“Connie” Wing Touches Down in Stapleton
They really don’t make things like they used to– just look at the Lockheed Constellation.With its elegant curves, the “Connie,” as it was affectionately known, flew faster, farther and higher than most of its contemporaries. The Constellation became a symbol of 1940s and 50s air travel, popularizing long distance and international routes, and made frequent stops at Denver’s Stapleton airport.
But its distinctive shape was also complex and expensive to manufacture. The Boeing 707, the Douglas DC-8 and the rest of the jet airliners that replaced the propeller-driven Constellation instead used bodies like simple tubes. Designers optimized their new airplanes for ease of assembly, and slowly more unique silhouettes like the Constellation’s disappeared from the sky.
In July, however, the Constellation was back in the air above Stapleton—at least in part. A reproduction wing and fuselage section was hoisted into the air to become part of a new ice cream shop in Eastbridge.
Paul Tamburello, the owner of Little Man Ice Cream said, “Aeronautics have always been a fascination for us.” Little Man’s new location, simply called “The Constellation” was a way to expand the company and honor Stapleton’s history in aviation.
“Having grown up in Denver, Stapleton, as a child, was a magical place,” Tamburello said over the crackling of a welder working on the steel frame that the airplane sections would sit on. He said he remembered coming to Stapleton as a child and watching the planes take off and land—seeming just “100 feet above my head.”
The Lockheed Constellation, with its recognizable shape and rich history was the natural choice, but just like the original plane, construction of the ice cream shop has been complicated.
Tamburello said they, “searched for real Connies in airplane graveyards,” but ultimately a new construction made the most sense. For one, chopping up one of the few 60- to 70-year-old surviving airframes was unpalatable. Secondly, a reproduction was simply more practical and allowed designers to accommodate for things like hail.
Still, the Constellation ice cream shop was not really designed for easy assembly. A lengthy design process and delays in the wing construction, carried out by a sculptor in Ensenada, Mexico, pushed the opening back by about a year.
Finally, on July 9, Tamburello, along with dozens of onlookers, watched as the construction crew hoisted the gleaming aluminum wing into position.
As the crane lifted the first piece, some members of the construction crew paused with their audience to take pictures of the unusual piece they were working on. Wade Warden, a project manager with Spectrum, the general contractor for the project said, “This really was a very oddly-shaped piece.”
Warden said the wing required significantly more preparation than a simple metal beam. They made a few practice lifts before the final installation and hoisted the wing from three adjustable points so they could fine tune the move. But once the balance was worked out, it was “just a heavy piece of metal at that point.”
Constellation is slated to open at the end of summer, requiring a couple more months to finish the aircraft section along with outfitting the actual ice cream shop below. The Eastbridge Town Center is located at 10155 East 29th Drive in Stapleton (just west of MLK and Havana).