Columbine II, formerly Dwight D Eisenhower’s presidential aircraft, is undergoing restoration at Dynamic Aviation. Karl D Stoltzfus, founder and chairman of the company, shares details of the exciting project
What is the background to this project?
Columbine II was President Dwight D Eisenhower’s presidential aircraft from January 1953 to November 1954. In 1970, Columbine II was sold at a government surplus sale at Davis Monthan Air Force Base [Tucson, Arizona], along with four other aircraft. The aircraft were purchased by businessman Mel Christler, who planned to use them in his aerial spraying operation. He had no idea the aircraft had been used as a presidential aircraft.
In 1980 the Smithsonian notified Christler of the aircraft’s historical significance. Christler and his partners then worked to restore the aircraft and return it to the airshow circuit, which they did from 1990-1992. Convinced that Columbine II should remain in the public sphere, but unable to continue the extensive upkeep and restoration needed, the search began for a new owner.
In 2014 Dynamic Aviation learned about the aircraft and began investigating whether it could be saved. The company purchased the aircraft in 2015 and began the long process of restoring it to its former glory. On March 19, 2016, the aircraft was ready to fly and did a test flight – its first flight in over a decade. On March 23, 2016, the aircraft arrived at Dynamic Aviation’s headquarters in Bridgewater, Virginia, where the restoration will continue.
What work remains to be performed?
Work has been done on the powerplants, fuel system, hydraulic system, electrical system, fire system and airframe. Columbine II needs a major airframe overhaul, an overhaul of engines and propellers, exterior refurbishment, new interior and major avionics upgrades.
What is the interior like?
From looking at original photos and blueprints of the interior it appears that most of what is in the aircraft, apart from the seats, is original. All but one of the bulkheads is in place. The side panels and overhead panels are in poor shape, but are in place. There are a lot of missing parts but it is a good start.
What are your plans for the interior?
The aircraft will be restored to look as it did during Eisenhower’s presidency. Original pieces will be used where possible and pieces that aren’t available will be replicated as close to the originals as possible, using historical photos and documents.
What partners are you working with and what others do you need to realize the project?
Mid America Flight Museum has been very helpful up to this point. We would certainly be happy to talk to anyone interested in working with other groups who share our passion.
What are the biggest challenges?
The investment of time, manpower and finances is definitely going to be a challenge.
How do you envisage the aircraft being used once restored?
Columbine II will be used as an educational tool, flown at airshows and will also be on static display at Dynamic Aviation.
Above: Karl D Stoltzfus with Columbine II. Image credit: Ramon Purcell