Following a gala sendoff celebration at Marana Regional Airport in Arizona on March 18, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential aircraft, Columbine II, winged its way to a new home on the East Coast and a complete restoration. The new owners of the Lockheed VC-121, Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater, Va., acquired the first aircraft to be designated Air Force One more than a year ago. Chairman of Dynamic Aviation Karl Stoltzfus said plans call for the airplane to undergo a “complete restoration to the period when the president flew in it. This aircraft is aviation history.” An important part of the restoration will include the installation of the original galley that was found in Casper, Wyo., when word spread of Dynamic’s acquisition of Columbine II.
Michael Stoltzfus, Dynamic’s president, told the crowd of well-wishers that it is important to remember what this aircraft means. “This is the plane that took the president to the peace talks in Korea,” he said. “This aircraft had on board Queen Elizabeth and the Shah of Iran.”
Also on hand at the sendoff was President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, who recalled flying with her grandfather and talking with crew members and Secret Service agents. Walking through the partially restored cabin, Eisenhower said: “This is like a time warp. I’m so very happy that it is going to be restored.”
After Dynamic Aviation bought the aircraft, they sent a team of mechanics to Arizona to begin repairs and prepare it for the trip east. It has taken more than a year to ready Columbine II for its first flight after it spent a decade in the southern Arizona desert.
Officially known to the Air Force as 48-610, the L-749 Constellation was initially operated by the Military Air Transport Service, Atlantic Division. In 1952 it was pulled from service and flown to Lockheed’s Burbank, Calif., plant where it was converted to a VC-121A. The interior was fitted out with deluxe seating, a presidential desk, a galley and other amenities. The president had “Columbine” painted on the nose, a reference to his wife’s home state of Colorado.
In 1959 Ike traded in Columbine II for Columbine III, a VC-121E Super Constellation. The original Air Force One was retired in 1968 and sent to storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Arizona. In 1970 48-610 was part of a five-aircraft auction sale to an investor group that bought them for spraying purposes. At the time of the sale it was not known that the 48-610 was the first Air Force One, a fact only brought to light when Smithsonian officials informed the owners of the aircraft’s pedigree.
In 1989, after some restoration, Columbine II went on the airshow circuit. In 1998 the aircraft was put up for auction but never sold. It was transferred in 2005 to Marana, northwest of Tucson, where Dynamic Aviation purchased it.