Kansas City, Mo. — A Kansas City man who has spent his life and thousands of dollars buying airline memorabilia will donate part of his collection to raise money to get a beloved aircraft flying again.
Robert Cohn wants to help repair the last flying 1958 Lockheed Constellation, called a Connie. One of its four engines blew up during a maintenance check in July and the nonprofit group that owns it needs to raise $120,000 to fix it.
The Constellation, owned by the Airline History Museum at Kansas City's downtown airport, was a mainstay of Trans World Airlines and pioneered nonstop trans-Atlantic passenger service.
"In 1950, when I was 4 years old, my father took me to the Kansas City airport," Cohn said. "I watched these planes take off and land, and I fell in love."
Now, after 53 years of collecting mementos from TWA and other airlines, Cohn will offer some of his treasures to those who attend the airline museum's next meeting on Saturday.
"Some of these items are priceless," said museum President Foe Geldersma.
Cohn's most prized possession is an Oct. 15, 1939, letter from TWA head Jack Frye to his archrival, Louis Allen at Pan Am, gloating after TWA obtained a route to New York's new North Beach Airport, later called LaGuardia.
Cohn, a member of the Airline History Museum, said he cherished the letter, but he treasures the Connie more. At an auction, Cohn said, he wouldn't accept less than $8,000 for the letter. But he will give it to anyone who donates $2,500 to the museum.
Museum officials have sent the disabled engine to a specialty machine shop, Aircraft Cylinder & Turbine in Sun Valley, Calif., to be repaired and overhauled. The cost would wipe out the museum's reserves, but members are committed to the repair and hope to fly the Connie to 10 or more air shows next year. The museum has raised a little more than $20,000 so far.
"We feel people will come forward to support this flying museum so people across the country can continue to enjoy the Connie," said Paul Sloan, a member of the museum's board of directors.
Sloan thinks the items Cohn is offering could generate $20,000 to $30,000.
Cohn believes his collection of "first flight covers" alone is worth $120,000. Each time a contract airmail plane embarked on a new route, the Postal Service issued a commemorative stamped envelope, called a first flight cover.
Cohn has two loose-leaf binders full of them, including TWA's first airmail route from Tulsa, Okla., to Rockford, Ill., on Oct. 25, 1930, and the first TWA night flight from Los Angeles to New York on April 21, 1931.
Cohn also will offer 38 limited-edition scale models of famous planes in die-cast metal and in their original boxes.