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 hereby acknowledged.
There were actually two
separate articles, one that presented plans and a construction article
for an R/C version of the
Sirius, written by Mr. Maurice F. Philips, and the other this
Lockheed Sirius History
Many variations of one plywood fuselage were created by Lockheed.
The most famous low winger is the Sirius.
PATRICIA T. GROVES
After 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
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 show.
Predecessor to the Sirius was the Explorer. This plane was
developed for transoceanic flights but accidents marred
Charles and Anne Lindbergh in their Sirius are followed by
a Vega full of enthusiasts. Note the Vega is an especially
From this concrete mold built in 1927 came Lockheed's wooden
wonders-The Vegas, Air Expresses, Explorers, Siriuses, Altairs,
and Orions-among the great planes of the Golden Age of Aviation.
Laura Ingalls emerges from her record-breaking Orion, near
her Harmon-winning Air Express. 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.
At 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 carrier.
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. Afterwards,
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 operation.
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.
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.
requirements 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.
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.
Construction 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.
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.