Pontifications: Lufthansa is sabotaging history

By Scott Hamilton

June 4, 2018, © Leeham News: I never thought I would find myself writing something like this.

Lufthansa Airlines is sabotaging history and its own airplane restoration project.

Lufthansa, the airline that honors its history with the airworthy Junkers JU-52, flying it around Europe garnering millions of Euros of publicity in the process.

Lufthansa was one of the few airlines to fly the Lockheed L-1649 Starliner Constellation. Only 44 were built.

Lufthansa, which agreed to restore one of just 44 Lockheed L-1649 Starliners to full LH colors and make it flyable.

The engines have been run up. The airplane was assembled. First flights were planned for next year.

And now, Lufthansa is pulling the plug.

Despite media inquiries and questions from leaders of the project, Lufthansa hasn’t said why it is shutting down the effort to create an airworthy airplane.

Disassembly underway

The plane has been partially disassembled. The wings are scheduled to come off the week of June 24. And if this tricky operation weren’t dangerous enough for a restoration project, Lufthansa apparently told the work crew to keep no records. This kills any prospect of becoming airworthy.

The Constellation wing set was one unit construction. This makes separating the wings from Lufthansa’s L-1649 especially tricky and dangerous to any reassembly. Done incorrectly, and the airplane would never fly again.

This blasphemy has been the subject of Facebook posts for weeks.

Now, work is accelerating, clearly to make the project irreversible before even the sponsors understand what’s happening.

More than 8,000 e-signatures were sent to Carsten Spohr, chairman and CEO of the airline, and Karl-Ludwig.kley, chairman of the supervisory board, urging Lufthansa to complete the restoration and making the L-1649 airworthy. See this link for information.

It would be the only example of Lockheed’s final Constellation to be preserved and airworthy.

The petitions were to no avail.

Lufthansa plans to fly the Starliner, disassembled, to Germany to place in an unidentified museum. Officials claim more people will see the airplane in a museum than at air shows and other events.

Lufthansa’s L-1649 Constellation undergoing restoration.

Marketing plan

I disagreed. I sent the following message to Spohr and Kley—only to get a form letter email in return from corporate communications.

To: Carsten.Spohr@dlh.de; Karl-Ludwig.kley@dlh.de

Good Day, Gentlemen:

I’m sure you have received many emails urging LH to complete the restoration and airworthiness certificate of your Lockheed L1649 Constellation in the USA. The argument is you’ve come “this close” and spent “this much,” please finish the job. I concur, but I want to offer another rationale about how there can be a return on this investment.

Certainly, the reported $200m spent is an extraordinary sum, if accurate. Let’s put this and any “completion” money to work for LH.

There are many, many opportunities for LH to leverage this airplane for branding, advertising and philanthropic purposes. It can be used to interest students in STEM education, to meet a need for aerospace engineers and other technical people. It can be used to help interest people to become pilots, for which Airbus and Boeing conclude there is a need for about 617,000 over the next 20 years.

And, it can be used to promote LH’s history and that of commercial aviation.

Imagine advertising/branding that marries the history of LH, including the pinnacle of the piston era, to today’s LH.

Imagine how special flights can be used to raise money for philanthropic purposes.

Enthusiast scenic flights, for a fee, professional tours/vacations, such as those by the UK firm Ian Allen, may be arranged. These may be tied to LH promotions, fare or vacation packages.

Appearances at the Berlin ILA, Paris and Farnborough air shows would put the LH name and brand before worldwide audiences.

I could go on, but in the interests of brevity for what may be thousands of emails to you, I will stop with this 41,000 ft overview. As someone who has been involved in branding/advertising, I see many, many opportunities. (Do not view this as a pitch for business; you obviously would want our own agency to be leading this.)

The value of advertising, editorial stories, television coverage, etc., could easily exceed your restoration budget, given time. I can envision documentaries on German and US television (“Great Planes” is a show in the US, for example) that will give LH great focus.

