Lockheed 1920 - 1940
Lockheed 1920 - 1940

1926 - Lockheed Aircraft Company formed

1927 - Lockheed Vega

NC105W Lockheed Vega Winnie Mae, Zoggavia Collection

The Lockheed Vega classic airplane received accolades when it was introduced in 1927. While the fabric-covered Spirit of St. Louis was conventional in every way, particularly in its strut-braced wing and landing gear, Jack Northrop would break new ground with his magnificent design of the Vega. The Lockheed Vega, which first flew on July 4, 1927, at the crest of the Lindbergh euphoria, was an all-wood, high-cantilever monoplane with a beautiful streamlined monocoque fuselage (stress carried by the outer skin). It receiv­­ed immediate acclaim for its outstanding looks and high performance, and was purchased by George Hearst to compete in the ill-fated Dole Race from Oakland to Haw­aii. Beautifully painted and named the Golden Eagle, the first Vega classic airplane and its crew of two disappeared at sea. The sheer performance of the aircraft brought orders from the most famous pilots in the world. The Vega became the aircraft of choice for Arctic exploration, ocean flights, airline use, and attempts to break aviation records. Wiley Post, the clever, one-eyed pilot from the Oklahoma oil fields, made his Vega, the Winnie Mae famous in a pair of record-setting around-the-world flights. The first was in company with Harold Gatty as navigator, and the second was solo. Post also used the Winnie Mae for some radically experimental high-altitude work. Amelia Earhart used a bright red Vega to become the first woman to fly the Atlantic in 1932. She later set other records in a Vega, including the first Hawaii-to-United States flight.

1934 - Lockheed Model 10 Electra

N18137 Lockheed L-10 Electra 1 TWA, Zoggavia Collection

Lockheed's first major move towards becoming a significant manufacturer of transport aircraft came with design of the Lockheed 10 Electra. Providing accommodation for 10 passengers, the Electra was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders. Powered Powered by two Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior SBs, the prototype was flown for the first time on 23 February 1934, and was followed by 148 production aircraft. The Electra entered service during 1934, initially with Northwest Airlines, and in the late 1930s was used by eight Amrican operators. By the time that the USA became involved in World War II, however, few remained in national airline service for the rapid growth in air travel had already shown these small-capacity aircraft to be uneconomical. In addition to those built for the home market, Electras were exported to Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Japan, New ZealandPoland, Romania, USSR, UK, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. Small numbers also saw service in the Spanish Civil War and with the outbreak of World War II the type was impressed for service with the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. The L.10s were also used for corporate transports, and for long distance flights, most notably that of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who vanished without trace crossing the Pacific during their world flight of 1937. Use of the Electra by small civil operators continued after the war, as it was cheap to buy and operate, but few remained in service after the late 1960s.


1938: Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar

OH-VKU Lockheed L-18 Lodestar Kar-Air Finland at Helsinki July 1972,
Zoggavia Collection

Design and development of the Lockheed 18 Lodestar began as a result of the poor sales achievement of the Lockheed 14 Super Electra, the prototype being flown for the first time on 21 September 1939. Converted from a Super Electra, it differed primarily by having the fuselage lengthened by 1.68m to provide accommodation for 15 to 18 passengers, depending upon the other facilities provided; some were produced with high-density bench seating for a maximum of 26 passengers, and were available with a variety of engines by Pratt & Whitney and Wright. Despite the improved economy demonstrated by the Lodestar, Lockheed failed again to achieve worthwhile sales in the United States as most operators were committed to purchase DC-3s from the Douglas Company. Fortunately, the type appealed more to export customers, with airlines or government agencies in Africa, Brazil, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, the UK and Venezuela ordering a total of 96 aircraft. There was only limited military interest before the beginning of World War II, but later procurement, particularly by the US Army Air Force, raised the total of Lodestars built by Lockheed to 625 before production ended. Unlike the Hudson, the Lodestar has no record of stirring action but, nevertheless, the type was able to fulfill an important medium-range transport role. Only small numbers saw post-war service, mostly with small operators, but a number of interesting conversions as executive transports were carried out in the USA by companies like Howard Aero and Lear Inc.

1939 - Lockheed P-38 Lightning

P-38 Lightning  USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker

The P-38 was the only American fighter built before World War II to be still in production on VJ Day. Developed through many successively improved versions, the Lightning was used in all US combat zones as a high- and low-altitude fighter, fighter escort, bomber, photographic-reconnaissance aircraft, low-level attack and rocket fighter, and smoke-screen layer. The first aeroplane developed from the start as a military type by Lockheed, the P-38 was designed to meet an Air Corps specification issued in 1936. The XP-38 prototype flew for the first time on 27 January 1939 and the first YP-38 service-evaluation aircraft of a limited procure-ment order for 13 was delivered to the USAAF in March 1941. The P-38D was the first version of the Lightning to go into service in the war - an aircraft of this mark was the first American fighter to shoot down an enemy aeroplane, flying over Iceland a few minutes after the US declared war on Germany. The P-38L was the last fighter version to see combat service, which took in the final stages of the Pacific War. Two P-38L Lightnings escorting a Boeing Fortress were actually the first Allied fighters to land on Japanese soil after the surrender.

Built in large numbers throughout the war, the Lightning - as the type was first named by the RAF - appeared in 18 variants. The RAF, however, received only three of 143 aircraft similar to the P-38D which followed the P-38 into production - their performance being unacceptable to the RAF. This resulted from the fact that Lockheed were not permitted to export aircraft with turbocharged engines, making it necessary to install the unsupercharged 775kW Allison V-1710-33 engines which had proved to be underpowered in the XP-38 prototype.

P-38D in US service differed from the original P-38 by introducing self-sealing tanks and tail-unit revisions to overcome buffeting. P-38E had armament changes and were followed by the P-38F with more powerful engines and underwing racks (between engines and fuselage nacelle) for drop-tanks or weapons: late production examples introduced Fowler-type flaps which had a 'droop' setting to enhance maneuverability. P-38G had more powerful engines, as did the P-38H and -38J - the latter introduced an improved cooling system and powered ailerons. Most extensively built version was the P-38L (3,923), equipped to carry rocket projectiles beneath the outer-wing panels. Some P-38J were converted to serve as two-seat 'Pathfinders'; some P-38L as P-38M night fighters or TP-38L two-seat trainers; and other versions included F-4 and F-5 photo-reconnaissance aircraft.