Columbine IIa Lockheed VC-121A Constellation 48-610.
Built: 1948 in Burbank, CA.
Condition: As is; $200,000 repairs needed.
History: the original Air Force One!

Please spread the word among the airplane and travel community to SAVE THIS AIRCRAFT!

[View the overhead of the Columbine II on Google Maps here as it sits baking and decaying in the hot desert sun.]

first air force one columbine ii

Columbine II sitting in the Arizona desert sun (via Google Maps)

The Marana Regional Airport (AVQ) in Tuscon, AZ has a piece of history sitting out back in the hot desert sun, unsheltered from the elements and quickly decaying away its historical significance and glory, including the past restoration work that was done to it just two decades earlier.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower chartered this aircraft as the first of many Air Force One planes.  A second Lockheed Constellation (aka “Connie”), a propeller-driven airliner, was also used as Eisenhower’s presidential aircraft, the Columbine III.  It currently enjoys a far better retirement (see below) as it sits today, fully restored and on display, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The Columbine III was retired to the Museum in 1966 and is open to the pubic.

However, the history of the Columbine II is … another story…

1948 – Lockheed VC-121 Constellation 48-610 built.

1949 – Converted to a custom VC-121A.

1953 – Named the Columbine II, after the state flower of Colorado, first lady Mamie Eisenhower’s home state, and referred to as Air Force One (see below) as it officially became the presidential aircraft for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The name Air Force One was established after an incident that year when Eastern Airlines flight 8610 crossed paths with the president’s plane, then called Air Force 8610 (the tail number on the Columbine II), although the Air Force One name was not made official until 1962.  Although other planes carried U.S. presidents before the Columbine II (see the unofficial White House Museum page for more info here), it was the true original Air Force One.

first air force one columbine ii

Columbine II retired to sunny AZ (photo: White House Museum)

1954 – Replaced by a new Air Force One (Columbine III served ’54-’61; see photo), it became the primary backup aircraft.

1959 – The aircraft carried President Eisenhower for a final time on Oct. 25, 1959, on a trip from Augusta, GA, to Washington, D.C.

first air force one columbine ii

Columbine III, restored & retired in comfort (photo: National Museum of the USAF)

1968 – After serving as a VIP transport carrier at Washington National Airport and Andrews AFB, it was retired to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

1970 – Mel Christler of Christler Flying Service bought the aircraft at auction, without knowing its true identity, along with four other planes, hoping to use them as fire dusters (planning to make a bid on a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture fire ant eradication program job), but the mismatched landing gear on the Columbine II, that was previously installed sometime during its residency at Davis-Monthan, prevented its use. Ironically, the still unknown legendary plane went on to be used for spare parts for the four other planes which were used in Canada, United States, and Puerto Rico for spraying in the 1970s.

1980 – Smithsonian Institution curator Robert Mikesh researched the whereabouts of the historic plane and discovers it in Christler’s possession as his “spare parts Connie”. Christler commits to restore it.

1985 – Christler and others continue to accumulate parts to restore Columbine II.

1989 – Restoration of the Columbine II begins.

1990 – Christler and partners complete a $150,000 restoration of the Columbine II in time for the unveiling at the Eisenhower Centennial Celebration in Abilene, KS.

1998 – The Columbine II appeared in various air shows in the 1990s before sitting in Roswell and Santa Fe, NM while unsuccessful attempts were made to auction it off.

2005 – Moved to the Marana Regional Airport in Tuscon, AZ, sitting outside on a leased lot, fenced off from the public, and seemingly forgotten once again.

2013 – Fearing its total loss, the aircraft’s owner and caretaker are looking for a museum willing to take it and restore it, estimating $200,000 and 30-days of work by a team of mechanics.

Please spread the word among the airplane and travel community to SAVE THIS AIRCRAFT!

For information regarding the Columbine II, you may contact:
Marana Regional Airport
1170 W. Avra Valley Road, #91
Marana, AZ 85653
(520) 382-8051


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