Steve Miller, the Marana Regional Airport manager, has what he calls “one of these big secrets that, really, few people know” about on the airport grounds. It’s the first plane to be called “Air Force One.”
But it’s not in a hangar on display or at least preserved and protected as a piece of our nation’s history. Nope, the plane that flew President Dwight D. Eisenhower is now breaking down in the Arizona sun’s rays out in the open, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Dubbed the Columbine II after the Colorado’s state flower being first lady Mamie Eisenhower’s home, the Lockheed VC 121 Constellation was constructed in 1948 and used for a short time by Pan American to carry civilians. It was soon converted for the president and dignitaries.
Previous presidents had flown in planes as well, but Eisenhower’s was the first to take on the call sign “Air Force One” when the president was on board.
Columbine II made its final trip with Eisenhower on Oct. 25, 1959 and was retired in 1968. The Daily Star bills it as being “stripped of its identity and fitted with mismatched landing gear” at this time.
In 1970, the plane was bought at auction with four others — its identity unknown at the time to Mel Christler with Christler Flying Service. About a decade later, Christler learned of the plane’s fame when contacted by Robert Mikesh with the Smithsonian Institution. With its history revealed, the plane underwent a $150,000 restoration and was put back in view of the public in 1990.
After few more years making rounds at air shows, the plane was up for auction again, but it failed to sell. It has been parked in a slot, exposed to the elements, at Marana’s airport since 2005.
“It’s sad that it’s just sitting out there, considering its history over the past 70 years,” Miller told the Daily Star.
Miller included that in its height, the plane had marble floors. Now, he said, “it just looks like any old, beat-up aircraft sitting there.”
In its current state, the plane’s caretaker, Timothy Coons, is trying to find a museum that might be willing to spend an estimated $200,000 to restore it again and give it a proper home.
“We’re trying to find a good home,” Coons said according to the Daily Star. “It’s not doing any justice just sitting here.”
Another of Eisenhower’s later planes — Columbine III — is in restored condition and housed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Take a tour of that plane in this video:
Read more details about the decaying first Air Force One in the Daily Star’s full article.
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