Please complete the restoration and airworthiness in the US and look at this not as a costly expense but as a marketing investment.

The reply

Thank you for your email to Mr. Spohr and Dr. Kley.

We appreciate your commitment regarding the Super Star project conclusion. It is true, that there will be changes in this ambitious project. We appreciate the great work that has been done in recent years, to restore this wonderful historic airplane. However, these works have also shown how complex the project is and how technically demanding a commercial flight operation would be. As plans to operate the aircraft in commercial flight operations are not being pursued, it was decided to ship the aircraft to Germany for the next phase of this project. The future of this project will be decided only after the shipment to Germany.

Andreas Bartels

Senior Vice President
Head of Corporate Communications
Lufthansa Group

Tel        +49 (0)69 696 3659
E-Mail andreas.bartels@dlh.de

Cost of restoration

Lufthansa acknowledged at its recent AGM that it spent €90m on the project. Corporate sponsors spent another $100m.

All this to come so close to making the airplane airworthy, but instead putting the plane into some museum.

Lufthansa asserts that with 120 octane aviation gas no longer available, the plane can’t be properly operation.

Poppycock.

The Eastern Airlines DC-7B that was restored 10 years ago to airworthy condition has the same engines as the Constellation. 100 octane av gas was and is available. It just means flying at lower altitude and reduced power settings, but this works fine. My trip report of this adventure is here.

LH also said the lack of avgas means it would have to be trucked or flown into destinations.

Who the hell is running the airline to come up with a statement like this?

Sponsors in the dark?

I’m told corporate sponsors signed onto the project with the promise the airplane would be made airworthy again, absent any technical reasons. Lufthansa appears to be sabotaging the project for financial consideration.

It’s unclear if the corporate sponsors are even aware of the situation. Those involved in the project don’t think the sponsors know.

Among the sponsors: Airbus, Boeing, GE Aviation and JetBlue.

Sponsors for the restoration to airworthy condition of the Lockheed L-1649 Constellation.

The point man at GE is now the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Kevin McAllister. Tom Enders, the CEO of Airbus, is the point man there.

Unfathomable moves

Lufthansa hasn’t told those directly involved in the restoration why its shutting the project down. Given that the finish line is in sight, the move is unfathomable.

It’s more than that. It’s shameful.

49 Comments on “Pontifications: Lufthansa is sabotaging history

  1. It’s sad, but not surprising. The same people who have cut and run on the Connie restoration, are the same people who came up with the consultant led, focus group tuned and bean counter approved new livery.

  2. I can understand why they want to move the work to Germany and have the LHT apprentices spend lots of hours repairing parts and learn from it. But not taking care of records stopping it to be able to be certified as repaired, assembled, tested as experimental Aircraft is no good P.R for LHT and LH. LHT should also be able to get a Fischer -Tropsch process going converting waste from its operations to 120 octane Avgas.

    • Ever thought about escalating cost and the foam mishap being viewed as sabotage or pronounced insincerity by the LH project management?

      • It is a pain getting every part clean after the foam filling the hangar with the Aircraft inside and probably open “everywhere”. I can understand they want to get the Aircraft “home”, disassemble it for the shipment makes pretty good access to clean it and inspect the work performed. Just figuring out what cleaning agent can be used where is a big task.

    • No better training for apprentices than making sure that the paperwork is right.

  3. The restoration project was undertaken after a detail costing and evaluation of the work needed to get it airworthy again.

    With the sponsors having spent $100 million which is more than the $90 million Lufthansa spent, is it not ethically correct that the sponsors should have a say as to the destiny of the project?

    Lufthansa has adopted the attitude that the project is complex and technically demanding as a reason to terminate it is a lame excuse. They of all people should and must know the complexity and what is involved before starting and getting sponsors.

    As a last resort, Lufthansa should hand the aircraft and project to a consortium (to be formed) who is willing to take on complete the project. Why should Lufthansa be able to retain the plane after the sponsors have spent $100m and the technicians and engineers have committed thousands of painstaking hours on the project?

