1948 Lockheed C-121A S/N 8610 Constellation First Air Force One Columbine II History
Information displayed here shows the history of the First Air Force One aircraft. It is a Lockheed Constellation C-121A serial number 48-610 manufactured in 1948. It is portrayed in three sections.
Military Service, 1948 to 1968
Civilian use by Christler Family, 1970-2014
Dynamic Aviation, 2014 to Present
1. Military Service including use as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Air Force One (1948-68).
February 10, 1948
USAF awards contract to Lockheed for 10 new C-121As
USAF awards Lockheed Aircraft Contract (AG20017) for 10 new C121As for $1,142,500 each, including Columbine II. The C-121As are the military version of the 749A only with a large aft cargo door and reinforced floor. (Note: the purchase price of the airplane excluded the engines, propellers and some connected equipment).
November 22, 1948
Lockheed Manufactures Columbine II
Lockheed Aircraft manufactures Columbine II in Burbank, CA in full cargo configurations as C-121A serial number (S/N) 48-610. Civilian L-749A-79-36 S/N 2602.
December 30, 1948
Moves to Westover Air Force Base
Aircraft moves to the 1600th Air Base Wing, USAF MATS Atlantic, Westover AFB, MA.
January 8, 1949
First Flights to Iceland
Flies nine round trips per month until November 1949 from MacArthur Field, Long Island NY to Keflavik, Iceland. Initially not with Military Air Transport Service – MATS but instead on a Bailment contract with Lockheed Air Services (LAS) International in support of Keflavik maintenance facility, with a large cargo door, most likely in cargo configuration.
Conversion to VIP Configuration
Returns to LAS in Burbank, California to VC-121A for conversion to VIP configuration.
Transitions to 1254th Air Transport Group based at Washington National Airport, primarily for the Secretary of the Air Force.
July 10, 1951
DD829-1 form info. Accomplishes first overhaul by LAS at 3,000 hours.
First Flight with President Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower
President elect Dwight D. Eisenhower makes campaign promise to end the Korean War. During the campaign efforts, Columbine II takes him overseas for his Far East tour in late November 1952.
President Eisenhower begins flying aircraft in December of 1952 on trips such as to Korea. (Aircraft has approximately 3,500 total time on the air-frame).
January 1, 1953
Aircraft becomes the Presidential Aircraft, flying President Eisenhower 63,844 miles in 259 hours and 13 minutes of flying time by Lieutenant Colonel William G. Draper, also an aide to the President, as well as Colonel William (Bill) W. Thomas and Major Vincent Puglisi.
February 10, 1953
Aircraft officially named Columbine II. Columbine is the state flower of Colorado, and Colorado is Mamie Eisenhower’s adopted home state. The botanical name means, “The Eagle.”
June 1, 1953
Report of interior work to be done when aircraft is at factory in early July 53.
July 24, 1953
DD829-1 form info. Accomplished 4000 TTAF overhaul LAS.
December 7, 1953
President Eisenhower’s well know “Atoms for Peace” speech, which was delivered to the United Nations General Assembly on December 8, 1953, was written aboard Columbine II while en route from Bermuda to New York. President Eisenhower had been at a meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French Premier Joseph Laniel in Bermuda where they discussed how to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. Legend has it that they flew around LaGuardia for an additional 30 minutes while he finished his speech. See “Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Speech.”
May 18, 1954
Origin of Air Force One call sign by noted aviation historian Mr. Robert Spiers;
President Eisenhower made an out-and-back trip to Charlotte, NC to give an address for the Charlotte Freedom Celebration Day. During the address he honored service members and referenced the patriots that met and wrote the Mecklenburg Convention/Declaration of Independence (from England) which took place in Charlotte during May 19-20, 1775. This document was later sent to the Continental Congress during the early days of the American Revolution for their consideration.
Pilot Col Bill Thomas noted: “During the trip out to Charlotte, at 19,000 feet over Richmond, VA “Air Force 8610” the president’s aircraft checked in with Center” (Air Traffic Control). After the Center acknowledged Air Force 8610’s call; an Eastern flight with the call number 8610 in nearby airspace also contacted the Center and asked if the Center was calling Eastern 8610. Center replied, no it wasn’t, it was working with Air Force 8610.” The Secret Service agent on board that flight was checking the service and security given by the crew to the President and noted the radio confusion and thought there ought to be a specific, unique call sign to identify the aircraft the President was travelling on.”
