The choice of the charitable foundation Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung for a flying “Super Star” fell on a L-1649A originally delivered to Trans World Airlines (TWA) in June 1957. This plane was in the best technical condition compared to the other two acquired Lockheed L-1649A’s in 2007. Consequently there was no doubt that this was the aircraft they would use for the demanding restoration task.
When the Lockheed “Super Star” entered commercial service with Lufthansa in 1957 it was the epitome of the legendary piston propeller era between Europe and North America. Furthermore the “Super Star” was the most elegant and technically advanced flying symbol for the emerging West German – U.S. Trans-Atlantic cooperation in post-war times. In an age of beginning international trade relations between West Germany and partnering countries it served as the flying ambassador for the West German post-war economic miracle which was called “Wirtschaftswunder”.
On November 20, 2008, dignitaries of the State of Maine, local political representatives, team members from Germany and the USA as well as the local media attended the festive official inauguration ceremony for the restoration hangar, which has housed the “Super Star” until now.
Recently the Lufthansa board of directors decided to halt the restoration work in Auburn and to transfer the aircraft in a professional manner to Germany. As a prerequisite for the subsequent transport the aircraft will be professionally dismantled, wrapped up and shipped overseas.
This will be followed by a decision about the future progress of the project, based on the excellent structural repair work accomplished in Auburn – and a ruling on the future use of the “Super Star”.
The year 2017 was filled with an array of special highlights. Since the completion of the primary structure overhaul of the fuselage, wings and empennage, the Super Star technical teams in Auburn and Hamburg switched their main focus to the overhaul and installation of secondary structural parts and components.
In mid 2017 all four overhauled engine nacelles were re-attached to the Super Star wings. The so called “turtle backs”, located in between nacelles and wings, were also refurbished. While the lower inner cladding parts serve as main landing gear wells, the upper sides were packed with overhauled aircraft system components such as oil tanks and cabin superchargers in the second half of 2017. The latter, being connected to the engines, are needed to keep up the cabin pressure while flying at high altitudes. Additionally the engine cowlings were overhauled by Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and are scheduled for shipment to Auburn in early 2018, as well as the four meticulously overhauled Curtiss-Wright engines, the cowlings will soon be ready for installation.
During 2017 the Super Star wings regained most of their original shape following the reinstallation of a majority of overhauled leading edges. Maybe a symbolic, but nevertheless important detail: after the installation of the repaired wingtips the Super Star regained its original wingspan of an impressive 150ft! Furthermore, about 60 percent of the aerodynamic wing to body fairings were attached, and as soon as ongoing system installations in areas below these fairings have been completed, work will continue.
The trailing edges behind the rear spar, covering the passage to the flaps and ailerons, as well as flap tracks and flaps have been provisionally installed in the second part of 2017 to enable a fit check before they are permanently mounted to the wings. In order to verify their symmetry and optimum extension, all flaps were extended for the very first time during a live test.
The empennage structural overhaul was completed in 2016. In the meantime secondary structural parts and the rudders, which were covered with a special fabric by the specialist company Bipe Inc. were overhauled and prepared for installation. A no longer needed scaffold, earlier required to hold the empennage in place, was removed before year-end. As soon as purpose built bolts have been delivered to Auburn, the vertical tails will be finally attached – permanently reinstating the characteristic look of the Super Star with its three distinctive fins.
Especially in the second half of 2017 the Lockheed Super Star team worked with vigor on the system installation in the lower forward hydraulic bay of the L-1649A fuselage. Corresponding to a huge puzzle, hundreds of tubes, valves and filters were installed in the narrowest of spaces. Like so many other tasks, this demanding work package was successfully completed before year-end.
The year 2017 was bulging with accomplished milestones, bringing the Lockheed Super Star project a huge step closer to the big goal: the certificate of airworthiness for the L-1649A.
In the first half of the year, the structural work on the Super Star fuselage and wing was completed. During the last years, more than 90 percent of the aircraft structure has been replaced by newly fabricated material.
The iconic, fully overhauled Super Star tripletail returns to the rear of the L-1649A.
The Super Star front landing gear, meticulously overhauled by Lufthansa Technik in Germany, returns on board the L-1649A.
The overhauled main landing gears will be installed as soon as the repair of the wheel wells has been completed.
The Super Star cabin team designed an installation concept for three identical emergency slides for the evacuation of passengers and crew in case of an emergency landing. Although all three main cabin doors are of different shape and have to be handled differently, the newly developed slide containers can be installed at all three doors. The functionality of the system was demonstrated to the authorities during a life test in the fall of 2016.
