Lockheed Vega

Last updated
Lockheed Vega 5b Smithsonian.jpg
Red Lockheed Vega 5b flown by Amelia Earhart in breaking two world records.
Role transport
Manufacturer Lockheed Aircraft Limited
Designer John Knudsen Northrop and Gerald Vultee
First flightJuly 4, 1927
Primary usersCommercial air carriers
United States Army Air Forces
Number built132

The Lockheed Vega is an American six-passenger high-wing monoplane airliner built by the Lockheed Corporation starting in 1927. It became famous for its use by a number of record-breaking pilots who were attracted to the rugged and very long-range design. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in one, and Wiley Post used his to prove the existence of the jet stream after having flown around the world twice.


Design and development

Designed by John Knudsen Northrop and Gerald Vultee, both of whom would later form their own companies, the aircraft was originally intended to serve with Lockheed's own airline routes. They set out to build a four-seat aircraft that was not only rugged but also one of the fastest aircraft of its era. Using a wooden monocoque fuselage, plywood-covered cantilever wings and the best engine available, the Vega delivered on the promise of speed.

The fuselage was built from sheets of plywood, skinned over wooden ribs. Using a large concrete mold, a single half of the fuselage shell was laminated in sections with glue between each layer and then a rubber bladder was lowered into the mold and inflated with air to compress the lamination into shape against the inside of the mold. The two fuselage halves were then nailed and glued over a separately constructed rib framework. With the fuselage constructed in this fashion, the wing spar couldn't cut through the fuselage, so the single spar cantilever wing was mounted atop the aircraft. Only the engine and landing gear remained essentially unstreamlined, and on the production versions the undercarriage had teardrop shaped fairings covering the wheels, while only the earliest versions lacked NACA cowlings and had the engine cylinders exposed to the airstream. It was powered by the Wright Whirlwind air-cooled radial engine, which delivered 225 horsepower (168 kW).

Operational history

U.S. Army Air Corps Y1C-12. Detroit Y1C-12.JPG
U.S. Army Air Corps Y1C-12.
The Y1C-17 Lockheed Y1C-17.JPG
The Y1C-17
Lockheed Vega Interior - Metal Fuselage Variant Lockheed Vega Interior.jpg
Lockheed Vega Interior - Metal Fuselage Variant

The first Vega 1, named the Golden Eagle, flew from Lockheed's Los Angeles plant on July 4, 1927. It could cruise at a then-fast 120 mph (193 km/h), and had a top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h). The four-passenger (plus one pilot) load was considered too small for airline use. A number of private owners placed orders for the design, and by the end of 1928, 68 of this original design had been produced. In the 1929 National Air Races in Cleveland, Vegas won every speed award.

In 1928, Vega Yankee Doodle (NX4769) was used to break transcontinental speed records. On August 19–20, Hollywood stunt flier Arthur C. Goebel broke the coast-to-coast record of Russell Maughan by flying from Los Angeles, California, to Garden City, New York, in 18 hours and 58 minutes, in what was also the first nonstop flight from west to east. On October 25, barnstormer and former mail pilot Charles B.D. Collyer broke the nonstop east to west record set in 1923 by the U.S. Army Air Service in 24 hours and 51 minutes. Trying to break the new West-to-East record on November 3, Collyer crashed near Prescott, Arizona, killing him and the aircraft owner, Harry J. Tucker. [1]

Looking to improve the design, Lockheed delivered the Vega 5 in 1929. Adding the Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engine of 450 hp (336 kW) and a new NACA cowling improved performance enough to allow the addition of two more seats, and increased cruising speed to 155 mph (249 km/h) and top speed to 165 mph (266 km/h). The new six-seat configuration proved to be too small, and the 5 was purchased primarily for private aviation and executive transport. A total of 64 Vega 5s were built. In 1931, the United States Army Air Corps bought two Vega 5s; one designated C-12 and one as the C-17. The C-17 had additional fuel tanks in the wings.

The Vega could be difficult to land. In her memoir, Elinor Smith wrote that it had "all the glide potential of a boulder falling off a mountain." [2] In addition, forward and side visibility from the cockpit was extremely limited; Lane Wallace, a columnist for Flying magazine, wrote that "Even [in level flight], the windscreen would offer a better view of the sky than anything else, which would make it more of a challenge to detect changes in attitude or bank angle. On takeoff or landing, there'd be almost no forward visibility whatsoever."


