Tag Archives: Lockheed Vega

15–21 April 1928

Ben Eileson and Hubert Wilkins with their Lockheed Vega, NX3903. (George King Collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
Ben Eielson and Hubert Wilkins with their Lockheed Vega, NX3903. (George King Collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

15–21 April 1928: Carl Benjamin (“Ben”) Eielson and George Hubert Wilkins, M.C. and Bar, flew from Point Barrow on the northern coast of Alaska across the Arctic Ocean to Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway. The distance was approximately 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers). The crossing took about 20 hours, and was the first Arctic crossing by air. Their airplane was a Lockheed Vega, civil registration NX3903, the third aircraft of the type to be built.

Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eielson examine the metal skis on their Lockheed Vega.
Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eielson examine the metal skis on their Lockheed Vega.

Eielson and Wilkins had made a prior attempt about a week earlier, but attempting to takeoff with a crosswind, had damaged the skis on the Vega. A spare set made of wood had been brought along and these were installed and after some delay, finally took off on April 15th.

Ben Eielson stands in the cockpit of the Lockheed Vega. The Wright Whirlwind engine is running. Note that the wood skis have been installed.
Ben Eielson stands in the cockpit of the Lockheed Vega. The Wright Whirlwind engine is running. Note that the wood skis have been installed.
Carl Benjamin Eielson. Portrait by Lee & Co., Fargo, North Dakota. (Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo)

The planned route of flight was over the Canadian Arctic Islands and then around north Greenland then on to Spitsbergen, a large island in the Svalbard Archipelago, under the jurisdiction of Norway. Because of the proximity to the Magnetic Pole, a compass would have been useless for navigation. Hubert Wilkins used a Mk. V bubble sextant to calculate their position by taking sights of the sun which remained above the horizon for the entire duration of the flight.

They encountered head winds, cloudy weather and storms. The air temperature was -45 °C. (-49 °F.). As they estimated that they were nearing their destination, they encountered a severe snow storm. With fuel running low, the descended to look for a possible landing site. They were able to land on Deadman’s Island, off the north coast of Danskøya (Dane’s Island). The severe weather closed in and the fliers were stranded for 4 days. When it finally cleared enough for them to continue their journey there was some difficulty as the wooden skis kept freezing to the surface. After they took off and climbed to 3,000 feet (914.4 meters) they immediately sighted the radio towers of  Grønfjorden on Nordenskiöld Land, their actual destination.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins, M.C. and Bar.

Of their flight, famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen said, “No flight has been made anywhere, at any time, which could be compared with this.”

The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The Vega was flown by one pilot in an open cockpit and could carry four passengers in the cabin. It was 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). The airplane had an empty weight of 1,875 pounds (851 kilograms) and a gross weight of 3,470 pounds (1,574 kilograms).

The early Vegas were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind J-5C nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. It was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 225 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. This was a direct-drive engine which turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The Vega had a cruising speed of 118 miles per hour (190 kilometers per hour) and atop speed of 138 miles per hour (222 kilometers per hour)—very fast for its time. The airplane’s range was 900 miles (1,448.4 kilometers). It could fly at an altitude 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 October 1928

Harry Tucker’s Lockheed Vega, NX4769. (National Archives)

24–25 October 1928: Captain Charles B.D. Collyer, Air Service, United States Army, and Harry J. Tucker flew Tucker’s Lockheed Vega, NX4769, from New York to Los Angeles, non-stop, in 24 hours, 55 minutes.

A contemporary newspaper article reported the event:

YANKEE DOODLE SETS NEW MARK

Monoplane Flies Across Continent to Los Angeles in 24 Hours, 55 Minutes

Mines Field, Los Angeles, Oct. 25—(AP)—Setting a new record for a trans-continental non-stop airplane flight from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, the monoplane Yankee Doodle arrived here at 2:12 p.m. today from New York.

