Aviation

1937 Electra being restored for trip home to Prague

The Wichita Eagle

A 1937 Lockheed 10A “Electra” — sister to the one flown by aviatrix Amelia Earhart on her ill-fated final flight — is getting new life inside a Newton hangar.

Restoration work is underway by Wichita Air Services’ vintage aircraft maintenance and restoration business at the Newton City-County Airport.

Work began nearly four years ago.

“We’re getting to the final stages,” said Leeb Von Fange, Wichita Air Service shop manager.

When finished, the plane’s owners plan to display the Electra inside a hangar in Prague in the Czech Republic.

That’s where the plane’s original owner, the Bata Shoe Co., was once based.

A holding company for the Bata family bought the plane from a Texas owner and decided to have it restored, said Wichita Air Services president Fred Bruns.

The two-engine aluminum plane flew from Texas to Wichita Air Services in December 2010 for the work.

When the plane arrived, “it had quite a bit of corrosion and different damage,” Von Fange said.

It’s taken longer than expected to restore, but it’s been a labor of love, he said.

“The hardest thing about the project is the time that it takes to do it,” Von Fange said.”It’s hard to predict.”

Restoration business

Wichita Air Services has two divisions, including the restoration business and a corporate flight department to support Jack DeBoer’s businesses located at the Jabara Airport in Wichita.

The restoration side of the business grew out of DeBoer’s love of vintage aircraft.

In 1986, it took on the restoration of DeBoer’s North American SNJ-5 Texas. The plane won national awards

Wichita Air Services has restored a variety of aircraft, including fabric covered, radial engine bi-planes, Mustangs, jets and others.

Some projects have begun as boxes of parts and pieces and were barely recognizable when they arrived.

The Electra flew to Newton from Texas under a special government ferry permit.

“It needed a lot of work, that was obvious,” Bruns said of the plane.

The Electra’s history

The Lockheed 10A, serial number 1,091, was built by Lockheed Aircraft Co. in Burbank, Calif., in April 1937.

That was three months before Amelia Earhart disappeared in the central Pacific in a Lockheed 10E, a similar plane with larger engines.

The Bata Shoe Co., the original owner of the plane, was founded in what was then Zlin, Czechoslovakia, in 1894, according to historical information with the airplane.

Soon after the company bought the plane, it flew around the world promoting Bata shoes.

In 1939, two days before Nazi forces occupied Czechoslovakia, a crew flew the company’s general manager to Poland to prevent his capture by the Germans.

The crew then flew to Yugoslavia, Italy, Paris and finally to London where the Electra was pressed into service as an embassy shuttle by the British government.

It eventually was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force and served Canada through World War II.

In 1946, it was declared as surplus and sold for $42,000.

Since then, it’s been owned by a number of companies and individuals, including child star Margaret O’Brien.

The current owners bought the Lockheed Electra from James Almand of Grand Prairie, Texas.

And although it didn’t have its plane, Bata did OK through the years as well.

Today, Bata Shoes sell 270 million pairs of shoes through companies in 70 countries, according to its website.

Better than new

The plane has taken longer to restore than first expected.

“There were too many unknowns heading into the project,” Bruns said.

That’s not uncommon in a project of this kind.

For one, many of the parts had to be made by hand, one at a time.

Two large orange crates hold the Electra’s old parts.

“We’ve kept everything we removed from the airplane and had to fabricate,” Bruns said. Many of the original parts will be put on display in Prague with the plane.

Some parts were signed by the mechanics who first built them in 1937.

With the restoration, the plane has also been updated.

“Back in 1937, they didn’t have all the controls and the manufacturing we have now,” Bruns said. “The quality of the materials they used was not up to the standards that we have now. The airplane is going to be better than when it was new.”

Mechanics replaced the aluminum skin, the flaps and all the control surfaces, such as the rudders, flaps and ailerons.

They cosmetically repaired the wings and upgraded the avionics.

The radial Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines were overhauled by Covington Aircraft Engine in Okmulgee, Okla.

The flight controls have been rigged and are now ready to go, Von Fange said.

The propellers have been installed.

Numbers and stripes were to be painted on the plane Thursday

Next, wiring will be finished, the interior completed and seats installed.

“This airplane has never had an interior this nice before,” said Don Horst, a contract mechanic on the project. “It will be fun to see it done.”

The interior has already been fabricated, installed and fitted, then removed so nothing would get damaged while work was being done to the airplane, Bruns said.

“We’re moving along as quickly as possible,” Bruns said. “We’ve got to get our inspector to finish buying off the landing gear retraction and emergency extensions and the flap operation. We’ve still got some wiring to do. As soon as we get that done, the airplane will come off the jacks and will start making preparations for engine run and systems checks.”

Until the functional tests are completed, Bruns won’t predict when it will fly. But, he said, that should be soon.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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