Lockheed Sirius History
April 1973 American Aircraft Modeler
April 1973 American Aircraft Modeler
[Table of Contents]
Aircraft modeling has undergone significant
changes over the decades - both in technology and preferences. Magazines like American Aircraft Modeler, and American
Modeler before that, were the best venues for capturing snapshots of the status quo of the day. Still, many things never
change, so much of the old content is relevant to today's modeler.
Whether you are here to wax nostalgic, or are
just interested in learning history, hopefully you will find what you are seeking. As time permits, I will be glad to
scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
is the article on the history of the Lockheed Sirius that I electronically
scanned from my purchased copy of the April 1973 American Aircraft Modeler
magazine. Patricia T. Groves is the author. All copyrights (if any) are
There were actually two separate articles,
one that presented plans and a construction article for an R/C version of
, written by Mr. Maurice F. Philips, and the other this history
Lockheed Sirius History
Many variations of one plywood fuselage were created by Lockheed. The most
famous low winger is the Sirius.
PATRICIA T. GROVES
Charles A. Lindbergh entrusted h is beloved Spirit of St. Louis to the Smithsonian
in May 1928, the Mahoney-Ryan 'Company generously replaced it with a brand-new
Brougham B-2. In these and others whose owners or builders were eager to
have him demonstrate, Lindbergh wound up as that year's most conspicuous
user of airplanes. With the media reporting nearly every passing mile, America's
No. One aviation booster did extensive personal and goodwill flying while
managing to squeeze in the survey flights he was doing for several air transport
companies. Buckled into a wide variety of airplanes, an outstanding (for
1928) 65,000 miles passed under his wings.
By summer 1929 Lindbergh was actively looking for an airplane of his
own choosing that would be better suited to his current preoccupations.
And, when he attended that year's National Air Races in Cleveland, he was
still looking. Also at the August 27th to September 2nd meet was Jerry Vultee,
the saucer-eyed chief engineer for the Detroit Aircraft Corporation's month-old
acquisition, the Lockheed Aircraft Company of Burbank, California.
When the two met, Lindbergh mentioned h is search for a high-performance,
long-range plane. While noting the advantages and disadvantages of various
configurations, he stipulated the safety aspects of low-wing, wide-wheel
base, quick takeoff and an all-around good visibility. Then with a current
project in mind, Vultee whipped off a few preliminary sketches for Lindbergh
to consider, and made arrangements with the popular flier to meet with Lockheed's
new general manager, Carl Squier, under less hectic conditions than an air
Predecessor to the Sirius was the Explorer.
This plane was developed
flights but accidents marred its success.
Charles and Anne Lindbergh in their Sirius are
followed by a Vega
full of enthusiasts. Note the
Vega is an especially early model.
From this concrete mold built in 1927 came Lockheed's wooden wonders-The
Air Expresses, Explorers, Siriuses, Altairs,
the great planes of the
Golden Age of Aviation.
Laura Ingalls emerges from her record-breaking
Orion, near her Harmon-winning
To the far right is Sir Kingsford-Smith's beautiful
Altair, the Lady Southern Cross.
As it happened, Lindbergh's specifications fit an airplane then being developed
in the Lockheed shops. Earlier that year a young ex-flying service officer
named Harold Bromley dropped in looking for an airplane capable of transpacific
flight. The 29-year-old pilot was one of several hardy fliers who hoped
to cop the $25,000 Tokyo Asahi (newspaper) prize for the first non-stop
flight (either way) between Japan and America. With Tacoma, Washington money
behind him, Bromley toured West Coast aircraft manufacturers, including
the two-year-old aircraft company in Burbank.
At the time, Burbank
was an obscure little burg surrounded by farmland which extended up to the
nearby distinctive Verdugo Hills. On an industrial zoned parcel of ranch
land the tall, cone-shaped brick chimneys of the Empire China Company provided
the most distinguishing feature around. The next largest building on the
lot was jointly occupied by the Mission Glass Works and the Lockheed Aircraft
Company. Scattered about the patch were several unimpressive sheds and out-buildings,
a ranch house now serving as Lockheed's office and an airplane hangar which
stood alongside an unharried gopher-infested dirt flying strip.
this point Lockheed's advertised line of aircraft consisted of two model
types: A high-wing Vega which was gaining in popularity with the flying
fraternity; a parasol wing Air Express, designed as a mail and passenger
Bromley walked through the door of the small red brick
"office" and into the kitchen cum Lockheed Engineering Department. Introducing
himself to the entire department - Vultee and the company's two draftsmen,
Jimmy Gerschler and Dick Von Hake-the flier laid out his requirements. Later,
still discussing the possibilities, Vultee took Bromley in to meet Allan
Loughead, the company's co-founder and general manager.
Bromley toured the plant's wood and metal shops, the assembly and service
areas, all yet under the command of Tony Stadlman, another of the company's
originators. While activity was apparent, it was hardly a high pressure
During the tour Bromley spied an unfinished fuselage
stuck off in an outof-the-way corner. Looking as though it had been cut
out to accommodate a lower wing, he asked about it and was told that it
was a relic of an experiment begun by Jack Northrop in the "old" Hollywood
plant back in '27. The beginnings of a low-wing job for Hubert Wilkins,
the project was abandoned when the Wilkins group unexpectedly ran out of
money. Then momentarily considered the following year as a seaplane, it
was hauled out only to be shoved aside again. Although designated an Explorer,
there'd been little or no engineering done on it. And "thar she set" until
Bromley walked in.