When the flight returned to Washington, the Secret Service agent arranged a meeting between Col Bill Draper, the presidential pilot and Air Force Aide to the President; Air Force Air Staff, Presidential Aide, Secret Service, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The result of the meeting was that any Air Force aircraft carrying the President should be known as “Air Force One”. Col Draper was noted as suggesting the call sign. The call sign met with the approval of the others present. Thus the unique call sign for the President was created. It should be noted that the designation was copied for the other services as well – for example, “Marine One” when the president is on a Marine Corps aircraft, “Army One” when on an Army aircraft, and “Navy One” when on a naval aircraft.
November 4, 1954
Flew Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother of England from New York LaGuardia Airport to Washington DC. See the flight passenger log from this flight.
November 24, 1954
Presidential aircraft transitions from Columbine II to Columbine III, a VC-121E c/n 4151. The VC-121E is the military version of a somewhat longer civilian model which was the Model 1049 Super Constellation with a longer fuselage, much longer range and higher horsepower engines. Columbine III and is presently in the USAF museum at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
November 24, 1954
Columbine III VC-121E (USAF 53-7885) was christened. 48-610 was returned to fly regular Special Air Missions (SAM) and was used as back up from Presidential missions. Estimated to be approximately 4700 TTAF when it became Pres. Eisenhower’s back up airplane.
May 6, 1955
A telegram from the Secretary of the Air Force says: From May 10-1955 thru July 5, 1955, the SEC AF has directed that 48610 has been chartered to Pan American Airways for this time period. Title was transferred to USAF Department of National Defense as N9907F and Pan Am called it “Clipper Fortuna”. It was used on a special mission to the Government of Thailand during this time.
Up until this date it was used as a backup aircraft for the president when Columbine III was down for maintenance.
Returned to call sign 48-610 with 1254 ATG as a C-121A.
January 21, 1956
DD829-1 form info. Accomplished IRAN inspection at 5540.45 by LAS.
February 3, 1957
Columbine III went to Lockheed for heavy maintenance and 8610 Columbine II took over as Presidential aircraft.
April 15, 1957
Columbine III returned to service.
Went to 1254 ATW.
October 27, 1960
President Eisenhower flew to SHD Airport, Weyers Cave, VA. (aircraft unknown). Visited Augusta Military Academy and his mother, Ida Stover Eisenhower’s birthplace in Fort Defiance, VA. See these plaques made from his visit and presentation of the Liberty Tree that was planted to honor his local roots to Virginia.
November 15, 1960
LAS report #2157 technical drawings index for Electronic and Interior Modifications.
November 12, 1962
14 page statement of work by LAS Report #2392. Aircraft scheduled for work Dec. 3, 1962 Interior.
November 12, 1962
LAS (NY) work statement 74-1102 for significant interior upgrades (file).
August 1, 1963
Report of Staff Configured Aircraft Form AF558. Mostly interior. Most likely done at 10216.1 TAT.
April 5, 1965
Last Military log books i.e. Form DD829 shows that date at 1254th ATW AAFB, Md. 4044 with 11752 TTAF. There is an absence of (log books) form DD829 between 4-5-65 and 3-26-68.
Went to MAW (SM).
March 26, 1968
Appears to have been the last operational flight and flown by Major Merle Nelson (later Col) End flight at 14056.3 w/4108 landings (probably 7108). 89th MIL Aircraft Wing (MAC) at AAFB, MD – See the Aircraft Flight Status and Maintenance Record. (In 2016 Col Nelson (ret) advised us that he was the pilot that flew it to DM and that he had removed the control yoke logo. He still had it and sent it to us as a memento.)
March 30, 1968
Arrival at DMAFB with 14072.9.
April 1, 1968
Aircraft received at Davis Monthan AFB, AZ. See the Aircraft Delivery Receipt.
April 4, 1968
Withdrawn from service and transferred to MASDC, Davis Monthan, AZ with TAT of 14072 hours.
2. As owned by Christler Flying Service and later as Columbine II Inc. with Harry Oliver as principal owner (1970 – 2014).
May 5, 1970
On a Department of Defense (DOD) auction sold to Christler Flying Service, see “The Columbine II and Christler Family Connection” written by Lockie Christler April 9th 2016.
May 5, 1970
8610 was purchased at a DoD auction by Mel Christler, Christler Flying Service along with 4 other C-121A’s. The other 4 were converted to sprayers and used for a number of years for large area aerial sprayers. 8610 was used for spare parts since it was in the most incomplete condition and supposedly had the wrong landing gear on it, i.e. 1049 gear.
June 2, 1970
See “Notice of Award, Statement and Release Document“, dated June 2, 1970. Lot purchase price unknown.
