One of the last missions of the Lockheed L-1649A Starliner, which now sits stripped bare in a hangar at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport, was to transport cattle. Its final flight, in the early 1980s, was its arrival in Auburn from Florida.
Only 44 Starliners were built, between 1956 and 1958, and were the cream of the legendary Lockheed Constellation series. The planes carried passengers until 1966, when many of them were turned into cargo planes.
“It was a milestone in airlines,” said Michael Austermeier, Lufthansa project manager for the restoration. “It allowed Lufthansa back to the North American routes.”
The standard Starliner carried 86 passengers, but a swankier version could carry just 30 high-flyers in supreme luxury. Some slept in beds, behind curtains. Newfangled in-flight entertainment included tape players and loudspeakers. Back then, Lufthansa marketed the Starliner as its “Super Star.”
In order to get the plane ready for flight almost 30 years after being grounded in Auburn, Lufthansa mechanics are now replacing every rivet and any panels that are corroded. They are also cleaning out the wings for fuel storage and replacing the cargo doors with original passenger doors.
When the restoration is complete, Austermeier said, the German company plans to use the plane for VIP rentals and regular passenger flights.