LOCKHEED VEGA Model 5 NC869E
THE “CENTURY OF PROGRESS” DOPPLEGANGER
This airplane is a Lockheed Vega Model 5 (S/N 69; ATC #93)
manufactured May 16, 1929 by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation,
CA. It left the factory with a Pratt & Whitney
Wasp engine (S/N 1677) of 420-450 HP. It was a five-place
airplane, weighing 4,033 pounds gross.This PDF download (144KB) gets you the one-page NASM record for this airplane. It lived one life,
then became an alter ego.
S/N 69 sold on June 1, 1929 to Schlee-Brock
Detroit, MI, distributors for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. They
sold it to Cromwell Air Lines, Inc., San Angelo, TX on January
We find NC869E landing at Tucson on August
2, 1930. It was flown by Jimmie Mattern, carrying a
single passenger identified only as “Henshaw”. Based
in San Angelo, TX they were westbound from El Paso, TX to
Los Angeles, CA. Mattern worked for Cromwell Air Lines
at the time.
On January 29, 1931, NC869E was transferred to Carl G. Cromwell
of San Angelo. Later that year, Mr. Cromwell was killed
in an automobile accident in Pennsylvania on September 26,
1931. Luella L. Cromwell, executor, sold NC869E on
November 21, 1931 to James J. “Jimmie” Mattern,
Mattern had NC869E rebuilt and fitted for a round-the-world
flight. It was named “Century of Progress” and
was painted blue with cream
trim. A new
cockpit was fitted behind the wing and dual controls were
installed. He and Bennett Griffin began their journey
by flying from New York to Newfoundland to Ireland
to Berlin, beginning July 5, 1932. At this link, Mattern and Griffin are filmed at Berlin with their airplane. Note that the airplane wore the "NR" registration.
is an image of the airplane essentially as Mattern flew
it through Tucson in 1930. The photo was taken in Berlin
on July 6, 1932. This Vega crashed in Russia after leaving
Berlin. Parts were salvaged and shipped back to the USA.
Back in America, the fuselage and tail surfaces of a former
Standard Oil Vega, NC106N (c/n118, not a Register
NC106N, Circa June, 1930 (Source: Kalina)
Airplane, left) were used with the wing
and landing gear of NC869E (c/n69) in a rebuild at Lockheed
(Phoenix arisen, see NC7440).
Even though the majority of the rebuilt plane was NC106N,
Mattern kept the NC869E registration and the same constructor's
number (c/n69). Since the fuselage of NC106N was painted with
the Standard Oil Stanavo Eagle paint scheme, Mattern simply
elaborated on it during the rebuild.
This rebuilt "Eagle"-scheme Vega (converted back
to standard flight controls) was the one he used on his solo
around-the-world attempt in 1933. And, once again, the plane
was named "Century
"new" airplane was flown solo by Mattern, taking off
on June 3, 1933, and arriving June 4 in Norway. Image, below,
from unidentified contemporary newspaper.
Below, courtesy of Tim Kalina, is a photograph of Mattern's second version of NR869E (left). Mattern stands in white by his airplane, accompanied by an unidentified gentleman. An added feature of this photograph is that Wiley Post's airplane, the "Winnie Mae," NR105W, stands in the background.
NC869E & Jimmie Mattern; NC105W & Wiley Post, Ca. 1933 (Source: Kalina)
Mr. Kalina says about the image, "Shown are Mattern's second Vega 'Century of Progress' NR869E and Post's Vega NR105W. Given the date written on the back of the photo this would have to be before June that year as Mattern departed NYC on June 3 on his second round-the-world attempt. And this would also be before Post's solo round-the-world flight which started in July that year." Below, the back of the photo above.
Back of Mattern/Post Photograph, Ca. 1933 (Source: Kalina)
Alas, the global flight was not to be. A couple of different sources cite different outcomes. Both outcomes involve a crash of the airplane, but neither the cause nor the location are agreed upon.
Regardless, on the next
leg of the journey, NC869E suffered
an accident (result of a frozen oil line or bad fuel, see biography linked below) at Borisov, in the western USSR (or Khabarovsk, in the western USSR, depending on your source).
Mattern was missing for weeks, but he survived. After
no small diplomatic juggling, a Russian pilot carried him
to Nome, Alaska. Mattern flew another plane from Nome back
to New York.
The"Century of Progress" was
This airplane appeared on the ground at Floyd Bennett Field flown by Mattern on April 22, 1933. With him in the airplane were Jack Clark and H.B. Jameson. They arrived at Brooklyn from Dayton, OH. You will note on the same Register page the presence of Wiley Post and the "Winnie Mae," NC105W. They both left Brooklyn at about the same time on solo flights around the world.
This biography of Mattern from the American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Fall 1997 (PDF 2.6mB) describes the preparations Mattern made for his solo round-the-world attempt. Included is a description of his flight to the time he crashed, and a day-by-day diary of his time on the ground in Russia before he was rescued.
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UPLOADED: 04/19/06 REVISED: 4/20/06, 04/29/06, 05/01/06, 01/16/07, 12/10/09, 01/13/10, 06/02/10