Part of Lufthansa’s efforts to restore the Lockheed Constellation Starliners

AUBURN — Lufthansa officials have seen the grassroots, online petition — signed by more than 5,400 people in less than 10 days — asking that the company reconsider its plan to dismantle its historic Super Star Constellation after a decade-long restoration project here.

Their petition signers’ plea — “Please don’t clip her wings.”

Despite the effort, the plane is headed back to Germany.

Spokesman Tal Muscal said this week that while Lufthansa originally intended to restore the 1950s plane back to the days when flying in it was the height of luxury, plans no longer call for commercial flights.

“We don’t see this as the end, but part of a certain journey that the aircraft will take,” Muscal said.

At different stages, the project employed as many as 300 people at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. Seventy work there now.

In a 2016 feature in Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, Bernhard Conrad, a retired chief technology officer at Lufthansa then overseeing the restoration, was hoping for test flights last year and paying passengers this year. He also talked about time and cost overruns and was hoping to raise more public donations for the project.

Muscal declined to say whether the restoration’s pace was a factor in the company’s decision earlier this month to take the plane back.

The amount so far invested in the effort was not available Tuesday.

Only 44 Lockheed L-1649A Starliners were originally built, and none flies today.

In signing the “Fly Connie Fly!” petition at www.change.org, petitioners have been both sentimental and pointed:

• “This is a plane of great beauty and elegance.”

• “This is the legend. …”

• “… I will make sure that all that we meet will get to know about this stupid and short sighted act of cultural vandalism.”

Muscal said officials have seen the comments.

“It shows the interest in the project and it shows how much people have an interest in this restoration,” he said. “It was always a very ambitious project. Just think about it, for an aircraft that’s over 60 years old.

“We definitely are interested in showcasing this aircraft and we’re definitely interested in continuing its journey, but it is a very complicated project. We have to take that into consideration as well in terms of what needs to be done to get it ready for its next stage.”

Muscal said he is not aware of a departure date for the plane. Once back in Germany, the company will decide “how it will be restored and where it will be placed, in what format.”

“We recognize the interest of the local Auburn area in Maine and also the enthusiasts that have supported the project and we definitely want to complete the restoration of this magnificent aircraft,” he said.

“The idea is not just to pack it up and put it in a warehouse, but definitely showcase it as an example of German-American collaboration. At the end of the day, the ’50s definitely highlights the real beginning of intense collaboration.”

While plans had called for recapturing some of the plane’s original glory with commercial flights, “at this point, we will not pursue commercial passenger flight with it. That’s important to state,” according to Muscal.

Muscal reiterated that the move to bring the plane back to Germany was not a reflection on the performance of workers locally.

“They’ve done a wonderful job,” he said, adding that while there are no current plans for a last public display in Auburn, “we are definitely looking into it.”

Dana Hutchins of Falmouth, who has been following the Super Star restoration and signed the petition, said he was disappointed to hear the company’s reaction.

“I hope they do finish it, at least,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s going away. I would love to see it get finished here.

“It’s such a unique and wonderful project to have going on here in Maine. It becomes part of Maine history, as well, and the people who put their skills and time into it.”

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A 2016 Sun Journal file photo of the “Star of Tigris,” a version of the Lockheed Constellation known as a Starliner, Lufthansa Airline’s flagship aircraft from the late 1950s and early 1960s. After a decade of restoration work in Auburn, the plane is being dismantled and taken to Germany. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)