At the 1929 National Air Races, Lindbergh met Jerry Vultee of Lockheed, which had just been acquired by Detroit Aircraft Corp (which also would acquire Mahoney-Ryan the following year). Lindbergh described his ideal high-performace aircraft, and Vultee came up with some quick sketches, and the two planned to continue the discussion after the airshow. As it turned out, what Lindbergh was looking for was quite similar to the Lockheed Explorer, which Vultee and crew were developing for Harold Bromley"s planned trans-Pacific record attempt, and based on an earlier experiment started by Jack Northrop.The plane which ultimately came from the project was the Lockheed Model 8 Sirius, a two-seat, low-wing design that utilized the same molded plywood fuselage as the wildly successful Vega line.
Lindbergh's black and orange Sirius was the first of fifteen the Lockheed would build. Originally intended to be an open cockpit aircraft, Lindbergh himself came up with the sliding canopies which he called "Coupe Tops".
On April 20, 1930, Charles and Ann Lindbergh set a transcontinental speed record from Los Angeles (presumably Glendale) to New York in 14 hours and 45 minutes. It is quite possible that our photo was taken during the preparations for that record flight.
Our photo was taken at Glendale's Grand Central Air Terminal and is an original Ray Talbot print. It appears to be one of at least two that were taken within moments of each other, the other being featured in the November 1930 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine (the position of Lindbergh and the man he's talking to is slightly different in the two images). The accompanying article describes some of the experimentation Lindbergh participated in with the Lockheed engineers in developing the NACA cowling for optimal engine cooling.
With all the hecticness of life after his record flight and the touring the ensued, Lindbergh was ready for a break, and he and Ann decided to take a vacation which, as he described it, had "no start or finish, no diplomatic or commercial significance, and no records to be sought." That led to the couple modifying the Sirius with floats and flying to Asia in 1931. A second trip, in 1933, explored potential airline routes for Pan Am across the north Atlantic. It was during this trip that an Inuit boy in Greenland called the plane "Tingmissartoq", meaning "one who flies like a big bird". At the end of the trip, Lindbergh donated the plane to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and it is now at NASM.
For further reading:
- An article in the April 1973 issue of American Aircraft Modeler Magazine goes into great detail on the development of the Sirius from the Explorer, and even has a photo of the concrete mold which was used to produce the fuselages for the Vega/Air Express/Explorer/Sirius family.
- Lockheed Martin's history of the airplane.
- As the plane has been preserved at NASM, it's natural that they'd have a web page on it.