The Flight of the Last R-985 Electra Juniors

Seven remarkable Lockheed Model 12s showed up for their diamond jubilee.

Don’t blame age for making a group of Lockheed Model 12 Electra Juniors late for their own 75th anniversary celebration. The sleek, twin-engine transport can still cruise at 175 mph. In 2014, seven of the world’s 10 then-airworthy Juniors rendezvoused in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during the Experimental Aircraft Association annual AirVenture fly-in—a mere three years late for the model’s diamond jubilee. It’s remarkable the gathering occurred at all, says Peter Ramm, who coordinated the event, considering the scheduling and logistical challenges, and given that L-12 owners are “a pretty independent bunch.”

Standing wingtip to wingtip outside the Red Barn, EAA’s vintage aircraft headquarters, this may have been the largest collection of the type ever assembled.
“I don’t know any time there were seven parked together, even at the factory,” said Les Whittlesey, who flew his L-12 to Wisconsin from Coto de Caza, California, just down the road from Burbank, where Electra Juniors were built.

Aimed at small airlines and the corporate transport market, the Lockheed 12 Electra Junior was the six-passenger version of the 10-passenger Lockheed 10, famed as the airplane Amelia Earhart was flying when she went missing. The impetus for the Junior’s development was in part a Bureau of Air Commerce design competition aimed at promoting aircraft for feeder airlines—carriers that transport, or “feed,” travelers to hub airports from destinations not served by larger lines. Powered by Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior SB radial engines, the L-12 first flew on June 27, 1936, three days before the competition ended. Lockheed won the contest by default; the two other entrants, the Beech 18 and the Barkley-Grow T8P-1, failed to fly before the deadline.

Available in both airline and executive interior configurations, the L-12 featured innovations such as a fire suppression system in the engines, an emergency exit, and a fuel dump system, which was rare at the time.

But despite its advanced design and incentives provided by the government, the L-12 garnered few orders from airlines.

“The reality is, during that time a 15- to 18-passenger airliner would work well as a feeder, and the fixed costs of crew, fuel, oil, and airframe really wouldn’t be too much more than the skimpy six-passenger Lockheed speedster,” said H.G. Frautschy, former executive director of the EAA’s Vintage Aircraft Association.

Many of the L-12s at the reunion were first owned by oil companies; with their big balloon tires, a stall speed of about 65 mph, and conventional gear configuration, they could easily operate on unimproved airstrips in oil fields. Between 126 and 130 Juniors were built; production ended in 1941.

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