U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Model G

The Model G on its launch ramp, 1912. Pontoons advertise the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company, the predecessor to the Lockheed Company.

S-1 sport biplane

Even though it was inexpensive to operate and easy to fly, the S-1 Sports Biplane did not go into production.


Top people of Loughead Aircraft pose in front of a Lockheed-built Curtiss HS-2L flying boat for the U.S. Navy.

Lockheed Vega Air Express

The Lockheed Vega Air Express. Frank M. Hawks broke the transcontinental speed record in this plane. It was the first production aircraft with the NACA cowling, 1929.

Charles Lindbergh in Sirius airplane

Charles Lindbergh sitting in the cockpit of his Lockheed Sirius Model 8 aircraft, 1930.

Anne and Charles Lindbergh and Sirius plane

Charles and Anne Lindbergh in front of their Sirius. They set a transcontinental speed record in April 1930.

Orion airplane

The Lockheed Orion reverted to the fuselage configuration of the Vega with its enclosed cockpit just behind the engine and an enclosed passenger cabin behind it.

Lockheed's Early Years, 1912-1940

The Lockheed Company, one of the giants in the modern aerospace industry, began in 1912 when the Loughead brothers, Allan and Malcolm, formed the Alco Hydro-Aeroplane Company in San Francisco. Their first aircraft, the Model G seaplane, debuted on June 15, 1913. It was the largest seaplane yet built in the United States. Though the brothers couldn't find a customer for their plane, they earned some income for the startup company by flying passengers in their plane.

In the summer of 1916, the brothers moved to Santa Barbara, California, and, backed by Burton Rodman and other investors, formed the Loughead Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Their first plane with the new company was the 10-passenger F-1 seaplane. John K. "Jack" Northrop, who would later form his own company, designed and helped build the hull and wings. The twin-engine biplane had a 74-foot (22.5-meter) upper wingspan, a 47-foot (14-meter) lower wingspan, twin booms, and a triple tail. It debuted on March 29, 1918. The Navy took delivery of it after a record-setting flight from Santa Barbara to San Diego on April 12, 1918, flying the 211 miles (340 kilometers) in only 181 minutes.

When World War I ended, Navy aircraft orders dried up. The brothers tried to sell a small sport plane, the S-1, but the market was saturated by surplus warplanes. The business barely survived by building two Curtiss HS-2L flying boats and by working as a subcontractor. But it wasn't enough, and the business went into liquidation in 1921. Northrop went to work for Donald Douglas.

On December 13, 1926, the Lockheed brothers (they changed their last name to avoid mispronunciation)) and a group of investors formed the Lockheed Aircraft Company. This company lasted for less than three years, but in that time, it developed and built the first Vega, designed by Northrop, who had returned to Lockheed. It was a cantilever high-wing wooden monoplane with a streamlined monocoque fuselage built from two half-shells of plywood that had been shaped under pressure in a concrete mold. It could hold four passengers and a pilot.

The Vega 1 first flew on July 4, 1927. Newspaper owner George Hearst bought it to compete in the Oakland to Hawaii Dole Race. Jack Forst and Gordon Scott piloted the aircraft, named the Golden Eagle, on the trip, but the two disappeared without a trace. This did not, however, deter future sales of the aircraft. The plane was used for several record-setting flights, including the first trans-arctic flight in April 1928 and the first flight over Antarctica in November 1928, both made by George Hubert Wilkins and Carl Ben Eielson, It also made the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman, Amelia Earhart; and the first solo round-the-world flight, made by Wiley Post. A total of 128 Vegas were built, 115 by Lockheed and nine by Detroit Aircraft Corporation after it acquired Lockheed in 1929.

The Lockheed Company also built seven Lockheed Air Express airplanes, which resembled the Vega except for the open cockpit and higher wings than the Vega. Designed by Northrop specifically for Western Air Express‘s airmail route between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, its development began late in 1927. One of the Air Express planes used the NACA cowling. A variant of the Air Express, the Explorer, was designed for a non-stop transpacific flight to Japan. The two Explorers built, though, both crashed. In the meantime, Northrop in 1928 had again left to begin his own company, and Gerard "Jerry" F. Vultee replaced Northrop as chief engineer.

In July 1929, Fred E. Keeler, an investor who owned 51 percent of Lockheed, decided to sell 87 percent of the company assets to Detroit Aircraft Company, a holding company. As part of Detroit Aircraft, the company continued building Vegas and also built the Lockheed 8 Sirius, which Charles Lindbergh used as a floatplane on several round-the-world survey flights for Pan American Airways in the early 1930s. The Sirius had fixed tail landing gear and two open cockpits. Retractable landing gear was added onto a successor aircraft called the Altair, which made the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the United States between October 20 and November 4, 1934.

