Tag Archives: Gerard Freebairn Vultee

4–5 February 1929

Frank Hawks with the red and silver Lockheed Air Express, NR7955. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4–5 February 1929: At 5:37:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday, Frank Monroe Hawks, took off from Metropolitan Field, Los Angeles, California, (now known as Van Nuys Airport, VNY) in a new Lockheed Model 3 Air Express transport, NR7955, serial number EX-2. Also on board was Oscar Edwin Grubb, the final assembly superintendent for Lockheed. The pair flew non-stop to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, arriving there at 2:59:29 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday. The duration of the flight was 18 hours, 21 minutes, 59 seconds.

Oscar Edwin Grubb and Frank Monroe Hawks, shortly before departing for New York, 4 February 1929. (Getty Images)

The only previous non-stop West-to-East flight had been flown during August 1928 by Arthur C. Goebel, Jr., and Harry Tucker with their Lockheed Vega, Yankee Doodle, NX4769. Hawks cut 36 minutes off of Goebel’s time.

Lockheed Model 3 Air Express NR7955, photographed 1 February 1929. The Air Express was the first production airplane to use the new NACA cowling design. (Crane/NACA)

Hawks was a technical adviser to The Texas Company (“Texaco”), a manufacturer and distributor of petroleum products which sponsored the flight. On his recommendation, the company purchased the Air Express from Lockheed for use as a company transport.

On 17 January 1930, “Pilot Frank Hawks attempted a takeoff from a soggy field in West Palm Beach, Florida, destroying the aircraft christened ‘Texaco Five’ in a spectacular crash that catapulted it into a row of three parked aircraft. All three occupants were unhurt while the aircraft was destroyed.” —Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

NC7955’s Department of Commerce registration was cancelled 31 January 1930.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane transport, flown by a single pilot in an open aft cockpit, and capable of carrying 4 to 6 passengers in its enclosed cabin. The airplane was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and John Knudsen Northrop. It used the Lockheed Vega’s molded plywood monocoque fuselage.

The Model 3 received Approved Type Certificate No. 102 from the Aeronautic Branch, U. S. Department of Commerce.

The Lockheed Air Express was the first production airplane to use the “NACA Cowl,” an engine cowling for radial engines which had been designed by a team led by Fred Ernest Weick of the the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The new cowling design tightly enclosed the engine and used baffles to control air flow around the hottest parts of the engines. The exit slots were designed to allow the air to exit the cowling at a higher speed than it had entered the intake. The new cowling design provided better engine cooling and caused significantly less aerodynamic drag. The addition of the NACA cowling increased the Air Express’s maximum speed from 157 to 177 miles per hour (253 to 285 kilometers per hour).

The day following Hawks’ transcontinental flight, Vultee sent a telegram to NACA:

COOLING CAREFULLY CHECKED AND OK. RECORD IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT NEW COWLING. ALL CREDIT DUE TO NACA FOR PAINSTAKING AND ACCURATE RESEARCH. GERRY VULTEE, LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT CO.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wing span of 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4½ inches (2.553 meters). The wing area was 288 square feet (26.756 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The airplane had an empty weight of 2,533 pounds (1,149 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1,984 kilograms).

The Model 3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The Air Express had a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour). It’s service ceiling was 17,250 feet (5,258 meters).

Frank Hawks, 1930. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

Francis Monroe Hawks was born at Marshalltown, Iowa, 28 March 1897. He was the son of Charles Monroe Hawks, a barber, and Ida Mae Woodruff Hawks. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California, graduating in 1916. He then studied at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. Hawks transferred to the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His date of rank 27 May 1932.

His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mysterious Pilot.”

Poster advertising Episode 5 of the movie serial, “The Mysterious Pilot.” (Columbia Pictures)
Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)

On 28 December 1920, Miss Amelia Earhart took her first ride in an airplane at Long Beach Airport in California. The ten-minute flight began her life-long involvement in aviation. The airplane’s pilot was Frank Monroe Hawks.

Francis M. Hawks married Miss Newell Lane at Lewiston, Montana, 7 August 1918. They had a daughter, Dolly. They later divorced. He next married Mrs. Edith Bowie Fouts at St. John’s Church, Houston, Texas, 26 October 1926.

Frank Hawks was killed in an aircraft accident at East Aurora, New York, 23 August 1938. He was buried at Redding Ridge Cemetery, Redding, Connecticut.

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 January 1935

Jimmy Doolittle in the cockpit of American Airlines’ Vultee V-1A NC13770, January 1935. (NASM-157196)

14–15 January 1935: James Harold Doolittle set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognised Course of 329.98 kilometers per hour (205.04 miles per hour).¹

Doolittle took off from Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 5:27 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, 14 January (8:27 p.m., Eastern Standard Time). Also on board were Mrs. Doolittle and Robert Adamson (1871–1935), an executive with the Shell Oil Company.

The airplane was a Vultee V-1A Special, NC13770, owned by American Airlines and leased to Shell.

Doolittle crossed overhead Floyd Bennet Field at 8:26 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 15 January. He then landed at Newark Airport, New Jersey, at 8:34½ a.m. The flight from Burbank to Brooklyn had a duration of 11 hours, 59 minutes, and broke a record set two months earlier by Eddie Rickenbacker.

A Vultee V-1A at Grand Central Terminal, Glendale, California, late 1930s. (NASM-9A07903)

The Vultee V-1A was a large, all-metal, single-engine airliner of full monocoque construction with retractable landing gear. It could be flown by one or two pilots and carry up to eight passengers. The V-1A was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and Richard Palmer, based on an earlier design by Vultee and Vance Breese, who were working for the Airplane Development Corporation. The prototype made its first flight 19 February 1933 with test pilot Marshall Headle at the controls.

NC13770, serial number 24073, was the eighth V-1A built, and was one of the original ten ordered by American Airlines. The V-1A was 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, 0 inches (15.240 meters) and height of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters). The wings had root chord of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) and tip chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Total wing area was 384.0 square feet (35.675 square meters). There was 3° dihedral. The V-1A had an empty weight of 5,212 pounds (2,364 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,500 pounds (3,856 kilograms).

Vultee V-1A Special NR13770

The Vultee V-1A was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129 cubic-inch displacement (29.785 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 R-1820-F2 ² (R-1820-20 or R-1820-102), a nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.4:1. This was a direct-drive engine with a Normal Power rating of 691 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m., at Sea Level. It required 87-octane gasoline. The R-1820-F2 was 3 feet, 7-3/8 inches (1.102 meters) long, 4 feet, 5-3/4 inches (1.365 meters) in diameter, and weighed 937 pounds (425 kilograms).

The V-1A had a cruise speed of  215 miles per hour (346 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 235 miles per hour (378 kilometers per hour). The airplane’s service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters). In standard configuration, it had a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).

NC13770 was later sold to Harry Richman of Miami Beach, Florida, who christened the airplane Lady Peace. It registration was cancelled 8 October 1937. During the Spanish revolution, the airplane was captured by the Nationalists. It is believed to have been scrapped in the early 1950s.

Robert Adamson, Mrs. Doolittle and James H. Doolittle, ready to board the Vultee V-1A at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, 14 January 1935. (Getty Images/Bettman)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13232

² Some sources identify the Vultee V-1A’s engine as the Wright SR-1820-F2 (R-1820-05, R-1820-37, and R-1820-84). These engine variants have the same compression ratio, dimensions and weights as the R-1820-F2. The Normal Power rating for the -05 is 840 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m.; the -37 is 690 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m.; and the rating for the -84 is 740 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m. Two contemporary aviation news magazines identified the engine as simply a “Wright Cyclone F2,” which is less than helpful, as there are at least 8 different “-F2” variants, designated as R-1820-F2, GR-1820-F2, SR-1820-F2 and SGR-1820-F2. Some of these have military versions; others do not. Normal Power ratings for these -F2 engines range from 664 to 840 horsepower, all at 1,950 r.p.m.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 July 1933

Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)
Wiley Hardeman Post (Underwood and Underwood, Washington)

15 July 1933: At 5:10 a.m., Wiley Hardeman Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York, on a solo around-the-world flight. His airplane was a single-engine, high wing monoplane, a Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, which he previously flown around the world in 1931 with navigator Harold Gatty.

On this flight, Post flew approximately the same route around the Northern Hemisphere, making 11 stops over a 15,596 mile (25,099.3 kilometer) flight. He returned to Floyd Bennett Field at 11:50½ p.m., 22 July 1933, after 7 days, 18 hours, 49½ minutes.

This was the first solo around-the-world flight. Wiley Post was the first pilot to have flown around the world twice.

Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)
Wiley Post with his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, at Floyd Bennet Field, Long Island, New York, 15 July 1933. (Rudy Arnold)

The Vega was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane was designed by John Knudsen Northrop and Gerard Freebairn Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of spiral strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and held together with glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.

The Winnie Mae was built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California in 1930 as a Model 5B Vega, serial number 122. It was purchased by an Oklahoma oil driller, Florence C. (“F.C.”) Hall, on 21 June 1930, and named for his daughter, Winnie Mae Hall, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma. The new airplane was painted white with purple trim. In 1932, NC105W was modified to the Vega 5C standard.

The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet, 0 inches (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Winnie Mae was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 3088, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

Wiley Post flew the Winnie Mae for F.C. Hall, and flew it around the world in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator. Post used it to set several speed records and to compete in the National Air Races. He purchased the airplane from Hall, 8 July 1931.

When the Vega and its Wasp engine had reached 745 hours of operation, they were  overhauled by Braniff Airways at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Wasp C was modified with cylinders from a Wasp C1. This increased the compression ratio from 5.25:1 to 6.0:1. Using 87-octane aviation gasoline, it could produce 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The airplane’s original two-bladed Standard fixed-pitch steel propeller was replaced by a Smith 450-SI controllable-pitch propeller with Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt hollow steel blades.

Among other modifications, Post had the wing’s angle of incidence decreased 10° which increased the Vega’s speed by 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). The fixed tail skid was shortened to allow the airplane to reach a higher angle of attack for takeoff and landing. For the 1933 around-the-world flight, six auxiliary tanks were installed in the fuselage, giving the Vega a total fuel capacity of 645 gallons (2,442 liters). It was also equipped with a Sperry gyroscopic autopilot.

These modification required the Vega to be licensed in a restricted category, and it was re-registered NR105W.

After Wiley Post was killed in an airplane crash near Barrow, Alaska, 15 August 1935, his widow, Mae Laine Post, sold NR105W to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display in the Time and Navigation Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Wiley Post's Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, "Winnie Mae of Oklahoma", at the National Air and Space Museum.(Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
Wiley Post’s Lockheed 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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