A one-off special, based on the metal-fuselaged DL-1, was built by the Detroit Aircraft Corporation, and exported to the United Kingdom for Lt. Cmdr. Glen Kidston. It was initially registered in the UK as G-ABFE, then was re-registered as G-ABGK to incorporate Kidston's initials. [3] He used this Vega to set a record-breaking time from the UK to South Africa in April 1931. Following Kidston's death the following month, the aircraft was eventually sold to Australian airline owner Horrie Miller for entry by him into the MacRobertson Air Race. Piloted in the race by Miller's Chief Pilot, Capt. Jimmy Woods, it overturned on landing at Aleppo en route, whereupon Woods withdrew from the race and the DL-1A was eventually shipped to Australia. Following repairs and re-registration to VH-UVK, the aircraft was used for charter and leisure flying by Miller, before being impressed by the Royal Australian Air Force in 1941. In 1944, the aircraft was transferred to the Dept. Civil Aviation. Via information from RAAF pilots, DCA declared the Vega to have serious pitch control problems and it would be scrapped. Attempts by James Woods to reclaim the aircraft were ignored, and it was destroyed in October 1945. It was the only Vega to operate in Australia. [3]


The UC-101 Lockheed UC-101.jpg
The UC-101
Vega 1
Five-seat cabin monoplane, accommodation for one pilot and four passengers, powered by a 225 hp (168 kW) Wright J-5, J-5A, J-5AB or J-5C Whirlwind radial piston engine.
Vega 2
Five-seat cabin monoplane, powered by a 300 hp (224 kW) Wright J-6 Whirlwind radial piston engine.
Vega 2A
Redesignation of one Vega 2 aircraft, modified for higher gross weights operators.
Vega 2D
Redesignation of two Vega 1s and one Vega 2, each fitted with a 300 hp (224 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston engine.
Vega 5
Improved version, powered by a 410 hp (306 kW) Wasp A, 450 hp (336 kW) Wasp B or 420 hp (313 kW) Wasp C1 radial piston engine.
Vega 5A Executive
Executive transport version, with a plush interior.
Vega 5B
Seven-seat passenger transport version, built for higher gross weight operations with commercial operators.
Vega 5C
Seven-seat cabin monoplane, with revised tail surfaces, built for higher gross weight operations.
Vega 5C with a light alloy fuselage. Built by the Detroit Aircraft Corporation. [4]
DL-1A/DL-1 Special
One-off air racing and record breaking version, c/n 155.
Seven-seat cabin monoplane, similar to the DL-1. Built by the Detroit Aircraft Corporation.
One DL-1 acquired by the U.S. Army Air Corps for service tests and evaluation.
One DL-1B acquired by the U.S. Army Air Corps for service tests and evaluation.
One Vega 5C impressed into service with the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942.


Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia
Flag of Spain (1931-1939).svg  Spain
Flag of the United States.svg  United States

Aircraft on display

Airworthy 1933 Detroit Vega DL-1 based at the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona 1933 Vega.jpg
Airworthy 1933 Detroit Vega DL-1 based at the Commemorative Air Force Airbase Arizona
Wiley Post's "Winnie Mae," a model 5C, while on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center NASM - Lockheed Vega - Winnie Mae.jpg
Wiley Post's "Winnie Mae," a model 5C, while on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Original 1929 Vega c/n 72 restored to Wiley Post's "Winnie Mae" colors and owned by Fantasy of Flight Fantasy of Flight Lockheed Vega.JPG
Original 1929 Vega c/n 72 restored to Wiley Post's "Winnie Mae" colors and owned by Fantasy of Flight

Specifications (Vega 5C)

Data fromLockheed aircraft since 1913. [19]

General characteristics

Vega 5C floatplane 3,153 lb (1,430 kg)
Vega 5C floatplane 4,880 lb (2,214 kg)


Vega 5C floatplane with NACA cowling 175 mph (152 kn; 282 km/h)
Vega 5C floatplane with NACA cowling 160 mph (139 kn; 257 km/h)
Vega 5C floatplane 620 mi (539 nmi; 998 km)
Vega 5C floatplane 17,000 ft (5,182 m)
Vega 5C floatplane 1,100 ft/min (335 m/min)
Vega 5C floatplane 17.7 lb/sq ft (86 kg/m2)
Vega 5C floatplane 0.0926 hp/lb (0.1522 kW/kg)

See also

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