HELENA, MT — The four-engine Lockheed EC-121 “Warning Star” that sits on the north end of the Helena Regional Airport has caught the attention of a California air museum.
Jeff Wadekamper, director of the Helena Regional Airport, said, “In 1981 the U.S. Air Force donated this aircraft to the Helena College; they have an airframe and power-plant program.”
The college returned the aircraft to the federal government a few years ago. After another museum failed to pick up the plane, a California museum obtained the aircraft.
At the end of the month a recovery crew from the Castle Air Museum will assess the former Cold Warrior to see if it can be made air-worthy.
“Best case, they’ll get this thing into flying condition so they can physically fly it out of here,” says Wadekamper.
Lockheed built 232 of the Warning Stars; they were operated by the Air Force and the U.S. Navy until 1978.
The Helena Warning Star was delivered to the Air Force in 1954, and was assigned to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida.
The Warning Star was built on the frame of the Lockheed Super Constellation, the pinnacle of piston-powered aircraft engine design, right before the advent of the jet age.
The Warning Stars’ radar and detection equipment is still on board; Wadekamper noted, “All the radar screens are still there. The crew quarters. All the items that were still there back in the day, are still in this aircraft. So it’s totally complete, which is really unique.”
The intact interior includes work-stations for radar operators and the equipment they used, even down to the coffee pots in the galley.