Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior once fastest in the air
By BARBARA J. SCHMITZ
Les Whittlesey, of Coto de Caza, California, stands near his Lockheed Electra Junior Model 12. Three of the eight or so flying Model 12s are at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011.
PHOTO BY MARIANO ROSALES
The Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior is a star in all regards. The airplane has appeared in movies such as 1942’s Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman; 1947’s State of the Union featuring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn; and more recently 2009’s Amelia featuring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.
So at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 it’s no surprise that on the 75th anniversary of its first flight this easily recognizable twin gets lots of admiring looks.
And three out of the approximately eight or so Lockheed Model 12s in flying condition are here— flying in from California, Florida, and Georgia.
In fact, one of the Model 12s, owned by Joe Shepherd, of Fayetteville, Georgia, actually starred in Amelia, even though Amelia Earhart actually flew the larger Lockheed Model 10.
Shepherd flew the plane for the movie, shaving off his mustache and wearing a wig, blouse, and scarf intended to make him look, at least from a distance, like Earhart, he said.
Learjet of the ’30s
Only 126 Electra Juniors were made between 1936 and 1941 when production stopped at the outbreak of World War II. The all-metal, twin-engine planes were designed for use as small feeders for airlines, but most were used for executive travel.
“It was the Learjet of the 1930s,” said Les Whittlesey, who flew in from California in his 1939 Lockheed 12A, 2006 Grand Champion Antique award winner at Oshkosh.
“Twenty-one oil companies actually had these and used them into the 1960s.”
Whittlesey purchased his plane in November 2002 after he fell in love with the airplane’s lines; and then he spent three years—with three to six people working fulltime—refurbishing it to factory specifications.
Even though an annual inspection was done on the plane before he purchased it, Whittlesey said he found a series of little things wrong with it, including a missing emergency gear cable that engages the manual system.
Worried that there were other problems the mechanic didn’t catch in the annual that would impact safety, he had the engines overhauled, put in a new electrical system, and more. “I basically built a brand new 1939 airplane,” he said. “When people ask me how much it cost, I just tell them in the twos—too much.”
Whittlesey said he was big on accuracy. For example, he determined the exact placement of the airplane’s stripe by blowing up old pictures of the Model 12 and counting rivets.
Shepherd acquired his 1936 Lockheed 12—the second oldest one still flying—in 1988 in trade for a Cessna 195. “It had been sitting for 12 years in Texas, and it was in derelict condition,” he recalled.
It took him six trips to ferry it back to Georgia, but once there, it took Shepherd 17 years and 20,000 man-hours to rebuild. It flew again in 2007 and earned EAA’s Best Transport honors.
The speediest of the stable
In the 1930s, the Lockheed was the fastest aircraft in the air, even faster than anything the military flew, Shepherd said. It cruises over 200 mph, thanks to its 450-horse Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior SB radial engines—the same powerplants used on the Lockheed Model 10 Electra.
David Marco, of Atlantic Beach Florida, purchased his Lockheed 12 just two years ago and immediately began restoration. About 10,600 hours later, the plane has been restored to its pristine 1938 condition. Marco said his Lockheed is the only one flying to still have its original wheels, brakes, and tires.
Both Shepherd’s and Marco’s Lockheeds had been owned by oil companies before being used by the government during World War II. Marco’s plane also spent some time in a museum.
Whittlesey’s Model 12 was first purchased by E.L. Cord, owner of Stinson Aircraft and Lycoming Engines, for $55,341 as his personal aircraft. But it also spent some time in Great Britain during World War II and another 20 years hauling passengers in France before coming back to the States.
So important is the plane’s history that on the 75th anniversary of its first flight, Whittlesey actually flew it to the Lockheed building it was manufactured in, took photos, and then took off at the exact time to re-create that June 27, 1936, flight.
Whittlesey said the Lockheed is really a piece of artwork that needs to be flown so people can see it. The other owners agreed.
“It has an art deco look,” said Shepherd. “The lines are just so beautiful that I just like to stare at it.”
“The 1930s was such a beautiful, romantic era of aviation,” Marco said. “And while it’s big and expensive, it’s still within reach of normalcy.”
Marco says it flies like it looks. “It’s lovely. But it’s quite advanced, and it outperformed fighters with its droop ailerons and marvelous engineering.
“It really represents the infancy of corporate aviation.”
DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3;
2015: July 27-Aug. 2