Jetrader - Winter 2015 - (Page 42)
The Lockheed Vega
By Jack Feir
In the seven-year period between 1927
and 1934, an upstart company in Burbank,
California, developed a family of sleek,
powerful aircraft that captured countless
records for speed and distance flown. But
these were not stripped-down, one-trick
ponies that flew fast. They had roomy, comfortable cabins that could carry four to six
passengers or a ton of mail. And their roots
began much earlier.
In the beginning, there were three
Loughead brothers: Victor, Malcolm and
Allan, living in San Francisco. (Loughead,
pronounced "Lockheed," has Scots-Irish
origins). Victor was the academic one, educated as an engineer, while Malcolm and
Allan were skilled auto mechanics who were
itching to get into aviation.
In 1912, the brothers designed and built
their first aircraft, the Model G, so named
to imply that it was their seventh design.
It had all the grace and charm of an overgrown box kite. This fabric-covered biplane
was a forest of struts and a tangle of wire
rigging, but Allan, a "self-taught pilot,"
managed to fly it. The aircraft earned some
money offering 10-minute joyrides at $10
a head, but not one Model G was sold, and
the brothers went back to their day jobs.
Their second venture began as Loughead
Aircraft Manufacturing Company, bringing
forward a huge, twin-engined, 10-seat flying boat designated the F-1, unveiled in
1918. Among their employees was a young
architectural draughtsman, John "Jack"
Northrop, who did the stress analysis. Like
the Model G, the F1 ended its days offering
slow and steady joyrides to tourists and
earning income from commercial charters.
Not one F-1 was sold.
With the end of World War I in 1918, the
company expected a booming demand for a
"poor man's airplane" in every garage. Thus
was born the S-1 "Sport," a sleek, singleseat biplane. Unlike many other aircraft
of its day with their flimsy, fabric-covered
fuselages, the S-1 used a molded monocoque, wooden-shell construction process
patented by Northrop and the Loughead
brothers. The fuselage was made in just
two half-shell pieces, using glued-up strips
of spruce plywood formed under pressure
in a hollow concrete mold. When the two
pieces were joined, it was stiff, strong
and beautifully streamlined. With its twocylinder, water-cooled, 25-hp motor cleanly
tucked into the nose, the S-1 could cruise at
the blinding speed of 75 mph. But nobody
bought one. In those days, barnstormers
could buy brand new, war surplus Curtiss
Jennys still in their original shipping crates
for only $350. There was no market for
Having launched three airplane projects,
none of which went into production, it was
time to move on. The company was liquidated in 1921. Malcolm Loughead founded
the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company
(having tired of being called "Log-Head,"
he used the phonetic spelling "Lockheed").
Allan became the California distributor for
Malcolm's company and sold real estate
in Los Angeles, and Jack Northrop found
employment with Douglas Aircraft in
Santa Monica. After a rift among the three
Loughead brothers, Victor was no longer
involved with their airplane projects.
Although Allan Loughead and Jack
Northrop had gone their separate ways,
they kept in touch and got together frequently to sketch out ideas for another airplane. In the 1920s, the Wright Whirlwind
radial engine was being perfected. Northrop
roughed out plans for an aircraft larger than
the S1 Sport but keeping the monocoque
fuselage construction, with room for a pilot
up front and a four-passenger cabin below
42 The official publication of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading
The one and only Loughead S-1 Sport biplane
fabricated in 1919. The fuselage construction
method reappeared in the Vega eight years later.
Photo: San Diego Air & Space Museum (SDASM).
and aft of the cockpit, powered by the
In December 1926, a white-knight investor named Fred Keeler saw Northrop's
sketches. Those ideas, along with Allan's
enthusiasm and the name-recognition of
Malcom's Lockheed brake business, inspired
Keeler to put up the seed money to launch
the Lockheed Aircraft Company. Allan was
named vice president and Jack Northrop
became chief engineer. A factory was set up
in Hollywood (later moved to Burbank), and
a team of carpenters was hired to build the
new streamlined wooden airplane. Northrop
named it the "Vega."
Off to the Races
A few months later, the first Vega was
sold before it even came out of the factory.
In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh had made his
New York-to-Paris flight and suddenly aviation was booming. James Dole's Hawaiian
Pineapple Company offered a $25,000 prize
for a race from the mainland to Hawaii to
be held in August. George Hearst, publisher
of the San Francisco Examiner, bought Vega
number 1 and entered it in the race for
the publicity value. On the fourth of July
1927, the Vega, christened Golden Eagle,
was rolled out and began its test flying.
It was fast. Golden Eagle set a speed record
on the ferry flight from Los Angeles to
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Jetrader - Winter 2015
A Message from the President
Q&A: John Grant, Senior Analyst, OAG
ISTAT Europe: A High-Flying Success
The ISTAT Quarterback
State of the Regions: Asia & Middle East
Old Guys Rule
ISTAT Foundation Sponsors Herb Kelleher Trophy
Jetrader - Winter 2015