The unofficial time of the flight as announced by Capt. C.D.B. Collyer, pilot and Harry Tucker, owner and passenger, was 24 hours 55 minutes. The best previous time for the westward flight was 26 hours and 50 minutes, made in 1923 by Lieutenants John MacReady [John A. Macready] and Oakley Gelley [Oakley George Kelly].

530 Gallons Carried

The Yankee Doodle hopped off at Roosevelt Field at 4:16:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time yesterday. The little cigar-shaped white-winged plane was loaded with 530 gallons of gasoline, just about enough for a 24-hour flight, and a check began shortly after landing to determine how much of the fuel was left.

The westward flight covered approximately the course flown over by Col. Arthur Goebel when he piloted his plane to a new West-East non-stop trans-continental record of 18 hours and 55 minutes several weeks ago.

This was the fourth time Tucker has sent his plane into a coast-to-coast grind. The first West to East attempt was unsuccessful but on the second attempt Goebel piloted the machine through to the record.

The Cornell Daily Sun, Ithaca, New York, Friday, October 26, 1928, Volume XLIX, Number 29 at Page 1, Column 5

Captain Charles B.D. Collyer

Charles Bascum Drury Collyer was born at Nashville, Tennessee, 24 August 1896, the son of Rev. Charles Thomas Collyer. He traveled throughout the world, and lived for a time in Seoul, Korea. Collyer attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute, a military college at Blacksburg, Virginia, as a member of the class of 1919.

Collyer served in the United States Army as a private, first class, being discharged 1 May 1919. He held a commission as a second lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Reserve Corps. He was employed as chief pilot, Liberty Flyers, Inc., at Savannah, Georgia.

From 28 June to 22 July 1928, Collyer had flown around the world with John Henry Mears. Collyer was president of the Aviation Services Corporation of New York, which had been formed “to do unusual things in aviation.”

Harry J. Tucker

Harry J. Tucker was variously described as an “auto tycoon” and a “wealthy Santa Monica, California, businessman.” He was born in 1891.

Charles B.D. Collyer and Harry Tucker were killed 3 November 1928 when Yankee Doodle crashed in fog near Venezia, in Yavapai County, Arizona. Collyer was buried at Arlington, National Cemetery, Virginia.

Yankee Doodle was the seventh Lockheed Vega produced (c/n 7). The Vega was a a single-engine, high-wing monoplane designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California.

The Vega was very much a state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of strips of vertical-grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and bonded together with cassein glue. These were then attached to former rings. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them. They were built of spruce spars and ribs, covered with 3/32-inch (2.4 millimeters) spruce plywood.

Three-view drawing of the Lockheed Vega from a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics publication. (NASA)

The Lockheed Vega 1 was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could carry up to four passengers in the enclosed cabin. It was 27.5 feet (8.38 meters) long with a wingspan of 41.0 feet (12.50 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.59 meters). The total wing area (including ailerons) was 275 square feet (25.55 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The leading edges were swept slightly aft, and the trailing edges swept forward. The Vega 1 had an empty weight of 1,650.0 pounds (748.4 kilograms) and a gross weight of 3,200 pounds (1,452 kilograms).

The early Vegas were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Whirlwind Five (J-5C) nine-cylinder radial engine. This was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. It was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long, 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, and weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The Vega had a cruising speed of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour) with the engine turning 1,500 r.p.m., and a top speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour)—very fast for its time. The airplane had a rate of climb of 925 feet per minute (4.7 meters per second) at Sea Level, decreasing to 405 feet per minute (2.1 meters per second) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its service ceiling was 15,900 feet (4,846 meters), and the absolute ceiling was 17,800 feet (5,425 meters). The airplane had a fuel capacity of 100 gallons (379 liters), giving it a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) at cruise speed.

Twenty-eight Vega 1 airplanes were built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at the factory on Sycamore Street, Hollywood, California, before production of the improved Lockheed Vega 5 began in 1928 and the company moved to its new location at Burbank, California.

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.

Lockheed Vega NX4769 at NAS North Island, 1928. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Lockheed Vega NX4769 at NAS San Diego, 1928. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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