    Has Lufthansa forgotten the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough keep going?

  4. It is always sad when something like this doesn’t come to fruition but I have some sympathy with LH. It reminds me of the BBMF and the XH558 where the airframes or the engines eventually go beyond what is certifiable and the costs become too onerous. What is the first responsibility that LH has? I don’t think it is to run a museum.

    I will now put my head above the parapet and suggest that the Constellation (gorgeous though it was) is perhaps less worthy of restoration than possibly more significant aircraft of the era. Perhaps early jet airliners or even turboprop designs.

      • See my later post on the FW200 Condor rescued from a Norwegian fjord being restored at Airbus Bremen.

  5. This project is a very unfortunate victim of protectionist rethorics, extremely sad. 🙁

  6. Great article that will hopefully spark an open debate where transparency and factuality will help all find a mutually acceptable resolution.

    There are not too many airlines in the World today that have the acumen, resources and audacity to even consider such projects. Deutsche Lufthansa deserves all our praises for that.

    DLH and LHT may actually take advantage of this article as a brainstorming platform to see if the seemingly insurmountable roadblocks may be resolved in other ways or if new synergies may emerge.

    Good luck with your audacious project.

  7. Its never to late to pull out of a bad idea. Just how close to the finishing line were they really?An additional problem is ever tightening safety regulations.Airshows will never be the same in the UK after the Shoreham crash.Passenger flights are no longer permitted for DC3s in Europe if I understand correctly. Given how much money has been spent, it can only be with a heavy heart that they are now abandoning this project. Maybe it’s a similar situation to the Nimrod MR4 and carbon Learjet ,where they were never going to be certifiable and carried on for far too long prior to cancellation.

    • Passenger flights during airshows are still permitted, at least in France: three weeks ago Ju-52s and DC-3s have flown hundreds of people during La Ferté Alais Airshow (the biggest one in France for warbirds).
      Shoreham event just tightened once more safety procedures for take-off, landing and flying display.

  8. It is indeed very sad, I totally agree with the letter. There’s no real reason not to be totally forthcoming about what challenges are causing the program to change. Maddening.

    • I’d have to agree ,LH needs to be totally honest about this. Otherwise there’s going to be 50 years of conspiracy theories and bad PR just like when the UK government (quite rightly)scrapped the TSR 2 and smashed up the tooling.

      • Grubbie, I totally agree with you, especially where TSR2 is involved. The TSR 2 at the time was 20 years ahead of its time and we should be proud of that instead of scrapping it and destroying the tooling. This conspiracy and political pressure imposed to purchase the American Phantom 4 will never be known. Once again what happened to patriotism and the pride of British?

        • The RN adopted the Phantom under the Conservative government well before the TSR2 program was halted and was a different requirement anyway.
          The replacement for the TSR2 for the RAF was firstly the F-111.

          • dukeofurl, first apologies for the wrong aircraft and you are correct it was the F111 that was acquired instead of the TSR 2 under very suspicious circumstances.

            The TSR 2 had better TSR and recon performance than the F111 which was what it was designed for. There is no question the TSR 2 was a far superior plane than the F111.

  9. I am struggling with the whole thing as there are multiple aspects. LH is being stupid about the project and the lack of documentation regardless of where it was or is going is an abomination.

    That comes into the category of, if you arn’t going to do it right leave it alone (B-29 in Greenland debacle) – do no harm.

    The other aspect is that should truly historical aircraft be flown ? (of which the Connie is as it was the pinnacle of pop aircraft despite an opinion to the contrary)

    How many all to rare aircraft have we seen augured in?

    The cost to operate as complex an old machine with engines that were less than reliable is valid. That cost includes should passengers even be carried.

    It also fall into the don’t start it unless you mean it.

    I hope to visit the Spruce Goose next year, I am happy its where its at and not risked to never be able to see it at all.

    No question LH has handled the public part horribly and totally irresponsible with the key to good curation and that is documentation.

