March 18, 2010

Plane buff's flights of fancy land on auction block

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

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The Lockheed L-1649A Constellation Starliner

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Press Herald file 1999Maurice Roundy of Auburn looks out of an escape window in one of the two 1957 Constellation Starliners he was restoring.

Staff Writer

For more than two decades, Maurice Roundy has been known in Maine's aviation community as the guy with two Constellation Starliners parked on his lawn.

He bought three of the historic airplanes in the 1980s, and somehow managed to fly two of them to Auburn, to his property adjacent to the municipal airport. Visitors from around the world came to see the sleek silver airplanes with 150-foot wingspans, and Roundy tried for all those years to make them airworthy again.

His dream ended on Tuesday at a public auction, the last action in complex bankruptcy proceedings dating back to October 2005.

The planes, along with a third Starliner owned by Roundy, which he kept at an air museum in Florida, were purchased at the auction for a total of $748,000 by a division of Lufthansa, one of the world's largest airlines.

Keenan Auction Co. of South Portland sold the airplanes as part of the bankruptcy proceedings involving Roundy and his wife, Jane Theberge. Roundy could not be reached Tuesday.

The planes are Lockheed L-1649A Super Constellation Starliners, built in 1957. Of the 44 that Lockheed built, only four remain intact. There are the three that Roundy owned -- two in Auburn and one at the Fantasy of Flight Museum at Polk City, Fla. -- and a fourth in a museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

An aviation writer, Ralph Petterson, summed up Roundy's quest in an article in 2002, posted on his personal Web site, www.conniesurvivors.com.

''It had always been Maurice's dream to return one or more of his prized possessions to flying status and tour the air show circuit. But for almost twenty years, this goal eluded him,'' Petterson wrote. ''Maurice had the vision, desire and knowledge to make it all happen but lacked the financial backing.''

Two of Roundy's planes were originally bought by TWA in 1957 as luxury commercial airliners. The third was bought by Lufthansa.

''This was the last big piston-powered airliner,'' said Al Caruso, chief operating officer for Maine Aviation Corp., based in Portland.

''You can see how sleek-looking it is. It was fast, almost 300 miles an hour,'' Caruso said. ''For the time, it was very advanced.''

But within a few years, the jet engine emerged and replaced the piston-powered engine for commercial flight. Jet engines could fly faster and higher, and were easier to maintain than their predecessors. Over time, most of the Starliners were scrapped.

In the 1980s, Roundy found and purchased three of them, all of which had been converted into freighters and abandoned.

Caruso was disappointed that Roundy never realized his dream of restoring them, but he was encouraged to see that Lufthansa had stepped in at auction on Tuesday.

''Lufthansa is probably going to restore at least one of them, if they are bringing that much money in,'' Caruso said. ''That is kind of amazing.''

Jennifer Urbaniak, a North American spokeswoman for Lufthansa, said the group that bought the planes is a Berlin-based foundation within the company's aviation group.

''They essentially seek to preserve and restore and operate older aircraft from the Lufthansa fleet,'' Urbaniak said. She did not know the specific plans, if any, that the foundation has for the Starliners.

The sale generated international buzz on Internet chatrooms for aviation enthusiasts, such as www.airliners.net.

On Tuesday afternoon, as word of the auction spread, pilots from Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, England and the United States discussed the sale and speculated on Lufthansa's plans for the Starliners.

Many of those who posted comments also thanked Roundy for his devotion to the airplanes, which saved them from the scrap heap.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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