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The Lockheed Orion Model 9 was a single engine passenger aircraft built in 1931 for commercial airlines. It was the first airliner to have retractable landing gear and was faster than any military aircraft of that time. It was the last wooden monoplane design produced by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. It was designed and built by Richard A. Von Hake, but an interesting historical note is that Kelly Johnson of SR-71 fame was flight test engineer on the project.

Design

The Orion was the last design using many identical elements from the Lockheed designs preceding it. It primarily used all the elements of the Altair, but included a forward top cockpit similar to the Vega, plus the NACA cowling introduced in the Air Express. Lockheed used the same basic fuselage mold and wing for all these wooden designs (the Explorer wing was unique), hence the close similarities between them. The Orion featured an enclosed cabin with seating for six passengers. The first Orion, tested by Marshall Headle, received its Approved Type Certificate on May 6, 1931.

Operational history

Although designed with the passenger market in mind, its speed made it a natural for air races. The first Bendix race of 1931 had a showing of two Orions and three Altairs and one Vega in a race that had only nine aircraft competing. On 11 July 1935, Laura H. Ingalls flew a Lockheed Orion, powered by a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, from Floyd Bennett Fieldmarker to Burbank, Californiamarker, establishing an East-West record for women. Two months later she flew it back to set a West-East record.

The first Orion entered service with Bowen Air Lines at Fort Worth, Texasmarker, in May 1931. Many safe miles were flown in airline service and the headlines won by a few expert speed pilots proved the advanced design and reliability of the "Orion". Those that went into airline use as a passenger transport had their life span limited, however. In 1934 the Civil Aeronautics Authority issued a ruling prohibiting further use of single engine passenger aircraft from operating on all major networks. It also became mandatory to have a co-pilot and thus a two-seat cockpit arrangement on all such flights. The requirements of the ruling brought an end to the "Orion" as a passenger carrying airlines' airplane. They were then used for cargo or mail carrying or sold for private use and charter. Because the aircraft had a complicated wood construction and needed to be sent back to Lockheed in Burbank California to be repaired, they were often disposed of after any type of significant accident. At least 12 of the used "Orions" were purchased for service in the Spanish Civil War and destroyed in use.

The Orion Explorer was a modified 9E. It had a damaged wing replaced with the wing of the Explorer 7 after a crash, and was fitted with a 600 hp (482 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 engine. Fixed landing gear and later floats were also fitted. It was used by Wiley Post and Will Rogers for a round-the-world flight attempt, but both men died when the aircraft crashed in Alaskamarker on 15 August 1935.

Variants

Orion 9: 14 built, 410 hp (306 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp A or 420 hp (313 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C
Orion 9A Special: one aircraft with 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC engine
Orion 9B: two aircraft supplied to Swissair, 575 hp (429 kW) Wright R-1820-E engine
Orion 9C: redesignated Altair DL-2A
Orion 9D: 13 built
Orion 9E: three aircraft with 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-1 engine
Orion 9F: one executive aircraft with a 645 hp (481 kW) Wright R-1820-F2 engine
Orion 9F-1: one executive aircraft with a 650 hp (485 kW) Wright SR-1820-F2 engine
UC-85: one Orion 9D to USAAF in June 1942
Orion-Explorer: modified Orion 9E, 600 hp (482 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 engine


Survivors



In all, Lockheed built a total of 35 Orions costing $25,000 each new. It is not known if any survived past the 1940s except the one that survives to the present day. This lone remaining Orion was originally built as an experimental Altair with a metal fuselage. This Altair (built in 1931) was damaged in a belly-landing accident in Columbus, Ohio, in 1933. It was returned to Lockheed where it was converted in 1934 to an Orion 9C configuration by the original designer of the Orion, Richard A. Von Hake, and others who worked for free during a slow period when the Lockheed factory was going into bankruptcy. A valid argument has been raised that since the fuselage, wing and tail of both planes are identical, and that it was also rebuilt by the original designer at the Lockheed plant, it may be considered an actual Orion (#36) instead of a modified Altair. In any case, it was sold to Shell Aviation Corp., painted yellow-orange and red and named "Shellightning." It was used by Shell's aviation manager, James H. Doolittle, on cross-county and exhibition flights. Jimmy Doolittle made hundreds of trips in this Lockheed, and the ship was very much in evidence at air shows, airport dedications, and business meetings across the territories of all three Shell companies in the United States. In 1936, "Shellightning" was again involved in an accident, in St. Louis, and was stored there. Two years later, Paul Mantz caught the racing bug in addition to his aeronautical movie work. He bought the damaged "Shellightning" and had it rebuilt at Parks Air College in St. Louis, Missouri with a more powerful Wright Cyclone engine and some streamlining to add to its speed. It re-painted red with white trim and Mantz flew the plane in the Bendix Races in 1938 and 1939, coming in third both times. In 1943, he sold the plane and it went through a series of owners until Mantz bought it back in 1955. He retained ownership until selling it to TallMantz Aviation, Inc. in 1962. In 1964, the plane was sitting out in the open on the flightline at Orange County Airport, now John Wayne Airport, in blue-and-white American Airways trim. Some time in the 1960s it was purchased by Swiss Air and rebuilt to flying status by the famous "Fokker" restoration team and is on display at the Swiss Transport Museummarker in Lucernemarker, Switzerlandmarker in the livery of the original Swiss Air Orion. [27484]

Operators



Specifications (Orion 9D)

See also

The definitive information source for these aircraft is: Revolution in the Sky: Those Fabulous Lockeeds and the Pilots Who Flew Them. By Richard S. Allen.

References

  1. Eden, and Moeng, eds. 2002, p. 899.
  2. Francillon, 1987.
  • Francillon, RenĂ© J, Lockheed Aircraft since 1913. Naval Institute Press: Annapolis, 1987.
  • Eden, Paul and Moeng, Soph, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002. ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.


External links

  • Information on building an r/c model Orion http://www.rcuniverse.com/forum/m_5326359/anchors_5326359/mpage_1/key_/anchor/tm.htm#5326359
  • Lockheed Orion on Swissair flights: http://www.pionnair-ge.com/spip1/spip.php?article118



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