22 May 1937: Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020 was repaired at Tucson, Arizona after its left engine, a Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial, caught fire while restarting after a fuel stop the previous day. Amelia Earhart and her Navigator, Fred Noonan, and two passengers, flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, on the 22nd. Although she was on the third leg of her second around-the-world-flight attempt, no public announcement had yet been made.
“The next morning at Tucson a dense sandstorm blocked our way, but despite it we took off, leap-frogging at 8,000 feet over El Paso with a seemingly solid mass of sand billowing below us like a turbulent yellow sea. That night we reached New Orleans. . . .” — Amelia Earhart
After her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, was repaired by Lockheed following a takeoff accident at Wheeler Field, Oahu, in March, Amelia Earhart repositioned it to Oakland Municipal Airport to begin her second attempt to fly around the world. Because of changing weather patterns since the earlier attempt, this time her route will be eastward.
On 20 May 1937, without any public notice, Earhart and her navigator, Captain Frederick J. Noonan, left Oakland, California, on the first leg of the trip: 325 miles (523 kilometers) to Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport—BUR), where the airplane was manufactured and repaired. They arrived at about 6:00 p.m. and remained there over night.
“The rebuilt Electra came out of the Lockheed plant on May 19. Two days later we flew it to Oakland. . . As that time we had made no announcement of my decision to reverse the direction of the flight. It seemed sensible to slip away as quietly as we could. While I was actually heading for Miami, with hope of keeping on from there eastward, technically the journey from Burbank across the country was a shake-down flight. If difficulties developed we would bring the ship back to the Lockheed plant for further adjustments.” —Amelia Earhart
17 March 1937, 4:37 p.m.: Amelia Mary Earhart departed Oakland Municipal Airport, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay, starting the first leg of her around-the-world flight. Also aboard were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning. The airplane was Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020.
Captain Frederick J. Noonan was formerly the Chief Navigator of Pan American Airways, and had extensive experience in transoceanic flight. Captain Harry Manning commanded ocean liners. He would later serve as captain of SS United States, the flagship of America’s Merchant Marine, and as the Commodore of United States Lines.
Amelia Earhart’s 1936 Electra 10E Special, serial number 1055, was the fifth of fifteen built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California (now, Hollywood Burbank Airport, BUR). Designed to carry as many as ten passengers, NR16020 had been modified to carry fuel for 20 hours of flight. Amelia first flew the Electra with a Lockheed test pilot, Elmer C. McLeod, 21 July 1936, and took delivery on her 39th birthday, 24 July. The airplane cost $80,000.
The Lockheed Electra 10 was designed by Hall Hibbard, and was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson’s first assignment when he went to work at Lockheed. It was 38 feet, 7 inches (11.760 meters) long with a wingspan of 55 feet, 0 inches (16.764 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters).
While the basic Model 10 had an empty weight of 6,454 pounds (2,927.5 kilograms), Amelia Earhart’s modified Electra 10E Special had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3,295.4 kilograms), partly as a result of the additional fuel tanks which had been installed. Fully fueled, NR16020 carried 1,151 gallons (4,357 liters) of gasoline.
NR19020 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 single-row nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage supercharger. The S3H1 had a Normal Power rating of 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m for Takeoff, using 80/87 aviation gasoline. The direct-drive engines turned two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 9 feet, 7/8-inch (2.675 meters). The Wasp S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.092 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter, and weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
15 August 1935: Two of the most famous men of their time, Wiley Hardeman Post and William Penn Adair (“Will”) Rogers, were killed in an airplane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska.
Post, a pioneering aviator who had twice flown around the world—once, solo—and helped develop the pressure suit for high altitude flight, was exploring a possible air mail route from the United States to Russia. His friend, world famous humorist Will Rogers, was along for the trip.
Post’s airplane was a hybrid, built from the fuselage of a former Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., Lockheed Model 9E Orion Special, NC12283, combined with a wing from a Lockheed Model 7 Explorer. T&WA operated the Orion for two years before selling it to Charles Babb, Glendale, California. Babb installed the salvaged wing from a modified Lockheed Model 7 Explorer, Blue Flash, NR101W, which had crashed in Panama in 1930.
The Orion’s standard 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC1 engine was replaced with an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial engine (serial number 5778), rated at 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff. A three-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch propeller was used. Both the SC1 and S3H1 were direct drive engines. The S3H1 was 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.093 meters) long and 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter. It weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
Post also wanted to replace the retractable landing gear with pontoons for water landings.
Lockheed engineers were of the opinion that the hybrid aircraft and the other modifications which were requested by Post were dangerous and refused to do the work. Pacific Airmotive, also located in Burbank, California, however, agreed to modify the airplane. Several names were used to describe the hybrid airplane, such as “Lockheed Aurora,” as well as others perhaps less polite. It was given the restricted registration NR12283.
NR12283 was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 48 feet, 6 inches (14.783 meters). The wing area was 313 square feet (29.079 square meters).
Post had the pontoons installed at Renton, Washington. The floats that he had ordered did not arrive on time so he installed a larger set intended for another aircraft.
After several days of flying from Seattle and through Alaska, Post and Rogers were nearing Point Barrow on the northern coast of the continent. They encountered dense fog and landed on Walakpa Bay, about 13 miles (21 kilometers) southwest of the village of Barrow.
After talking with a local resident, Clair Okpheah, they taxied back on the lagoon and took off to the north. Post banked to the right, but at about 50 feet (15 meters) the engine stopped. NR12283 pitched down, rolled to the right, and then its right wing struck the mud. The right wing and pontoon were torn off and the airplane crashed upside down. Post and Rogers died.
Clair Okpheah ran to Barrow for help. When a rescue party arrived 16 hours after the crash, the men recovered the bodies of Post and Rogers. It was noted that Wiley Post’s wristwatch had stopped at 8:18 p.m.
24 July 1936: On her 39th birthday, at the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, Amelia Earhart accepted delivery of her new Lockheed Electra 10E Special, registered NR16020.
$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 Electra Model 10 was manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California. It 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.
Earhart’s Electra was equipped with a Western Electric Model 13C radio transmitter and Model 20B receiver for radio communication. It used a Sperry GyroPilot gyroscopic automatic pilot. Additional 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 the autopilot, navigation equipment and additional batteries. These modifications varied from the standard airplane enough that it was restricted to carrying only members of required flight crew. This was denoted by the letter “R” in the airplane’s registration.
The Electra was not ready until mid-July. Earhart first flew the new airplane on 21 July with Lockheed test pilot Elmer C. McLeod.
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). NR16020 had an empty weight of 7,265 pounds (3295.4 kilograms). 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.
Earhart’s Electra 10E Special was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial engines, with a compression ratio of 6:1. These engines used a single-stage centrifugal supercharger and were rated at 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and 600 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for take off. The direct-drive engines turned 9 foot, 7/8-inch (3.010 meters) diameter, two-bladed, Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propellers. The Wasp S3H1 is 4 feet, 3.60 inches (1.311 meters) in diameter and 3 feet, 7.01 inches (1.093 meters) long. It weighed 865 pounds (392 kilograms).
The maximum speed for the Model 10E Special at Sea Level and maximum takeoff weight was 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), a reduction of 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour) over the standard airplane. The maximum range was calculated to be 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers)