81 years ago, the 1st Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar took off

Exactly 81 years ago (in 1939), the Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar took off to the skies, powered by 2 875hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E2-Gs. Based on the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra (which first flew in 1937), the Model 18 was an enlarged version of its predecessor, carrying 18 passengers instead of 14, as its name indicates. The 1st flight of this aircraft came in almost perfect harmony with the beginning of World War II, which had started only 20 days before. Orginally, the first 2 prototypes were just conversions from the Model 14, but the 3rd aircraft was built from scratch, flying on February 2 of 1940. Although a majestic and relatively safe aircraft, the Model 18 came at a time when American airlines had already committed to the Douglas DC-3. The 2 aircraft both belonged to the piston-engined passenger/transport aircraft category, only that the DC-3 had come 3 years before, which gave it a considerable advantage in terms of market success and popularity. Airlines back then were desperate to get their hands on the first decent-looking aircraft that would show up, unlike now where they have many more choices and can cancel, suspend or change their order. The Model 18 received its Type Certificate (a certificate that permits a certain aircraft to fly after having observed its airworthiness) on the 30th of March 1940. The same month, the aircraft received its 1st order from Mid-Continent Airlines (an American airline based in Kansas that was acquired by Braniff International Airways in 1952).

Actually, the aircraft had a superior performance in comparison to the DC-3 (which carried between 21 and 32 passengers), with a similar seat-mile cost, but a higher maximum speed (428 km/h instead of 370 km/h) and range (4000 km instead of 2420 km), albeit a lower rate of climb (5.48 m/s instead of 5.7 m/s) and cruise speed (320 km/h instead of 333 km/h). Of course, both aircraft underwent several engines modifications, so this is only generally speaking. For more information about the history of Lockheed and this specific aircraft, please read Francillon’s “Lockheed Aircraft since 1913”, published in 1982.

Sales of the Model 18 were fairly low, as it only received a total of 31 orders from American airlines (not AA). As the aircraft was created on the advent of World War II, the US Navy and Military had an impending need for it, making them the main “customers” for the aircraft (they possessed around 400 together). The main civil operators of the aircraft were South African Airways and New Zealand National Airways Corporation with 21 and 13 aircraft respectively. The Lodestar was a moderate success, as 625 aircraft were produced, but it would have been the hit of the century, had it appeared a few years before the DC-3. Nevertheless, it remained an important aircraft for armies and navies around the world for decades and can be remembered as the main competitor to the DC-3, as well as one of Lockheed’s most widely-used (in military transport roles, passenger flights, cargo flights and even in agricultural spraying) aircraft. 21st of September 2020.

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