The Fight Over Super Connie CF-TGE

This airplane was one of very few , if not the only, surviving truly commercial  (not ex-military) Lockheed Super G Constellations available in the world.  It flew with (then) Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) from 1954-1962, and had been mostly abandoned and derelict since 1965.  It was last used as a restaurant and bar on Toronto airport property.

The Connie is a very widely admired airplane and would make a great addition to our collection, which has slowly amassed a series of airplanes that I call "The Kelly Johnson Collection"  - (one of my personal heroes.)  This collection will now include these Kelly Johnson designs:  a  P-38, P-80C, Constellation, F-104, SR-71, and the Prototype Jetstar (also Kelly's personal airplane for 25 years.)  See more about Kelly here.

After purchasing the airplane, we (the Seattle Museum of Flight) disassembled the airplane, moved it off  Toronto airport property, and placed it in storage at a close-by location.  This was done last January - March (2006.)  

In the midst of the disassembly, the Toronto Aerospace Museum (TAM) appealed to the Movable Cultural Properties Board in Ottawa to protest the export of this airplane from Canada.  The Cultural Board sent us a letter declaring the airplane to be covered by the Cultural and Heritage laws of Canada, requiring an approved Export Permit.

In May 2006, we (the Museum of Flight) applied to Canadian Customs in Vancouver for an Export Permit.  Having been declared a Canadian Cultural Artifact (even though it was designed and built in the United States), Customs referred the application to a so-called (in this case VERY "so-called"), Expert Examiner, a man running a business of sorts out of his house in Calgary.  He wrote an ill-informed letter recommending rejection of our Application, which then occurred.  The full  content of his letters, with comments, will be added as future time permits.

The TAM, meanwhile, having watched the airplane sit and deteriorate over many years, and  just a few miles from their facility, set-up a "Save Our Connie" website with a Petition drive, gained about 2000 signatures, and conducted at least one fund raiser to raise money to buy the airplane.  There was much continuing news coverage in the Canadian media - the gist being:  'the rich, big, bad Americans' are "stealing our culture."

The Museum appealed the Customs decision to the Heritage Board in Ottawa  in accordance with their rules and procedures.  In September, 2006, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, Museum President and CEO, personally made the Museum's presentation to the Board in Ottawa.  The opposing party at that hearing was the Calgary so-called "Expert."  At the conclusion of the hearing, the Heritage Board decided to again deny the Museum an Export Permit.

The next stage in this soap opera was the setting of a Fair Market Value and notification to approved Canadian institutions, to find if one wanted to submit a bid for the airplane.  (The Museum was not forced to accept any bid, since it was our property - only thing is - we could not export it from Canada -- Just a little detail!)  Both the Museum, and the TAM (the only interested party in Canada) had appraisals done and submitted them to the Board.

The Museum spent $300-400K for the airplane and has invested an equal amount in disassembly, relocation, and legal fees.  Our appraisals came in for about $800-900K.  The TAM,  in their PR blitz and letter writing campaign, had declared this airplane priceless, precious, and irreplaceable,

"We believe the Super Constellation would be a magnificent addition to our collection," said Paul Cabot, Curator of the Toronto Aerospace Museum. "Canadians are passionate about preserving their aircraft," said Cabot. "My phone has been ringing every day."
Here's what they told the Heritage Board:

"Junk, junk and more junk!"

"The only monetary value is the going rate of 20,000 lbs of clean scrap aluminum at between 50 and 75 cents per pound Canadian, without the costs of scrapping and metal segregation...."

Initially, they had offered the Museum of Flight $100,000 for the airplane --  Not an attractive offer considering our much more substantial investment to date.

Subsequently, for the Heritage Board, they valued the aircraft at $25,000, but 'generously' bumped that figure to $50,000 to cover our expenses to date!

As they say down at the horse auction, I guess it depends on whether you're buying or selling.

With those two widely divergent valuations in hand, the Heritage Board set the Fair Market Value between $300,000 and  $400,000.  The Toronto Aerospace Museum, as suspected, had no money.  (Only, perhaps, in Canada, can you sit down at the poker table and draw cards from the dealer with no chips on the table.)  Their 'fooling around' - for that's what it was -  cost the Museum of Flight - a reputable, sister institution - many hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs --  money which the Museum, like any non-profit organization, is not awash with....

A full analysis of  the activities associated with this one year delay will be added in the future.

On Thursday, March 8, 2007, the Heritage Board sent a letter to Canada Customs instructing them to deliver an Export Permit for the airplane to the Museum of Flight.  Customs issued the Museum an Export Permit on 15 Mar 2007.

After an expensive mid-winter disassembly,  and a costly year in storage, we have begun detailed arrangements with Air Canada to move the airplane, to enable repairs and re-painting, followed by road transport to Seattle.  The airplane, which we had hoped to have on display the first week in October 2005, will finally take its place next to the Concorde, Air Force One, and the other historic airplanes in the Museum's Air Park, perhaps by early summer 2007.

With this controversy behind us, hopefully the hardware and logistical issues are the only ones in our future.  The repair, re-paint, transport, and especially the reassembly will be challenges a plenty.

Return to Connie Main Page

Copyright 2007 Robert A. Bogash.  All Rights Reserved.