RETURNING TO FLIGHT

Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater is focused on getting Dwight D. Eisenhower’s plane back in the sky

Story by Paul Murphy

Photos by Alexis Miller

The first Air Force One which flew Dwight D. Eisenhower, returned to flight on March 19, 2016, taking off from Marana airport in Marana, Arizona. On March 22nd, Columbine II began the cross-country journey to Bridgewater, Virginia to undergo a complete restoration.

 

Air Force One may be one of the most recognizable planes in the sky, and the origin of that famous name is awaiting its return to glory in the Shenandoah Valley. The first plane to be called Air Force One, the Columbine II, was purchased by Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater in March 2016. It is in the beginning of a three to five year process to restore the aircraft to its original condition. “When I read this article that this airplane may possibly be scrapped out, I thought that was a piece of American history that absolutely, positively could not be discarded,” said Karl Stoltzfus, the founder and chairman of Dynamic Aviation.

Before they could get it back to Bridgewater, Dynamic Aviation hired a few mechanics to work on the plane near Tucson, Arizona, to make it airworthy for the almost 2,000-mile flight. “It was mostly complete,” Rod Moyer, the legacy aircraft manager at Dynamic Aviation, said. “It just really needed a good look-over.” Moyer also remembers the day when Columbine II first touched down on Dynamic Aviation’s air strip. “It was a huge deal,” Moyer said. “Lots of press, all the employees [were] out.” Once the plane arrived at its new home in Bridgewater, Dynamic Aviation began the restoration process. “It’s a fairly complex airplane,” said Gabe Heatwole, the legacy aircraft maintenance supervisor. “Probably the hardest part would be understanding the airplane well enough to manage the restoration of all the different systems.”

In regard to Stoltzfus’ plans for the aircraft, Moyer said, “He’s a real stickler for detail, and he really wants it to be authentic as possible.” While his attention to detail may be intense, Stoltzfus hopes that the hard work will be rewarded by the plane’s role in teaching young people about history. “We want to be able to perhaps use it to be able to teach young people about history and geography,” Stoltzfus said. “The airplane flew all over the world.”

The age of the 80-year-old aircraft adds to the restoration’s complexity, since the mechanics at Dynamic Aviation typically work with modern aircraft. Heatwole said he and the other mechanics restoring the plane have to do a lot of learning on-the-go. To do that, the mechanics use the aircraft’s many maintenance manuals. “You’ve got several different airframe manuals,” Heatwole said. “You’ve got manuals for each of the systems.” Heatwole and Moyer are both in charge of monitoring the progress of the restoration. “Right now, we are in the removal phase,” Moyer said. “Then we’ll go through a major cleaning, and then a rebuild phase with repaired or replaced components, and then the interior.”

Even with six full-time mechanics working on it, Moyer thinks the restoration will take “close to 5 years.” When the restoration is finished, Dynamic Aviation plans on displaying Columbine II at airshows across the country as a piece of aviation history. “Once word gets out that this plane is restored and available, we’ll get lots of requests to bring it [to air shows],” Moyer said. Stoltzfus, Moyer, Heatwole and the rest of the team restoring Columbine II are looking forward to finishing the restoration so the public can see Eisenhower’s ride in the sky, as he would have known it.

The first Air Force One which flew Dwight D. Eisenhower, returned to flight on March 19, 2016, taking off from Marana airport in Marana, Arizona. On March 22nd, Columbine II began the cross-country journey to Bridgewater, Virginia to undergo a complete restoration.