AUBURN, Maine — A vintage commercial airplane is set to undertake a long, slow journey from Maine to New York where it will be turned into a cocktail lounge.
The long trip ahead of the Lockheed Constellation, known as the “Connie,” kicked off Monday at a send-off event Auburn-Lewiston Airport in Maine. The plane will depart Tuesday morning and make its way over the next several days to JFK in New York on a tow truck.
Once in New York, the L-1649A Starliner will serve as the cocktail lounge outside TWA Hotel, a hotel that promises to bring back “the magic of the Jet Age.”
A spokeswoman for TWA Hotel says the plane, built in 1956 and in service starting 1958, does not fly anymore.
Hundreds of Constellations were produced by Lockheed in the 1940s and 1950s. But only 44 Starliners were built.
The plane flew for Trans World Airlines for three years before flying around the Alaskan wilderness as a bush pilot plane, said Tyler Morse, CEO of New York-based hotel owner and operator MCR and Morse Development. Morse’s company is building TWA Hotel.
By the 1970s, the plane had become a drug-running plane in South America. “It had giant cargo doors to fly pallets of marijuana around South America,” Morse said.
The plane was later abandoned in Honduras and brought to Florida in the 80s. An aircraft enthusiast had it flown out to Maine with hopes of restoring it, but ran out of money.
The plane, one of four of its kind still in the world, sat at the tarmac for years, Morse said.
A decade ago, German airline Lufthansa Technik bought the enthusiast’s three vintage planes with the hopes of restoring one. This year, Lufthansa ended up dismantling that restoration project and announced it would move one of the planes to Germany to finish restoration work.
Now, the other plane long stored in Auburn is also set for a new adventure.
Over the next several days, the plane will be towed on a flatbed over 300 miles down I-95 while accompanied by a lengthy convoy, Morse said. It’ll reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour on the highway and as low as a few miles an hour for sharp turn.
The rare airliner will end up inside the New York airport, next to terminal 5.