July 10, 1970
Defense Surplus Sales Office bill of sale to Christler Flying Service, Thermopolis, WY for $6,842.00.
July 10, 1970
8610 was registered N9463 with the FAA.
Mel Christler got a phone call from Robert Mikesh, then a curator of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum who had written an article on the original 10 C121A aircraft that this was indeed Columbine II.
January 30, 1990
Christler Flying Service sold to Columbine II Inc. Santa Fe, NM (Henry Oliver).
April 5, 1990
For the first time in 22 years Columbine II took to the skies again. It was flown from (KDMA) Davis Monthan AFB to (KRYN) Ryan Field, Tucson, Arizona. It was flown by PIC Lockie Christler, SIC Henry Oliver and Flight Engineer Thomas Woodward. TAT of 14072.0.
October 10, 1990
Refurbished airplane flown from (KRYN) Ryan Field, to (KSLN) Abilene, Kansas for Eisenhower’s 100th birth year celebration on October 15th. (Lockie Christler pilot).
October 18, 1998
Aircraft flown from (KDAF) Santa Fe, New Mexico to (KSDL) Scottsdale, AZ to Scottsdale, AZ. Aircraft put up for sale at Krause International auction at Scottsdale Municipal Airport. Did not sell and returned to Santa Fe.
Lots of work done to aircraft TTAF 14248.4 (Civilian Airframe Log). This is a significant mistake in TTAF.
Aircraft flown from (KSAF) Santa Fe, New Mexico to (KAVQ) Marana Regional, Marana, Arizona.
November 11, 2016
Corrections to Civilian log books:
- Aircraft had 14072.9 TTAF when it was released from Military service
- Hours flown by Harry Oliver up until it arrived at Marana, Ariz. 49.2 hrs. This is substantiated by Lockie Christler who had been the pilot on most all of the flights. His background data in in the file box marked Current Aircraft Records. It is very well documented.
- Aircraft had 14122.1 TTAF when purchased by Dynamic in Marana, Ariz.
- Hour flown by Lockie Christler and crew from Marana, Az. Mt. Pleasant, Tx. to VBW 11.0
- Aircraft has 14133.1 hours on arrival at VBW
With the exception of one ferry flight, Lockie Christler was the only PIC for all of the civilian flights of this aircraft.
May 1, 2003
Last log book entry in civilian airframe log before purchase by Dynamic Aviation.
Please read “The Columbine II and Christler Family Connection”
3. As owned by Dynamic Aviation, Bridgewater, Virginia (2014 – Present).
Received copy of an article written by Ralph Pettersen in the December, 2014 Warbirds International Magazine about the First Air Force One languishing in the desert in Marana, AZ. It should be noted that Ralph Pettersen has continued to support the restoration of the airplane in various ways, including continuing to write updates on the status of the rebuild and connect us with other individuals who have assisted Dynamic with this project. Ralph has a website www.conniesurvivors.com. His historical analysis of 8610 is listed under model 749 survivors.
October 10, 2014
Karl sent email to Steve Miller, Manager of Marana Regional Airport, to try to find out who the airplane was owned by. He responded the same day.
November 10 & 11, 2014
Ken Stoltzfus went to perform the initial inspection of the aircraft in Marana, AZ. Ken spent two days doing a preliminary inspection. I only wanted an objective assessment of the airplane’s condition and Ken gave it to me. The airplane had very little corrosion which was extremely important. It also would need a lot of work to ferry it. He did not encourage or discourage us to buy it. Just said it was a very large project.
January 9, 2015
Aircraft Sales Agreement for purchase of aircraft signed by Karl D. Stoltzfus for Dynamic AvLease, Inc. and Henry Oliver for Columbine II, Inc.
March 8, 2015
Sunday. Karl, Dan Gleason and several Dynamic mechanics flew King Air B200 N45N from VBW to Marana, AZ for first eyes on inspection.
A First Air Force One Story, Buying the Airplane written by Karl D. Stoltzfus, Sr.
May 13, 2015
Sold to Dynamic Aviation.
March 9, 2016
Daily News Article, Harrisonburg, Virginia – I Was Supposed to Do It.
March 17, 2016
FAA issued an Acknowledgement of Special Operation Limitations for the aircraft. Signed by FAA Mr. Mark Pritchetto. The FAA representatives were very cooperative on this effort. They made certain every i was dotted and t crossed but did it with the attitude of trying to make the process successful. A big thank you.
March 18, 2016
Friday evening. Columbine II celebration at Marana Airport, Marana, Arizona sponsored by the city of Marana. Program Started at 5:00 PM with guest speaker Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Eisenhower. Mayor Ed Honea made remarks about the significance of Columbine II for Marana.