The successful exchange of the wing to body fittings marks the completion of a highly complex replacement and installation process. The newly fabricated fitting blocks were exchanged by a highly experienced multi-national team, consisting of members from Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and Lufthansa Technik Philippines. A challenging task, comparable with open heart surgery.
After the completion of its overhaul, the fuselage barrel 8 returns to the original position at the rear of the aircraft.
Straight after the replacement of the wing to body fittings, the German / Philippine Lufthansa Technik team started with the exchange of the fuselage mainframes. Again, this was a huge task, requiring all the skill and expertise of the component team. In terms of structural aspects these mainframes are the most critical areas of the Super Star fuselage with the highest applicable loads.
The landing gear specialists of Lufthansa Technik in Germany complete the overhaul of the Super Star landing gears in “better than new” condition. The task was very demanding as original overhaul instructions were partially incomplete or missing. Therefore the team had to develop its own repair procedures, based on their profound knowledge.
In parallel to the cabin design, the Super Star cabin experts develop specially designed passenger seats in a “retro look”. The fabrics and colors are based on the Lufthansa “Comforette” seat model, in use on board of the Lockheed L-1049G and L-1649A long-distance fleet of the 1950’s.
The Super Star team celebrates the 55th Lufthansa Super Star first flight jubilee. On February 13, 1958, the inaugural flight left Frankfurt airport for the first commercial Lufthansa non-stop service across the North Atlantic. The L-1649A was the first aircraft in the Lufthansa fleet with a sufficient range to cover the distance of 6.189 kilometers between Frankfurt and New York, without a mandatory refueling stop en route.
A US supplier initiates the Super Star propeller overhaul. The project is lead by Chet Heth – then 96 - who started his career working on Super Star propeller fabricated by Hamilton Standard in the 1950’s.
A team of Hungarian sheet metal experts, sent by Lufthansa Technik Budapest to Auburn, is tasked with the fuselage plank fabrication. The planks are formed on site in the restoration hangar with the help of an “English wheel”. The dolphin like shaped fuselage of the Super Star demands the full expertise of the Hungarian sheet metal specialists.
Thanks to the vast experience of a Lufthansa Technik Budapest team member, a replacement for the damaged pressure bulkhead could be built on site in Auburn. Beforehand this seemed like an almost impossible task. The Hungarian “metal artist” completed this job in just three weeks and in compliance with the strict demands imposed by the project engineering and the surveying FAA.
An in depth analysis of the aircraft structure reveals that all fuselage frames and planks have to be replaced by newly manufactured parts. The frames are mostly pre-fabricated by Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg while highly specialized team members form the planks on site in Auburn.
The Super Star is completely surrounded by scaffolding to allow the best possible access to all areas of the aircraft structure.
Anderson Aeromotive completes the overhaul of the third Super Star engine. Like the first two engines, motor #3 was successfully test run.
The FAA grants Lufthansa Technik the permission to overhaul L-1649A landing gears. Soon after the go-ahead, landing gear experts of Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and Frankfurt start with their overhaul.
A Super Star cabin mock-up is built by active and retired employees of the VIP & Executive Solutions division by Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The mock-up is used to put the virtual Super Star cabin design to a practical test.
November 20, 2008: The inauguration of the Super Star restoration hangar at Auburn-Lewiston airport, Maine, marks the official start of the L-1649A overhaul.
A former Lufthansa Super Star has been identified as the ideal source for passenger doors. They are needed to re-convert the Super Star freighter in Auburn back into its original passenger aircraft configuration. The donator, a former Lufthansa L-1649A, once registered D-ALOL, is on display at an aviation museum in South Africa. The original passenger doors are thoroughly overhauled by a team of experts at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg.
Anderson Aeromotive, a specialized engine repair shop located in Grangeville, Idaho, commences the overhaul of the four Curtiss-Wright Turbo Compound engines.
Upon their return to Auburn, the overhauled components are stored in ideal conditions at a facility close to the Super Star restoration hangar.
A component management team is established at Auburn. Thousands of parts are catalogued and shipped to specialized overhaul companies in the US and Germany.
The Lockheed Super Star engineering team moves into new office premises near the hangar at Auburn-Lewiston airport. Every technical finding is reported to project engineering. In close cooperation with the Designated Engineering Representative (DER) and the FAA, the project engineers decide if a damaged part can be repaired or has to be replaced. In both cases the engineering team issues the necessary instructions and documentations.