Mount Pleasant Regional Airport will get to house a unique piece of history on Monday if all goes well with a Saturday test flight of the original Air Force One “Columbine II” aircraft.
If the plane gets a thumbs-up in the test flight checks, it will make its first flight in over a decade on Monday morning from Marana, Ariz. to its new home in Bridgewater, Va. A crew from Mount Pleasant-based Mid America Flight Museum plans to escort the aircraft on its historic flight.
“This was a Lockheed Constellation and it was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was the actual first airplane used with the Air Force One designator,” said pilot Frank Glover of Mid America Flight Museum, “This is the only Air Force One that not in a museum.”
It’s also the only privately-owned presidential aircraft in the United States.
“Every other plane is still under government ownership and this is the very first Air Force One plane. That’s what makes this plane so unique,” Glover said.
His brother, Scott Glover, founder of the museum, will lead the escort, piloting Mid-America’s immaculately restored B-25, while renowned aviation photography Tyson Rininger documents the flight from the B-25’s tail.
According to historical records, in December 1953, a military airplane with President Dwight Eisenhower on board was on a flight over New York City. The plane, “Columbine II,” was identified by air traffic controllers as “Air Force 8610.” During the flight, it nearly collided mid-air with a commercial airliner that had the flight number 8610 due to confusion by air traffic controllers over the similar flight numbers. That near collision prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to designate the Air Force One call sign for any aircraft carrying the President of the United States. So, the “Columbine II” became the first Air Force One plane.
Karl Stoltzfus, the chairman of Bridgewater, Virginia-based Dynamic Aviation bought the plane from an Arizona pilot and rancher in April 2015. That rancher, Mel Christler, bought it in 1970 in a military surplus auction to dust crops, not knowing its historical significance. One that was revealed, attempts to restore the aircraft fell flat due to financial constraints until Stoltzfus rescued the relic.
Stoltzfus and Scott Glover met about five years ago and, both owning a DC-3, they struck up a friendship and partnered to get the aircraft flying again.
“Although Dynamic Aviation owns the aircraft, the team at Mid America Flight Museum, sponsored in part by Victor Dog Food and the crew from May Air, have made two extended trips to Arizona to help prepare the Columbine II to fly,” said a statement from the museum.
Since the purchase, more than 7,000 man hours have been invested in its restoration.
If the test flight is successful, Columbine II is expected to leave Arizona at 9 a.m. Pacific Time and land in Mount Pleasant at approximately 3 p.m. Central Time on Monday.
The plane and its crew will stay overnight before continuing the flight to Virginia where it will undergo a complete restoration.
“Mid America will post progress of the trip on our Facebook pages, Historical Air Tours and Mid America Flight Museum.
“To have the only civilian Air Force One in Mount Pleasant will be one of the most historic events our city has ever experienced,” the press statement said.