Relocation of the Super Star

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”.


Redefined overhaul processes

In parallel to the ongoing installation of overhauled components on board the Super Star at Auburn-Lewiston airport, the Lockheed Super Star Component Team of Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg puts a strong focus on the maintenance of those parts still in need of a thorough check – highly complicated flight steering components being one of many. The 28 year old project engineer, Mareike Petersen, is a member of an expert team consisting of herself and four colleagues, who are responsible for the overhaul of components being commissioned by the technical project management in Auburn to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. A good example of Petersen’s various duties is the definition of overhaul processes for three cable tension regulators, currently being restored under her supervision.

The Super Star was built in the analogue age long before sophisticated computer systems entered the cockpits of modern aircraft. While the flight control commands in most present airliners are induced by digital signals, transmitted via electric or optical conductors from the cockpit to the different flight control surfaces, steel cables running along the full length of the fuselage are doing this job on board the Super Star. These cables are the analogue link between the flight control inputs, originating from either the pilots, or the autopilot on the flightdeck, to three flight control boosters. Located in the center and rear fuselage sections, these three boosters enhance the rudder inputs, operating the ailerons, elevators and rudders via a complex, electro-hydraulically steered mechanism. The intermediary connection between cables and boosters form three cable tension regulators. “Each of them connected to an individual booster, these regulators are keeping the flight control cables under a constant tension, even if the metal airframe should expand or shrink in a hot or cold environment. Hence, if not for the tension regulators the cables would be subject to an uncommanded control surface movement – without any pilot induced rudder input – and expose the Super Star to an unsafe flight attitude”, explains Petersen.

As in the case of the flight control boosters and many other Super Star components, detailed repair instructions were never available for the regulators, as they weren’t required in the old days. “Worn out parts went simply straight into the trash when the Super Star was in operation in the golden days of civil aviation”, knows Petersen. The manufacturer may have originally issued part numbers or official designations for the various tension regulator parts, but these documents are no longer available. As a consequence the Lufthansa Technik project engineer needed to define an overhaul process from scratch for these precious components, thereby living up to the most stringent quality and certification standards set by both Lufthansa Technik and the FAA as certifying authority. Being unable to take parts from the shelf, and with little or no documentation from the original manufacturer at her disposal, Petersen has to rely on her own knowledge when seeking solutions for overhaul processes, or the design of newly fabricated replacements.

Following an in-depth metal analysis performed by Lufthansa Technik, the Super Star component team concluded that some parts are in need of a replacement by remanufactured items. One example being worn-out springs – another the components of a so-called “brake assembly” as part of the tension regulator. In the case of the springs their original tension was unknown and had to be re-calculated before new parts could be produced. In order to make sure that new and old parts are working perfectly together, Mareike Petersen had to define a test and qualification process performed by specialized testing laboratories, located in Northern Germany. During these test sessions the regulators are exposed to heat, extreme cold and thoroughly shaken up on a vibrating table. Only if they pass these demanding tests, plus subsequent endurance and ultimate load tests without any flaws, will they be finally cleared by the Super Star technical team for installation on board the L-1649A in Auburn.


Primary Structure Done!

Open Heart Surgery

Lufthansa Technik in Auburn, Maine, completed the last work package on the primary structure of the Super Star in spring 2016. The most visible external sign of this important project milestone has been the return of the empennage, including the distinctive three vertical fins, to its original position at the tail of the aircraft. 

Nevertheless, the most demanding work of recent weeks and months was hidden inside the fuselage barrel. Having completed the replacement and connection of the wing-to-body fittings, the Super Star team in Auburn replaced the mainframes located above them. It was a huge task, requiring all the skill and expertise of the competent employees. The Lufthansa Technik employees in the Super Star team successfully managed to replace and connect the newly produced fittings for connecting the continuous wing structure with the fuselage in a number of steps in the first half of 2015. A challenging task, comparable with open heart surgery. 

The mainframes that traverse the top section of the fuselage at two positions, in front of and behind the wing, are the most critical areas of the Super Star airframe from a structural perspective. This is where the flight loads of the Super Star are passed to the fuselage from the wing-to-body fittings below.

Detailed initial examinations and recalculations by the project engineers raised hopes that the mainframes could be repaired, but this proved to be too expensive. Corrosion and random drill holes created for securing belts and ropes during the aircraft's former use as a freighter meant that the Super Star team had to commission the engineering department to perform a new calculation of the mainframes, have them built by USA machines and exchanged in the next step. Because of the overall length of 4.80 meters per frame, the mainframes were split into two individual segments, spliced at the top of the fuselage as well as with the fittings.

One of many demanding work packages accomplished by the Lufthansa Technik team of experts to the full satisfaction of the surveying FAA authority and LSSG as the owner and future operator of the Super Star. 