    The best analogy to me is being on an Archeological site and having a trench latrine in the middle of it. There is a saying in the Army about defecating in your mess kit (all purpose water hearing and eating container for those who don’t know).

    • Interesting, I change my mind, looking at it as the epitome of the breed of a bygone age I agree with you (although shouldn’t the dash 80 deserve a permanent flying role).

      I am always delighted to see grand old aircraft coming back to life but I don’t think it is LH’s role to necessarily do this, it smacks of corporate excess and extravagance. Why they will not hand it over to a trust or some such is however mystifying.

      • Thanks, I was going both ways.

        Agreed LH was not really in a position (really has not a lot to do with them being an Airline)

        It also gets into the area of maintaining the aircraft and the funds to do so, i.e. somehow or someone has to pay for it.

        We almost lost the Spruce Goose.

        My opinion has worked to, I am ok they decided not to fly it, they owed it to the sponsors a full accounting and honesty and they owed it to the community that got them to where they are to document and shut the project down right with correct and full documentation.

        Oddly its in the US right now (East Coast someplace ) where the work was being done.

        .

  10. Today’s Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT) should lead on taking over a group to pursue this. All these billionaires out there that have an interest in aerospace should also get involved. What an attraction would that be to Oshkosh and other airshows…

  11. I just saw $200.000.000 being mentioned. I must be wrong..

  12. while it is disappointing that this aircraft won’t be restored to flying condition, it is a good business decision.

    you must be aware of the sunk cost fallacy, (aka throwing good money after bad) and this is a prime example. sunk money is gone and should never be the deciding factor in whether to continue a project.

    if it is true that the other corporate sponsors were not consulted before LH started acting on their decision, there may be grounds for legal action to recover their contributions.

    • if it is true that the other corporate sponsors were not consulted before LH started acting on their decision, there may be grounds for legal action to recover their contributions.

      I doubt that LH (or the subsidiary nominally doing the restoration) are so inept as to leave holes in their sponsorship contracts that leave any doubt over who’s actually in charge of the project (and thus who decides whether or not to continue at any given point), or what is to happen to any moneys already paid in case the project ends, or it is deemed impossible to achieve all of the original goals (which included return to the air).

  13. Full credit to your letter and most of the replies it generates. I was lucky and privileged enough to be part of that project and I am absolutely disappointed by the way it has developped since January. With all of the many demanding problems along the ten year path of restoration solved (engineering, spareparts, certification, paerwork, flightcrew certification etc etc) and the remaining work to achieve “first flight” being another year of professional and dedicated work it makes me sad to realize, that the only reason to say stop can be: lack of willpower. It is not a lack of money, it is not a lack of ability, knowledge or anything else. Some people were just fed up with it. Period. These people seem to have no idea ( or if so, no ambition to think about it) what might be possible with an aircraft beyond flying it to generate yield.
    Sad, but true. It is dead.
    BTW, my personal letter to Mr Spohr was not even answered, so you may consider yourself happy to have received one.

    • Ahh, tis better to get a letter than not?

      It makes clear the BS.

      I can understand a decision in terminating.

      Abuse of people, sponsors as well as gross historical negligence is not. It smacks of those who vandalize historical painting (or the ones that blow up historical artifacts)

    • and the remaining work to achieve “first flight” being another year of professional and dedicated work it makes me sad to realize, that the only reason to say stop can be: lack of willpower.

      I wasn’t involved in the project, so I have no first hand knowledge. But looking at the latest photos and reading the latest publicly available reports from the project team published before the decision to bring her to Germany, the plane plane had no cockpit equipment installed, no avionics, no control surfaces, no gear, no engines… The engine nacelles still had no tubing/wiring inside as of late 2017. I dare say that considerably more than a year’s worth of dedicated hard work would still be needed to get her in the air.
      I know the last schedule said first flight in 2019, but they blew their projections in that regard more than once. Originally, first flight was scheduled for 2010…

  14. I did some checking on the EA DC7-B.

    It no longer is flying. It had an engine failure (not uncommon for that horribly complicated engine)

    This does have the aspect of “What Were They Thinking”.

