Lockheed Vega 1 'Golden Eagle' test flight, July 4, 1927. Credit: San Diego Air & Space
On the afternoon of July 4, 1927 the Lockheed Vega ‘Golden Eagle’, a striking new airplane looking sleeker, yet sturdier than any of its counterparts was taxied onto a runway in Burbank, California. It was designed by Allan Lockheed with the Lockheed Aircraft Company. Coming in the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s landmark transatlantic flight just two months earlier, the plane arrived during a time of unprecedented aeronautical fever, with daredevils of every kind lining up for air races and aeronautical challenges, all seeking fame and stardom.
Lockheed Vega 1 before and after assembly. June 1927. Credit: San Diego Air & Space
Young Allan Lockheed and his team had wagered their company’s future on a plane constructed entirely out of wood, using patented techniques they had created and refined ten years earlier. At the heart of the Vega’s revolutionary design was its incredibly light yet durable fuselage, built by taking strips of spruce, laying them in concrete molds, and sealing them together with waterproof glue. The resulting solid cigar-shaped fuselage meant a more powerful engine could be mounted, which allowed the Vega to reach speeds of up to 226 mph. The Vega stood out among aircraft of the time. It handled more predictably, was more durable than its competitors, and was much faster.
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega. Wheeler Field, 1935. Credit: San Diego Air & Space
In late 1927 Australian explorer George Hubert Wilkins caught a glimpse of a Vega in flight and immediately rushed out and purchased one. He used his Vega as a groundbreaking scientific instrument for exploration and discovery. In 1928, flying his Vega through blinding blizzards and temperatures that dipped as low as 48 degrees below zero, Wilkins not only mapped out early Arctic air routes but also surveyed some 100,000 miles of previously uncharted territory in the Antarctic, naming one mountain range “Lockheed” in honor of the company that built his airplane of choice.
In the ensuing years, aeronautical pioneers from Amelia Earhart to Charles Lindbergh to Wiley Post would employ Lockheed's Vega aircraft to shatter speed marks, distance records, and establish the first passenger plane routes to South America and Asia. The aircraft’s many speed records prompted Allan Lockheed to coin the phrase, “It takes a Lockheed to beat a Lockheed.”