautiful propliner.
The Connie is parked at Schiphol-East, the maintenance area of Amsterdam Int'l.

In the distance the ATC Tower of Amsterdam Int'l can be seen; no.1 prop has already been removed.
When the "Stichting Constellation Nederland" (SCN, Foundation Constellation Netherlands) bought the aircraft it was without props as Forest Industries Flying Tankers had already bought these for their Martin Mars flying boats / airtankers at Sproat Lake, Alberni, Vancouver Island.
N749NL will be stored during the winter at Schiphol, in the former Fokker Aircraft Industries hangar.

After arrival at Schiphol this sticker was placed on the fuselage, next to the cabindoor. Hopefully it is not indicative for the future of the "Dutch Connie"....

Alas, while it made it to the Aviodrome's homebase at Lelystad (after a fine repaint in KLM livery), it remained grounded due to various events and was reduced to a ground exhibit.
Such a shame to see the efforts of flying this Constellation from the USA to the Netherlands only resulted in a museum exhibit; and they had been so close! We have to fear that this 'Connie' will never fly again and enthrall the public on the ground with a proud apperance in the sky.

More on the Constellation can be read on this website:
N749NL in restoration
Historical background on N749NL by Michael Prophet
Big Budworm Sprayers, by Stephen Piercey
Historical and technical data of the Lockheed Constellation
Props by Night, at the Aviodrome
Various visits to the Aviodrome, see my Index
Photos of mine of other Lockheed Constellations can be seen at: Surviving Connies

External links :
Connie Tales, what was it to travel on them in "those" days !
Consternation on a Constellation a true account of travel on a Connie
Aviodrome Museum The Dutch Aviation Museum, its 'retirement home'!

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Created: 28-9-02 Updated: 05-11-16