    The DC-4s have done well and some still flying, no one continued with the the Turbo Compound 3350.

    This should all have been considered from the start.

    It does not appear there was good business plan or rational for turning it into flying aircraft.

    • I would guess that flying it light (with much less than the 10,000 gallons of fuel it could hold) would allow the use of regular 3350s (which went up to 2800 hp or so) which had have far fewer issues than the turbo compound version.

  15. Quite honestly, I believe they realised that this project was way out of control and decided to stop throwing good money after bad.
    Remember – they started this in 2007 by buying three frames to have enough accessible parts to make one airworthy frame without having to reengineer/remanufacture too many parts.
    In 2009, the former owner of the three frames already stated that by his assessment, LH had taken on something way more complex and costly than they had anticipated, and were already spending tens of millions more than planned.
    This was when LH expected to have the single Connie back in Germany (by air!) in 2010 and carrying pax by 2011/12.
    http://www.historynet.com/constellation-restoration.htm

    In 2016, the guy overseeing the restoration was expecting first flight in 2017, and pax flights in 2018. He also stated that some 95% of fuselage and wing structural components had to be reengineered/remanufactured. I.e. very little of those three frames bought was actually usable for an airworthy plane…
    https://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/restoration-lockheed-starliner-180960064/

    In mid-2018, with an alleged $200m spent, we now have a frame that – contrary to (sorry) Scott’s and conniesurvivors.com’s claim – is nowhere near the finish line. No cockpit, no gear, no engines, no old-tech-new-avionics integration, no control surfaces…

    And of course still no date for first flight.

    They’re nowhere near the finish line, and if the figure of 200m is roughly correct I can easily see them spending that sum again, plus another 5-7 years, before she’d be ready to fly again. Which then gives us the headache of how to operate her – especially her engines – on a reliable and even remotely cost-effective basis.
    In short: This is crazy!

    To illustrate the complexity, even their annual “Chronicle” explains how jackscrews had to be reverse-engineered (with molecular analysis of the material), and how three control input boosters are still being tested, with test rigs and test procedures having to be developed from scratch with no existing documentation.
    http://www.conniesurvivors.com/Lufthansa%20L-1649A%20Super%20Star%20Chronicle%20Nr%201%202017.pdf

    They’re basically not restoring an airplane, they’re building a prototype, except they want to do it so well that they can carry paying pax on it.

    Seriously – I was as excited as anybody to get to fly her once she’s completed when I first heard about the project.
    But given how long it’s taken, how much it’s cost, where we are right now, and what challenges they were still facing in 2017, 10 years after the initial start, I can fully understand why somebody eventually decided to pull the plug on the idea to return her to flight.

    And really… no other airline would even have begun a project like this, never mind stuck with it for so long. Considering the time and money spent (and the time and money spent to return their Ju-52 to the air after its centre spar broke in 2015), it’s tough to call them quitters. But at some point, reality has to set in. It isn’t very Lufthansa to entertain projects with such massive cost and time overruns for as long as they have in this case.
    I think they just reached a point where they were convinced that the project was a lost cause. And all aviation and Connie excitement aside, I find it hard not to agree.

    • I second this indeed.

      You have to get real. LH is not in that business after all. There is not enough of a marketing potential to recoup anything.

      However cool it would be from all angles, management can’t rationalize this any longer. 200M$? wow . If there is a role for government, that may be one… if you could justify. This seems tangential at best.

      • These alwyas get out of hand.

        I actually got to talk to the group at a lecture that recovered Glacier Girl. Alaska famous Norman Vaughn was involved (monitor at top)

        Their idea was to recover one and offer up the others at a recovery feed.

        That foundered when they really got a full look at the air-frame Restoral took 4x as long and 6 times as much money.