The Lockheed 9 Orion was another successful plane built during this period. The Orion, which featured the NACA cowling and retractable landing gear, was a wooden monoplane that could carry a pilot and six passengers. The first Orion flew in early 1931. A number of U.S. airlines used it and it also flew in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. An Orion-Explorer, constructed from Orion and Explorer parts, crashed in Alaska on August 15, 1935, killing Wiley Post and Will Rogers.

Lockheed remained with Detroit Aircraft until 1931, when Detroit Aircraft went into receivership. A group of investors led by Robert Gross bailed the company out and purchased Lockheed's assets in 1932 for $40,000, forming the new Lockheed Aircraft Corporation with Lloyd C. Stearman as president. Allan Lockheed, who had left the company in 1929, returned as a consultant. Gross also attracted Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a young engineer who would soon help make Lockheed's reputation.

Gross realized that the company needed to move past the Vega and similar planes if it was to compete with the other major aircraft companies, Boeing and Douglas. He also saw that the future lay with multi-engine planes and pushed for construction of a new plane that would be smaller, faster, and cheaper to operate than the larger Boeing and Douglas planes. His initiative paid off. Lockheed's innovative twin-engine Model 10 Electra, with retractable landing gear and twin fins and rudders, helped establish the company's line of commercial passenger aircraft. The 10-passenger all-metal plane flew for the first time on February 23, 1934. Northwest Airlines was the first airline to use the plane. In the late 1930s, eight U.S. airlines flew the plane as did European, Australian, Canadian, and South American customers. Model 10 Electras were used for long-distance flights, and Major James "Jimmy" Doolittle flew an Electra from Chicago to New Orleans in five hours 55 minutes in 1936—two hours quicker than the previous fastest time. Amelia Earhart disappeared in an Electra on her round-the-world attempt.

The Model 10 Electra was followed by the Model 12 Electra Junior executive transport in 1936 that seated six passengers with a two-person crew. Many Model 12s were used by the military, and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) used a Model 12 to evaluate a wing deicing system that used hot air from the engine exhaust.

The 1937 Lockheed 14 Super Electra, designed to compete with the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3, failed as a commercial aircraft in the United States because it had too small a capacity. Most were sold abroad, and more than 100 were license-built in Japan for use by the Imperial Japanese Army. But this plane helped elevate Lockheed into the ranks of major aircraft manufacturers. The 14 Super Electra formed the basis for the Lockheed Hudson, which was used by Britain's Royal Air Force in World War II.

The Lockheed 18 Lodestar followed the Super Electra in 1939. This plane was longer than the Super Electra and could hold 15 to 18 passengers. Some were configured to seat up to 26 passengers. However, it still did not sell well in the United States because, by this time, most airlines were using the DC-3. It did well abroad though, and once World War II began, the U.S. Army Air Force raised the total number produced to more than 600.

In 1939, Lockheed began work on a 40-pasenger airliner, the L-049 Constellation, based on an order from TWA. The triple-tailed plane incorporated a pressurized cabin, tricycle landing gear, and ultra-modern cabin features. The first plane flew in January 1943, and when the United States entered World War II, the Air Force took over the first batch for service as C-69 transports. It was the largest and fastest cargo transport to serve in the war. The plane would form the basis for future civil transports.

—Judy Rumerman


Bilstein, Roger E. The American Aerospace Industry. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Bowman, Martin W., compiler. Lockheed. Images of America. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Tempus Publishing, Ltd., 1998.

Boyne, Walter J. Beyond the Horizons – The Lockheed Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Donald, David, general editor. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1997.

Gunston, Bill, editor-in-chief. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Propeller Airliners. New York: Exeter Books, 1980.

Pattillo, Donald. Pushing the Envelope. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable)

Content of Standard

National Council for Geographic Education

Standard 1

How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to process information.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of attributes of design.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 4

Students will develop an understanding of the economic effects of technology.

Electra model and Kelly Johnson

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson in the University of Michigan wind tunnel in 1933 with an early single-tail Model 10 Electra. Johnson's aerodynamic testing led to the twin tail design—later a Lockheed trademark.

Jimmy Doolittle and Orion

Jimmy Doolittle stands before the Lockheed Orion Model 10.

Wiley Post and Orion-Explorer seaplane

This photo shows aviator Wiley Post standing on one of the floats of the hybrid Orion-Explorer seaplane. The hybrid seaplane flew Post and writer.

Lockheed C-36

The 1937, the Air Corps bought three Lockheed Electra Model 10A aircraft. They were designated Y1C-36 and were used as senior staff transports during the mid and late 1930s.

Lockheed XC-35

The Lockheed XC-35 was specifically designed as a flight test aircraft for high altitudes. Based on the Electra design, it was the world's first airplane specifically constructed with a pressure cabin.

Lockheed C-60 Lodestar

The U.S. Army Air Forces was by far the main customer of the Lodestar.

Cockpit of C-60 Lodestar

Cockpit of the C-60 Lodestar.