Lockheed 1, 2, 5 Vega
|CABIN MONOPLANE||Virtual Aircraft Museum / USA / Lockheed|
First becoming keenly interested in aviation during 1910, the brothers Allan and Malcolm Loughead (pronounced Lockheed) founded in early 1916 the first company to bear their name, Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company, at Santa Barbara, California. This organisation ran into financial difficulties and was wound up in 1921, and it was not until late 1926 that there was formed a new company, the Lockheed Aircraft Company. This company title lasted for less than three years, but in that time a remarkable aircraft was developed and put into production, the Lockheed Vega which was designed by John K. Northrop with assistance from Gerard F. Vultee, both later to found significant American aircraft companies. A cantilever high-wing monoplane of wooden construction, it had a beautifully streamlined monocoque fuselage built up from two half-shells of plywood that had been pressure-formed to shape in a concrete mould. Low-drag landing gear was of fixed tailwheel type (but Vegas were used frequently with floats or skis), enclosed accommodation was provided for a pilot and four passengers, and powerplant for the initial version of the Vega, later identified as the Vega 1, was a 168kW Wright J-5 Whirlwind radial engine. The initial aircraft was flown for the first time on 4 July 1927 and was acquired by newspaper-owner George Hearst to compete in the Oakland to Hawaii Dole Race, sponsored by James D. Dole, which began on 16 August 1927. The Vega, by then named Golden Eagle and flown by Jack Forst and Gordon Scott, disappeared without a trace en route but, fortunately for Lockheed, the unexplained loss of this aircraft did not prohibit further sales; within the short space of six years the capability of the Vega was world renowned. A host of achievements brought this fame, but there is space here to mention only three of the highlights. These included the first trans-Arctic flight and the first exploratory flight over Antarctica (Wilkins and Eielson in the Vega 1 X3903); the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman from Newfoundland to Ireland (Amelia Earhart in the Vega 5B NC7952); and the first solo round-the-world flight (Wiley Post in the Vega 5B The Winnie Mae). When production ended a total of 128 Vegas had been built: 115 by Lockheed, nine by Detroit Aircraft Corporation (of which Lockheed was a division from 1929-31) and four by others.