To Bromley the altered Vega fuselage had possibilities.
And over the following weeks he, Vultee, Gerschler and Von Hake finished
off the engineering. (More custom-built than mass produced, buyers of Lockheed
airplanes, like expectant fathers, labored alongside the production crews.)
By June 18, 1929 the first Lockheed Explorer rolled off the line with a
low wing-extra long, broad and straight with no dihedral. (Basic fuselage
construction was the same as with the Vega. See August 1970 American Aircraft
Modeler, page 16ft.) A single-seat open cockpit was placed just forward
the empennage which had undergone several cut-and-dry design Changes. The
tail unit at this point having a rounded fin and a squared-off rudder. Flight
tests proved satisfying, and Bromley flew home to Tacoma to begin his dash
across the complacent Pacific.
On Sunday, July 18, 1929, the big
Explorer, its latent power buried under garlands of flowers, was christened
the City of Tacoma
by two little girls representing the U.S. and
Japan. Finally, cheers of thousands ringing in his ears, the young airman
shoved the throttle to the firewall to begin his run. Within seconds cheers
turned to screaming pandemonium as the glistening orange Explorer wobbled
into the air-then crashed.
Overlooked in the joyous frenzy of the
day, the fuel-topped off to capacity in the early morning hours expended
as the sun rose higher in the summer sky. When Bromley made his run, it
slopped over in his face and blinded him. The aviator tried desperately
to recover, but couldn't. Barely before impact Bromley managed to flick
off power, thereby preventing a fire and saving his life plus those of the
panicky spectators running toward him.
Still willing to back his
efforts, the Tacoma group put up new financing, and Bromley returned to
Burbank with enough salvage to mother-hen a second City of Tacoma. (Although
Lockheed now was under Detroit's command, the same easy-going atmosphere
prevailed.) Bromley and Vultee worked out several new changes to the second
Explorer; however, this aircraft, too, came to grief. Subsequently, a third
City of Tacoma was laid up incorporating engineering modifications that
had come about as a result of the recent Lindbergh order.
of the Lindbergh aircraft had evolved enough, by now, to designate the new
model name of Sirius. The same length as the Explorer, the Sirius, however,
had a slightly shorter more slender wing with two degrees dihedral built
in. Two single-seat open cockpits tandem were placed forward a classically
high rounded tail which added a foot to overall height. Fitted with a 450
hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp, wheel pants and the NACA cowl, the airplane
was painted in the high-contrast colors of black and orange.
Lindbergh was on hand every possible moment during the building of the Sirius.
Then in January 1930, after testing by Lockheed pilot Marshall Headle, Lindbergh
accepted it. Introducing the 2974-lb. bird to his petite wife Anne, the
three got acquainted. Over the next four years, the Lindberghs and their
Sirius were seen all over the world. And, although these survey flights
presented some of their most demanding work, their flying missions together
provided the couple their most precious moments of privacy. At this point
In their lives the big Lockheed was a second home and sanctuary.
During 1934 the Sirius, by now known as the Tingmissartog, was donated
to the American Museum of Natural History. When it later moved to the Smithsonian,
the Tingmissartog - registered NR-211-joined the Spirit of St. Louis - registered
NX-211. The following year Lindbergh's sentimental attachment for the 211
N-number was then transferred to a Lamberg 0-145 Monocoupe which he kept
for about six years before donating it to the Missouri Historical Society.
Although it never participated in any particularly note-worthy flight and
he wasn't overly fond of it, Lindbergh donated it to assure the preservation
of a type of small aircraft constructed in St. Louis during the Thirties.
Referred to by him as "the Lambert," it's now on display at the National
Museum of Transport in St. Louis.
Ultimately, 14 of the wooden Sirius
were built more or less along the same lines as Lindbergh's model 8. A fifteenth
was built in Detroit using an experimental all-metal fuselage.
Twin cockpits tandem provide the most noticeable difference between the
Sirius and the single-seat Explorer. Sliding canopies added to the Lindbergh
aircraft after a few month's trial became a standard accessory in all Sirius
models. The slightly heavier Sirius 8A differed from the original 8 in having
a larger fin and rudder area and an additional four in. added to the fuselage
length. One aircraft in the 8A series was fitted with Lockheed's first fully
retractable landing gear. Originally intended for the Lindbergh Sirius,
the prototype gear turned out too wimpy. By the time the necessarily re-engineered
wing (which later evolved Into the Altair model Lockheed) was ready, Lindbergh
had already exchanged the standard gear for Edo floats.
Of the Sirius C was typical of the methods of the day where each individual
Lockheed was an individual built to individual specifications. The C differed
in that forward the cockpits, a close two-seat cabin was included.
Nearly a year later the easily adaptable fuselage was again re-engineered
into an air transport progression. First referred to as a Sirius six-passenger
cabin plane, as the designs altered, the name was changed to Altair Model
9 before it too progressed enough to merit its own model name-type of Orion.
By making optimum use of the one basic design, Lockheed's 30-ton
concrete mold turned out the distinctive, easily identifiable Vega, Air
Express, Explorer, Sirius, Altair and Orion. With nearly every aircraft
altered and changed, adapted and modified, stripped down or jazzed up to
suit the requirements of their owners, each wooden Lockheed was an individual
in an era of individuals.
June 16, 2010
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