Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, 1937. (Photograph by F.X. O'Grady, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Division of Special Collections)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, 1937. (Photograph by F.X. O’Grady, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Division of Special Collections)

For her around-the-world flight, the airplane that Amelia Earhart chose was a Lockheed Electra 10E, manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California. The Electra Model 10 was an all-metal twin-engine low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a small, medium-range airliner. In the standard configuration it carried a crew of 2 and up to 10 passengers. The Model 10 was produced in five variants with a total of 149 airplanes built between August 1934 and July 1941. Lockheed built fifteen Model 10Es. Earhart’s was serial number 1055.

Amelia Earhart stands in the cockpit of her unfinished Lockheed Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, at the Lockheed Aircraft Company factory, Burbank, California, 1936. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)
Amelia Earhart stands in the cockpit of her unfinished Lockheed Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, at the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, 1936. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)

$80,000 to buy the Electra was provided by the Purdue Research Foundation from donations made by several individuals. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband, made the arrangements to order the airplane and in March 1936 gave Lockheed the authorization to proceed, with delivery requested in June. The modifications included four auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, a navigator’s station to the rear of that, elimination of passenger windows, installation of a Sperry autopilot and various radio and navigation equipment and additional batteries. The Electra was not ready until mid-July.

Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020
Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)

Amelia Earhart test flew the new airplane at Burbank on 21 July with Lockheed test pilot Elmer C. McLeod. She accepted the Electra on her 39th birthday, 24 July 1936.  It received civil certification NR16020. (The letter “R” indicates that because of modifications from the standard configuration, the airplane was restricted to carrying only members of the flight crew.)

Lockheed technicians check the Electra's fuel capacity with the airplane in normal flight attitude. (Purdue)
Lockheed technicians checking the Electra with the airplane in a normal flight attitude. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections )

The Electra 10E was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.074 meters). The standard Model 10 had and empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms) and a gross weight of 10,500 pounds (4,762.7 kilograms). Most sources indicate that Earhart’s Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,100 pounds (3,220.5 kilograms)—one source, The Electra Project (http://www.theelectraproject.com/), says 7,614 pounds (3,453.7 kilograms)—and Lockheed’s performance data was calculated using 16,500 pounds (7,484.3 kilograms) as the Maximum Takeoff Weight. NR16020 had a total fuel capacity of 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) in ten tanks in the wings and fuselage. 80 gallons (302.8 liters) of lubricating oil for the engines was carried in four tanks.

Amelia Earhart poses with her Electra's Pratt and Whitney R-1340-S3H1 Wasp radial engine and two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propeller.
Amelia Earhart poses with one of her Electra’s Pratt and Whitney R-1340-S3H1 Wasp radial engines and its two-bladed Hamilton Standard 12D-40 variable-pitch, constant-speed propeller. (AP)

Earhart’s Electra 10E Special was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.01 liter) Pratt and Whitney R-1340-S1H1 Wasp nine-cylinder radial engines, with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage centrifugal supercharger and each produced 600 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for a maximum of 1 minute for takeoff and 412 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m for cruise. They drove 9 foot, 7/8-inch (2.765 meters) diameter two-bladed Hamilton Standard 12D-40 variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 reduction gear. (With the engines operating at 2,000 r.p.m., the propellers turned 1,333.3 r.p.m.) The gear reduction allowed the engines to operate in their most effective r.p.m. range while preventing the propeller blade tips from going supersonic.

Ameila Earhart with her Electra 10E, NR16020, at Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, December 1936. Earhart’s automobile is a light blue 1936 Cord 810 convertible. (The Autry National Center Museum, Automobile Club of Southern California Archives)
Amelia Earhart with her Electra 10E, NR16020, at Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, December 1936. Earhart’s automobile is a light blue 1936 Cord 810 convertible. (The Autry National Center Museum, Automobile Club of Southern California Archives)

A detailed engineering report was prepared by a young Lockheed engineer named Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson to provide data for the best takeoff, climb and cruise performance with the very heavily loaded airplane. The maximum speed for the Model 10E Special at Sea Level and maximum takeoff weight was 177 miles per hour (284.9 kilometers per hour), a reduction of 25 miles per hour (40.2 kilometers per hour) over the standard airplane. The maximum range was calculated to be 4,500 miles (7,242.1 kilometers) using 1,200 gallons (4,542.5 liters) of fuel.

Clarence L. "KellY" Johnson conducted wind tunnel testing of the Model 10 at the University of Michigan.
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson conducted wind tunnel testing of the Model 10 at the University of Michigan. (Lockheed)

Johnson would later design many of Lockheed’s most famous aircraft, such as the SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance airplane. As a student at the University of Michigan, he worked on the wind tunnel testing of the Lockheed Electra Model 10 and made recommendations that were incorporated into the production airplane.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020 after it crashed on takeoff from NAS Ford Island, 0553, 20 March 1937.
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020 after it crashed on takeoff at Luke Field (NAS Ford Island), 0553, 20 March 1937. The preliminary estimate to repair the airplane was $30,000. (Hawaii’s Aviation History)
Amelia Earhart's heavily damaged Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, after a ground loop on takeoff at Luke Field, Hawaii, 20 March 1937. (Amelia Earhart stands in the cockpit of her unfinished Lockheed Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, at the Lockheed Aircraft Company factory, Burbank, California, 1936. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)
Amelia Earhart’s heavily damaged Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, after a ground loop on takeoff at Luke Field, Hawaii, 20 March 1937. The damaged propellers and engine cowlings have already been removed. The fuselage fuel tanks are being emptied. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections) 

The Electra was heavily damaged when it crashed on takeoff at Luke Field (NAS Ford Island), Honolulu, Hawaii, on the morning of 20 March 1937. It was shipped back to Lockheed for extensive repairs. An investigating board of U.S. Army officers did not report a specific cause for the accident, but there was no evidence of a “blown tire” as had been reported in the newspapers. The repairs were completed by Lockheed and the aircraft certified as airworthy by a Bureau of Commerce inspector, 19 May 1937. The airplane had flown 181 hours, 17 minutes since it was built.

Lockheed engineers use X-ray equipment to scan for hidden damage while the Electra undergoes repairs at Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, May 1937.
Lockheed engineers Tom Triplett (left) and Victor Barton use X-ray equipment to scan for hidden damage while the Electra undergoes repairs at Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, 3 May 1937. (AP File Photo/Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College)
Amelia Earhart in teh cockpit of her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020.(AFP/Getty Images)
Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020. (AFP/Getty Images)
Amelia Earhart stands behind the additional fuel tanks installed in the aft cabin of her Electra. (AP)
Photographed from the rear of the plane, Amelia Earhart leans over the fuel tanks that have been installed in the aft cabin of her Electra. (AP)  

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes