Today we'll be taking a look at three different Lockheed Electra's (1016, 1017, and 1018) instead of just one, the reason being they all had relatively short histories and it made more sense to us to group them together instead of three separate posts.
March 19, 1935, Electra 1016 with registration NC14901 was delivered to Continental Oil Drilling Co., in Ponca City, Oklahoma; some sources indicate that this ship was given to Northwest but none of our research has been able to confirm this. Shortly after this the aircraft was sold to Fain Drilling Co., Oklahoma City, OK., and by 1937 was registered with Santa Maria Air Lines. Unfortunately the history on this aircraft is spotty at best at least two sources indicate the aircraft likely crashed, possibly in 1937, but we have been unable to verify this.
Electra 1017 was delivered almost a week later on March 26, 1935. It exported to Japan, the only Electra that was ordered by the Japanese, where it was reportedly tested by the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force under registration KXL1. The fate of this aircraft is unknown.
Finally 1018, delivered as NC14905 to Braniff Airways on the first day of April; unfortunately the aircraft only flew with the airline for about a little over a year and a half before it crashed in December 1936.
On December 23, 1936, following the replacement of one of the aircraft's engines the Electra, with six people onboard, took off on a test flight from Dallas' Love Field. As the aircraft took off both engines, according to eyewitnesses, were both working. After half an hour of flying one of the crew radioed for wind direction stating that the plane was intending to land; no mention had been made at the time of any difficulty with the aircraft. The aircraft began to turn 180 degrees over the edge of the field at an altitude, according to reports of 150 feet. As the turn progressed it was noticed by witness that the right engine has stopped. Nearing the center of the airport, the Electra was still roughly 50 feet in the air and the pilot, believing he might overshoot the runway, opened the throttles to circle the airport and attempt another landing or attempt an emergency landing someplace else. The pilot succeeded in maintaining sufficient altitude, clearing the hangar ahead, but after flying roughly 3,000 feet in a stalled position the plane began to slip sideways and fell to the ground; the aircraft collided with the ground in a corn field less than half a mile from the airfield.
Frank Ghost, a salesman, who had been fishing on nearby Bachman's Lake saw the final moments of the aircraft, telling newspapers and investigators that "I looked up and saw a plane swooping down on me. Then it zoomed upwards. I noticed the windows were opened and a man's arms were out of one as if he was trying to climb out. The plane climbed briefly, then headed for the ground again. The right wing hit first and the plane was a mass of flames almost instantly. Moment[s] later I heard an explosion."
Following an investigation by the Department of Commerce the cause of the crash was listed as "the pilot's inexperience in the operation of this particular type of aircraft fully loaded with only one engine functioning." A closer inspection of the right engine failed to reveal why it would have failed to function; the investigation also revealed that no attempt had been made to lighten the load of the plane by dumping fuel. The final report also noted that there was plenty of open countryside where an emergency landing could have been made; in all six people were dead, four likely killed instantly and two who burned to death.
After the fire had been extinguished rescuers discovered Walbridge's body clutching tightly to the controls.
The victims were:
Don Walbridge, 38, Operations Manager
Sterling Perry, 37, Maintenance Superintendent
W. T. Chambers, 32, Crew Chief
Pascal Florence, 30, Braniff Mechanic
Hubert, Daane, 25, Braniff Mechanic
Fred Sleeper, 28, Braniff Mechanic
We here at Electra-fying honor and remember the sacrifices made by these early aviators.
NC14905 at Love Field, Ed Coates collection
Don Walbridge, San Angelo Morning Times, Thursday, December 24, 1936
Pascal Florence and Don Walbridge, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Thursday, December 24, 1936
Tyler Morning Telegraph, Thursday, December 24, 1936
Wichita Falls Record News, Friday, December 25, 1936