Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gilmore's Electra

Note: Since this was original posted in late 2014, it has been rewritten and expanded, so is being re-posted.

During the 1930s, the Bureau of Air Commerce had been trying hard to promote the advancement of aviation in general, and airline travel in particular. After Lockheed successfully introduced their 10-passenger Model 10 Electra airliner in 1935, the Bureau saw the need for a smaller yet modern aircraft to be used by "feeder" airlines, and so sponsored a contest to promote the development of such a plane.

Lockheed scaled down the Electra airframe (but kept the same 450-hp engines) and introduced it as the Model 12 Electra Junior. Because the other two competitors (one of which was the Beechcraft Model 18) weren't ready by the June 30, 1936 deadline, the Electra Junior won by default.

NC18130 is a Model 12A, serial 1226, and rolled off the assembly line at the end of June, 1937. It was bought by oil tycoon F. C. Hall as the successor to his Winnie Mae and named Villa. Hall decided to sponsor its entry into the 1937 Bendix Trophy race from Burbank to Cleveland. The Electra Junior was flown by airshow pilot Milo Burcham (who in 1933 had established a world record of sorts by flying inverted for just over four hours), and Lockheed modified the plane with an extra internal fuselage fuel tank, allowing Burcham to fly the course non-stop.

For the race, Hall and his wife flew onboard with Burcham, and even though the plane carried passengers (not a normal thing in an air race!), the Lockheed airliner was so fast that they came in only a few minutes after a Seversky racer flown by Frank Sinclair. The effort resulted in a fifth place finish.

In November 1937, the plane moved over to Gilmore Oil, where it received the company’s trademark cream and crimson colosr scheme, and lion logo. Gilmore then used it as their executive transport plane.

In November 1941, Gilmore sold the plane to the Free French Air Force (FAFL), and she headed to war in Europe. The FAFL used the plane in various roles, from anti-submarine patrol to troop transport, to VIP transport for Generals Maréchel LeClerc and De Gaulle. Amazingly, she survived, and spent the next 65 years in Europe, principally in France, England and Ireland, owned for much of that time by the British Earl of Granard.

NC18130 is one of only ten or so Electra Juniors to have survived into the 21st century, and is the lowest time airframe of the bunch. In September 2007, after sitting for many years in storage in France, the Lockheed was restored to flying condition and returned to America, where it was once again registered as NC18130.

As of this writing, the plane has received a complete restoration in Monroe, Washington, and is currently for sale! If you want to purchase (or just oogle the restoration pics), you can see its listing on the Warbird Connection website. A very detailed history (in PDF form) can be seen here.

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