By Jerry Lips
The period between the World Wars is known as the “Golden Age of Aviation.” Pilots like Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, Roscoe Turner, and Ruth Nichols became national heroes flying sleek Lockheed aircraft. Numerous flight records and racing victories seemed to justify the claim, “It takes a Lockheed to beat a Lockheed.”
The Lockheed story begins with two brothers from California, Allan and Malcolm Loughead (the name was later changed to Lockheed). Allan was an aviator and his older brother, Malcolm, was a mechanic.
The Lockheed Vega was an ideal combination of form and function. The wings were internally braced eliminating drag-producing struts and wires, and the cigar-shaped monocoque fuselage was made of plywood. Building monocoque fuselages had been too time consuming for mass production until Lockheed began constructing fuselages in a special concrete mold. Layers of plywood were glued together inside the mold; workers sealed the lid and inflated a bag on the inside pressing the layers together while they dried. It was then a simple matter of cutting out the windows and door. Shortly after its maiden flight of July 4, 1927, the first production Lockheed Vega, christened the “Golden Eagle,” began setting records.
A few days before going to press with this issue of the Journal, I stopped by the Adam Aircraft manufacturing plant to see my friend, Tom Wiesner. He showed me the new production model of the all new A500. Tom explained that they are preparing for the maiden test flight of this remarkable new aircraft. As I watched the group of engineers and mechanics busy with the final touches preparing for the maiden flight, which, like the Lockheed Vega, will probably coincide with our nation’s birthday, I experienced a little shutter accompanied by goose bumps. It seemed my thoughts and emotions were suddenly on overload. I was experiencing some kind of patriotic rush.
I had just returned from Europe where I attended the European Business Aircraft Conference in Geneva. My 17-year-old Swiss nephew took the train down from Zurich to help me with distribution of our Special Europa edition. As we shared a hotel room, we would stay awake late and talk. He explained to me that when he was 14, it was decided that he must choose a vocation; he would not be able to attend university. The decision was not left to him; his government decided for him and he just accepted his destiny that had been determined by others.
I tried to explain to him that he could come to America, attend almost any college, and become whatever he wanted to be. I was thinking about the Loughead brothers and Howard Hughes—and Rick Adam, the man risking his personal fortune to launch the new A500 aircraft. As I watched Mr. Adam next to one of his engineers and pointing to details on the computer monitor, my mind retrieved images from movies and books of Howard Hughes in his Fedora and leather flying jacket, standing next to a drafting table pointing out details for his new aircraft.
While many manufacturers are still producing aircraft that were designed in that Howard Hughes era, the A500 is made with the latest in materials, designed to be safer, faster, more efficient, and just better than any other aircraft in its class, and its made right here at Centennial. But this is not what gave me goose bumps. The goose bumps were caused by the realization that this scene is played out across America. It’s really the significant part of what we call “American freedoms.” It’s what the rest of the world is envious. It’s easier to take your better ideas to market, “from sea to shining sea.”
Denver Jet Center will host the third annual Business Aircraft and Jet Preview August 1, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Press will be hosted 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. with a special open house for Centennial businesses and neighbors between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.