        What looked ok was a squashed air frame that had to be hand re-manufactured by about 80% or more.

  16. Anfromme, I don’t disagree that the scope, whether originally not accurate, or today as they realize the depth fully, has expanded exponentially. I just think it’s silly not to be fully transparent publicly as to what the rationale for the decisions today are.

    It was, all along, a PR venture after all. Even if you can’t make it to carrying pax commercially you shouldn’t burn the good will you’ve paid dearly for via secrecy.

  17. There are good news for the fans of the Super Connie: The Swiss Superconstellation Flyers association is currently preparing their Super Constellation HB-RSC for flights in 2018:
    https://www.superconstellation.org/index.php/de/
    Flights were cancelled in 2017 but the funds for the revision of the plane have been collected. A membership to their association helps to support the maintenance.

    • Thank you for the link. I did not know there was another one in progress.

      Clearly they are having the same issues, use as an advertisement is one way. It is not a real plus for LH as they have all that they need but I can see Breitling as that is sort of an MO for them.

      Massive endeaver.

  18. I understand both sides of the story, was wondering about how the availability of the correct fuel that’s mentioned here will limit use in the real world.

    But could it not make more sense to restore a “modern” classic like the B707-320B for example and do say a once a week Transatlantic flight for nostalgia and promotion/advertisement.

    Obviously smoking will be allowed on such an flight.

    • I know about the fuel but not the ramifications. Going with lower output of HP is one way to get around it.

      Uncertain if you still wind up with fouling and combustion issues with that setup. Its an incredibly complex engine (Turbo Props and Jet engines were the only real answer to the power needs)

      I ran a 70s vehicle on Unleaded just fine, but it was a low hp version of the famous 302 (5 Liter) V8 Ford, In Mustangs you had to be really careful as those were hot rodded versions and you could take out the top end unless you idled alone (or added lead substitute)

  19. And the USAF flies the 707s all the time cross Atlantic (KC-135)

    Just sigh up for service and you to can get a ride on an iconic aircraft!

  20. Now heres a heritage restoration of an iconic plane we can all appreciate

    Cant understand why Lufthansa didnt choose this one to support…maybe I can understand
    http://company.airbus.com/company/heritage/now-and-then/Days-of-the-Condor.html

    At Airbus Bremen, a group of pensioners is restoring what is thought to be the last Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, the first commercial airliner to cross the Atlantic. The workers are facing a giant jigsaw puzzle: blueprints are missing and many original parts are unobtainable.

    I dont know about first commercial trans Atlantic flight by a fixed wing, flying boats were ahead , but certainly land based fixed wing
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedreed/2013/08/10/first-trans-atlantic-commercial-flight-landed-75-years-ago-sunday/#5185fa691b4a

    • Actually I see Lufthansa is behind this much more relevant plane for aviation and Germany.
      “salvaged in 1999, and is now being restored by a group that includes Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Lufthansa and the German Technology Museum in Berlin.’

      “The aircraft will never fly again, but everyone hopes to see the day when it rolls out of the hangar once more.”
      Im included in wishing them all the luck to achieve that.

  21. Another part restoration is of the VEB Baade 152, the first ( East) German jet liner which was under development in the middle and late 1950s in Dresden.
    http://hugojunkers.bplaced.net/baade-152-survivors.html

    This too is far more important than a Connie as it represents the work of Junkers designers and engineers and their pioneering work

  22. It’s easy to talk others money to be spend.

    Sorry, I disagree.

    There was a budget, project seems out of control, budget is spend and aircraft is not flying.
    Time to stop and reevaluate.

    It seems obvious now that it’s not possible to get that one flying without another serious investment.
    200m $ is almost 2 brand new B787 – how many kids could be feed or educated with?
    Is it really sensefull to throw this on a project to get a historic plane flying again?

    It defenitly needs more currage to stop a project that went into wrong direction than to continue.

    Anyway, why not take your money (Leeham must earn some $$) and throw it on that project?

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