An engineering legend for the Super Star

On April 1st  2016, Tom Blakely, longtime Vice President Engineering of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics took over the responsibility for the Lockheed Super Star Engineering activities in Auburn, Maine.

Dr. Rainer Sebus, who has managed the Lockheed Super Star engineering since March 2011 said farewell to the project and took over a new role within Lufthansa Technik. The project team welcomed Tom Blakely as his successor who is very familiar with the Lockheed legacy engineering methods and processes.

Before his retirement in 2012 Blakely spent 33 years in various positions within the company. Since starting as a young engineer at Lockheed California his career took him through all of the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics primary operating facilities, Burbank (California), Marietta (Georgia), and Fort Worth (Texas). At all three sites he took up managing roles in several projects. One of the many highlights in his career was the engineering management for several of Lockheed's multi-engine transport aircraft, including the P-3 “Orion”.

Promoted in 2003 to the position of Vice President Engineering for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics at Fort Worth, he managed the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as technical director from 2004 to 2006.

Tom Blakely is the perfect fit for the project. Due to his wealth of expertise, he enjoys the highest respect amongst technical experts worldwide. With vigor and enthusiasm for the Super Star, Blakely looks forward to play an important role in the last stage of the ongoing restoration. 


Baton change

Oliver Sturm succeeded Andreas Pakszies as the new Super Star project leader on behalf of Lufthansa Technik. He is based close to the action, in Auburn, Maine, as was his predecessor, who is seeking new challenges within the Lufthansa Technik Group. Sturm, the former leading production manager for aircraft overhaul at the Lufthansa Technik base in Hamburg, Germany, moved to Auburn in August 2016 in order to acquire as much on site experience of the Super Star project as possible, before he officially took charge of this demanding operation.

The Super Star is no unknown territory for Oliver Sturm, as he was responsible for the overhaul of the L-1649A passenger doors at the Lufthansa Technik workshops in Hamburg some years ago. Apart from his pure business relationship to the project, Sturm has been one of its greatest fans ever since the restoration took off in 2008. His first visit to Auburn in the year 2009 awoke his personal interest when he got an early insight view from the then project management. Oliver Sturm explains: “The extraordinary passion and high level of craftsmanship the project team demonstrates each and every day in the restoration hangar, has to be seen with your own eyes to fully understand the complexity of the project. Their achievements are made without any reliance on a well filled spare part storage.” 

Oliver Sturm was prime choice for the vacant helm of the Lufthansa Technik Super Star project team, because of his personal passion for the Super Star project, paired with his unique knowledge in the field of production management. Unsurprisingly, Sturm didn’t think twice when being offered this once in a lifetime opportunity.


Mockup allows realistic impressions of the cabin

Test installation saves time and money

While Lockheed L-1649A Super Star number 1018 is nearing completion in the restoration hangar in Auburn, its sister aircraft, number 1038, is serving as a test plane for the passenger cabin developed in Hamburg.

Precise planning is particularly important for the complex Super Star cabin because not only is the frame geometry inconsistent, but the cabin also has different floor levels.

The components used for the mockup in Auburn were made in Hamburg by third-year Lufthansa Technical Training trainees under the supervision of their instructor and subsequently transported to the US for installation. The cabin experts from Hamburg attached great importance to the use of original components, which will be removed from aircraft number 1038 after the mockup phase and be permanently installed in its flying sister aircraft. While the proof-of-concept mockup in Auburn primarily addresses questions as to the general feasibility of the plans and allows the quality of the production documents to be improved, it also shows what the cabin will look like in future.

There were also good reasons behind the placement of the mockup in the area of fuselage barrel four. This is the most complex and widest part of the Super Star cabin and includes the overwing emergency exits. While the right-hand side of the cabin shows exactly how the original cabin will look in future, right down to the color scheme, wood-effect foil and curtains, the left-hand side is still in its raw state. This ‘technical look' lets visitors see the solutions for sound insulation, PSU/oxygen, cabin air conditioning and attachments. The Lufthansa Technik cabin team in Hamburg also paid particular attention to making the cabin maintenance-friendly to lower the subsequent costs for Lufthansa Super Star gGmbH operating the L-1649A. 


Completion of the Super Star landing gear

Better than new

Landing gears are major components that have to withstand extreme stress but have no inbuilt redundancy – so they have to work. This makes it all the more important that a landing gear overhaul should be faultless. And all the greater the challenge posed by the Super Star landing gears purchased a few years earlier, which turned out to be in much poorer condition than had been expected on the basis of visual inspection alone. In spring 2014 the work was completed and the landing gear set had been restored to a condition which is "better than new".