March 19, 2016
Saturday around noon the aircraft made a 50 minute flight circling around (KAVQ) Marana, Arizona. First flight since 2003. Very few squawks which was a tribute to Brian Miklos the Dynamic project manager and his crew. The aircraft was flown by Captain Lockie Christler, FO Scott McDonald, and flight engineers Tim Coons and Thomas (Tom) Woodward. Sunday we pulled the oil screens on all four engines and finding no metal reinstalled them and pre-oiled the engines. Fixed several minor squawks and serviced for flight the next day. A King Air 200, N52C was used as a chase plane to monitor possible fuel or oil leaks. It was flown by Karl Stoltzfus and Dan Gleason. On several occasions they pulled up under the Constellation to check position of oil cooler doors and check for leaks, smoke or fire. In other words anything abnormal. Note about Number 4 engine having been owned by Lewis Air Legends.
March 21, 2016
Monday Lockie Christler and crew made a 5 hour nonstop flight from Marana to (KOSA) Mt. Pleasant Texas, home of Scott Glovers Mid America Flight Museum. The flight was at 9500’ and would be considered non eventful. Scott Glover accompanied the flight in his B25 with Tyson Ryineger doing world class photography out of the back of the B25. Aaron Lorson and Karl were flying a King Air 200 as a chase plane and communicating with ATC. Accompanying them were Lockie’s wife Brandi, son Brandon and sister in law Becky Diaz. The 200 was constantly looking for suitable airports along the way in the event of an inflight emergency. At Mt Pleasant there was a very large crowd assembled and a lot of photographers and TV stations. After landing there were lots of TV and newspaper interviews. Took on 2179 gallons of fuel. Scott graciously hosted entire crew for the next several days. Scott’s continued encouragement and support for this project during the year refurb in Marana played a huge part in making the project a success.
March 22, 2016
Tuesday. We found a significant fuel leak on the inboard RH fuel bay and a leaking master control (ie carburetor) on number three engine. Aaron Lorson and Dan Gleason flew the chase plane to San Antonio for new gaskets, they were installed and leak checked. The decision was made to remove all fuel from the leaking tank and fly with both right engines on the outboard tank by cross feeding.
March 23, 2016
Wednesday. Departed Mt Pleasant about 9:30 and flew a 5 hour nonstop to (KVBW) Bridgewater, Virginia. The arrival time was approximately 3:00 PM and again there was a very large crowd assembled to watch the aircraft land as well as TV and newspaper folks. The chase plane was same as Monday. No significant squawks upon arrival. All four engines were still happily running. Number two had not given up the nasty habit of smoking badly. The landing was made in a 18 knot crosswind (60 degree) down over a small hill on a 60”wide by 4000 foot runway. It was Lockie’s third landing in a Connie in about 25 years. We had collectively decided that if it did not look right he would go around and then land at Shenandoah Valley Airport. It was by all standards a picture perfect landing.
March 24, 2016
Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia article – History Lands at Dynamic.
April 19, 2016
Interviewed Reginald (Reg) and Barbara Holden of Rocky Mount, NC. See “Reginald and Barbara Holden Interview“.
February 4, 2017
Daily News Record, Harrisonburg, Virginia article, First Class Tour. Mary Jean Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Eisenhower, visits Columbine II at Dynamic Aviation, Bridgewater Airport, Bridgewater, Virginia. Also visited her great grandmother, Ida Stover Eisenhower’s birthplace in Ft. Defiance, Virginia about 10 miles from Bridgewater, Virginia.
May 23, 2018
Columbine II, Air Force One Restoration YouTube video by Scott Glover, Mid America Flight Museum.
November 29, 2018
George Pace, marketing idea “Where’s Connie?”
Discovered that three R3350 engines presently owned by Dynamic Aviation were operated on this airplane while it was operated by USAF. Curtiss Wright model R3350-75 (BD-1) Serial Numbers 76128, 76191 and 82491.
Purchased 13 R3350 Cylinders overhauled by Curtiss Wright that matched the serial number of engines having been operated on the airplane by the USAF.
Definitions in military aircraft records:
LAS is Lockheed Air Service
TTAF is Total Time Air Frame
IRAN is Inspect and Repair As Necessary
“C-121A, 8610 USAF Airframe Log Book Entries by Date”
Proceeding information complied by Karl D. Stoltzfus, Sr, Bridgewater, VA from various sources. All mistakes, omissions or errors are singularly his responsibility. If you have suggestions, additions, corrections, please contact Sarah Hedrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 540-828-6070.