The Lockheed Model 10 Electra achieved its fame primarily due to Amelia Earhart’s ambition and courage to fly around the world. Amelia was the first female pilot who dared to do such a thing. Sadly, her attempted journey finished fatally. Both she and Fred Noonan, her navigator, vanished somewhere above the Pacific. Their disappearance has remained a mystery ever since. However, it is claimed that the bones discovered back in 1940 on one of the Pacific islands represent a match for Amelia Earhart.
In 1932, the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation teamed with an outstanding engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson constructed the Lockheed Electra 10A. At the time, the aircraft was ultra-modern. The company designed the plane for commercial purposes. Thus, it could accommodate ten passengers and a crew of two members. The aircraft made its first departure in 1934, only three years prior to Earhart’s memorable flight.
Numerous national and international airline companies employed the remarkable plane model. What’s more, Electra 10 was used by the U.S. Army as well.
The Aircraft Design
The Model 10 Electra was constructed of aluminum and equipped with two engines. Its landing gear was retractable and pitch propellers variable. Also, it had two tail fins and rudders. The Corporation constructed multiple variations of the Electra Model 10, which varied from the Model 10A to 10E. The latter possessed a mightier engine and was selected by Amelia Earhart.
The Model 10 Electra was supposed to challenge the competition airlines that were operating at the time. The plane was smaller and less expensive to operate compared to other planes constructed by Douglas or Boeing. Its advantage was that it was among the initial multi-engine airlines on the market filled with single-engine ones.
Kelly Johnson was responsible for wind tunnel analysis of the aircraft. He also added the additional fin to the tail, which later became the Model 10’s distinctive feature. Johnson also participated in the construction of other airlines like the U-2 and SR-71.
The Electra 10 was driven by two 600-horsepower engines. Its cruise speed amounted to 190-194 mph, while its maximum velocity amounted to 202 mph. It was 38 ft 7 long and 10 ft 1 high, and it weighed 6,454 lbs.
The Model 10 Electra was delivered to Amelia Earhart right on the day she turned 39. It was registered by the number NR16020, and it was supposed to be the aircraft in which she would try her fatal journey. But to endure the long flight, the plane needed to undergo serious alterations.
Extra fuel tanks were installed both to the wings and the fuselage. When the modifications were completed, there were 12 additional tanks — six in the plane’s wings and another six in the fuselage. This enabled Earhart to store 1,150 gallons of fuel, an amount suitable for over 20 hours of flying.
The Model 10 also had improved radio equipment. Namely, a Western Electric Model 13C transmitter and a Bendix finder were installed in the aircraft. The radio equipment was brand new and represented high-tech devices at the time. The last modification included the Beat Frequency Oscillator that was Morse-code compatible.
Today, there are just a few Lockheed Model 10 Electra airlines. The majority of other models are exhibited at museums.
Interesting Facts and Figures
The Model 10 Electra aircraft cost $80,000. To make the purchase, various individuals donated their money to the Purdue Research Foundation. The plane was then ordered in July 1936 by Amelia’s husband and was completed a year later, in July 1937.
The first test flight was performed on July 21, 1937, at Burbank, when Amelia flew with Elmer McLeod, the Corporation’s test pilot. She accepted the plane on July 24, on the day of her birthday.
The letter R in the plane’s serial number indicates that the aircraft can carry just the crew members. This restriction is the result of serious modifications, but Earhart and her counselor Paul Mantz violated it quite frequently.
Kelly Johnson prepared a minute report to provide the information for the most suitable performance during the flight when the aircraft was massively loaded. The maximum speed and departure weight amounted to 177 mph, which is 25 mph less than the typical speed. The maximum range was estimated to 4,500 miles.
Clarence Kelly Johnson, the engineer who constructed the Electra 10, was also in charge of the construction of other famous Lockheed airplanes. One of the most famous ones is the SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3+ surveillance aircraft.
The Model 10 Electra had been flying for 181 hours and 17 minutes before it suffered a severe crash on March 20, 1937. The crash took place when the plane was about to depart from Luke Field located in Honolulu, Hawaii. The actual cause of the accident was not revealed.