Because there was no pre-existing approach that could be followed, the poor condition and the technologies that were the subject of the overhaul together made the repair extremely difficult. Production drawings through to repair manuals were incomplete or else totally missing, so that special repairs needed to be developed. Then there were the materials that are no longer used today. In the 1950’s, for example, pins were not chrome-plated, resulting in corrosion. The biggest discrepancy compared with today's standard was in the nose landing gear: the wheels were made from a magnesium alloy, which is lighter but more susceptible to corrosion. The experts of Lufthansa Technik therefore developed an axis modification for usable Airbus A320 wheels. No less important were smaller parts such as bushings, special bolts or, for example, bearings for the landing gear suspension, which did not exist in those days. Because a lot of spare parts are no longer available, it was the Lufthansa Technik engineering task to fabricate the parts required.

In the meanwhile the nose landing gear has been successfully installed in the Super Star, while the main landing gears will follow as soon as the overhaul of the main gear bays has been completed in a few months time. 


"Sheet-metal artist" applies his talents to the Super Star

Unique expertise within the Lufthansa Technik Group

The Lockheed Super Star project is a unique catalyst for bringing out the specialist knowledge available within the Lufthansa Technik Group. From the production of fuselage bulkheads to the overhaul of landing gears or the spot welding of door elements – again and again specialist technicians and engineers from within the Group are demonstrating their outstanding skills within the context of the Super Star project.

A good example of this knowledge pool that resides within the Lufthansa Group is the team sent over to Auburn from Lufthansa Technik Budapest. The six skilled metalworkers working in autumn of 2013 on site were primarily occupied with the fabrication of metal panels for the fuselage. These were being teased into shape using an "English wheel" in the production hangar next to the aircraft. To build the dolphin-shaped, curved fuselage with its different radii and curves, the Hungarian team was having to exercise all their skills on a daily basis.

For a long time it was unclear how to recreate Super Star's rear pressure bulkheads, with their extremely complex shape. The first few attempts proved fruitless until Gyula Nagy of Lufthansa Technik Budapest offered his services and proved a true master of his profession. Within just three weeks he built what previously had appeared impossible, at the same time adhering to all the strict requirements of Project Engineering and the FAA. When asked about the recipe of his success, Gyula Nagy explained: "Before I joined Lufthansa Technik Budapest in 2002 I worked in a family-owned car body business. There I learned the best way of getting metal panels into the required shape."

The secret of his success consisted basically in stretching the sheets to be shaped into a specially built wooden frame, as a result of which they retain their stability when worked on manually. The execution, which is of excellent quality and also meets all the safety requirements, is entirely down to his personal talents. This he demonstrated additionally during the production of the door frame for crew door one right. His "work of art", which for a long time looked as if it would be virtually impossible to produce without a deep drawing press, came from a single piece, apparently effortlessly. 


Lufthansa L-1649A doors for the new Super Star

D-ALOL came to the rescue

In 2009, the Super Star team of Lufthansa Technik had searched far and wide for original passenger doors for conversion of the L-1649A from freighter back to passenger aircraft.

The US airline TWA had its L-1649A with the tail sign N7316C converted to a cargo plane in 1960 after only three years in service as a passenger aircraft. As part of the conversion work the front and rear passenger doors were replaced by large cargo doors. Now the team had to replace these with the original doors of an L-1649A.

The solution came in form of a preserved original Lufthansa Super Star with the original tail sign D-ALOL. Being part of a museum collection in Johannesburg, South Africa, former D-ALOL flew in the service of Lufthansa from 1958 to 1962 and was then chartered to World Airways before Lufthansa sold it to South African airline Trek Airways in 1964. It continued flying until it was finally withdrawn from service in 1971. As a replacement for the original doors replicas matching the original were built by the Super Star team in Hamburg. In this way the L-1649A did not lose any of its functionality or good looks in the future.


The project kicks off

On the road to success

Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Foundation, then responsible for the project management before Lufthansa Super Star gGmbH took over its role in 2015 entrusted Lufthansa Technik with the overhaul of one of the three auctioned L-1649A’s into airworthy condition. N7316C, originally built for Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1957 was chosen for this demanding task. In spring 2008 Lufthansa Technik established a local team that soon started to dismantle aircraft components like the radome, flaps, rudders and the four engines. All this while N7316C was still parked in the open at one edge of Auburn-Lewiston airport. One of the tasks of highest priority was therefore to build a hangar, tailor made for the Super Star dimensions which Lufthansa Technik rents for the duration of the project. On November 20, 2008, dignitaries of the State of Maine, local political representatives, team members from Germany and the USA and local media attended the festive official inauguration ceremony for the restoration hangar, which was completed in record time.