Acquiring a New Airplane for the Museum of Flight

A KING-5 TV Program called me The Plane Hunter, and many people have asked me how you go about obtaining an historic airplane for the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where I am a volunteer. The Museum even asked me to make a presentation on that subject in the Museum's Theater. Sometimes, the intrigues are best not put to paper, or see the light of day - but here is an overview. The last airplane I worked hard to obtain was the Lockheed Model 10 Electra - and this is the story.  It starts with a Vision....

    My Vision

T H E   R E A S O N S  F O R  A D D I N G  T H E  E L E C T R A 

Kelly Johnson was the world's greatest aircraft designer. Of course, that's just an opinion - my opinion. But, it's an opinion shared by many other people as well. As a great admirer, and very active in Seattle's Museum of Flight, I have tried to populate the collection with examples of his best airplanes. I've done reasonably well - we had 7 - and now we have 8 of his designs.

    The Great Man

The latest is a Model 10 Electra, which arrived in September 2013. Its acquisition took about six years and is the story of this Photo Essay.

If you look at this collection of the Museum's Kelly airplanes, you can see pretty quick that one is missing. An important one. It's the Model 10 Electra from 1934 - Kelly's first airplane. Although he didn't design it, he played a very major role in its creation, and it's subsequent success.

    The Missing airplane

As a brand new Lockheed engineer (#6) fresh out of Univ. of Michigan, Kelly, never one to keep his mouth shut, told Hall Hibbard - his new boss - that their new Electra airplane wasn't very good, and would have directional stability problems. After first considering firing this brash new addition to his staff, Hibbard thought better, and sent Kelly back to Michigan's wind tunnel with a model to investigate the supposed problem.

After confirming his diagnosis, Kelly set out to fix the problem - with the primary solution being to switch from a single vertical fin to dual fins and rudders. It took 83 wind tunnel runs to perfect the solution, after which Kelly returned to Burbank -- a hero, instead of a goat. Promoted from Tooling Engineer to Aircraft Engineer.

    Kelly with the Electra wind tunnel model at the University of Michigan

The multiple fins became a Kelly/Lockheed trademark, later used on the P-38 Lightning fighter and Constellation transport. They were jokingly referred to as Kelly's Guitar Picks. Lockheed went on to build almost 7000 airplanes based on the Electra design over a 10 year production run.

One (Model 12) can be seen at the end of the classic movie Casablanca, when Humphrey Bogart bids farewell to a tearful Ingrid Bergman.


Here's looking at you, kid.....

Another (Model 14) can be seen here in 1938 - British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich after getting a signed piece of paper from Adolph Hitler assuring the English of Peace in our Time.

    In front of his Electra - Holding up the (In)famous piece of paper

And - of course - the Model 10 was the airplane flown by famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart in her attempt to circumnavigate the world. It's disappearance in the Southwest Pacific in 1937 has spawned decades of speculation, searches, books, and movies.

The Model 10 was the airplane missing from my Kelly collection , er - the Museum's Kelly Collection -- his First - to go with the Blackbird - his Last. The perfect Bookends to an incredible career.

T H E   P R O C E S S

First, of course, I had to convince the MOF management to share my vision. For that, I use the Chinese Drip Torture method. After many years of trying, (ten+), the airplane was finally officially added to the Museum's Official Collection Want List. There are many airplanes on that list, and being there meant little - except it meant that acquiring one was now a sanctioned activity.


By October 2010, the Electra had been added to the Museum's "Want List"

Next, I had to find an airplane, and the money to buy it, and a place in the Museum to put it. These things I had done many times before - it was just a matter of Drip, Drip, Drip. And a lot of Luck. Luck. Luck. Also, some $$$ $$$ $$$.

I started by researching every extant Model 10 Electra or Model 12 Electra Jr. - wherever in the world, and contacting their owners. As the date on this Regstry record search shows, I started this back in August 2007 - at the time I was working pretty near full time on the Museum's Super G Constellation - another of my little "adventures" - it had finally been allowed to leave Canada in June and was in Rome, NY for restoration.  I was comuting back and forth to work with the contractor.

    Registry searches tracking down every Electra in the world

Many of the airplanes, probably most, were not even for sale - but some were. Then it was a case of checking each airplane out, as best as I could, and presenting them to the MOF's Collection Committee - of which I was a long standing member. Pretty much everyone thought it was a good idea - just not very feasible -- because of the high asking prices. But, the members are very used to my Rambles and Pipe Dreams, and allow me to ramble on. I'm never dismayed - often Dreams become Reality.

Some of the many airplanes tracked down and evaluated

A short list was ultimately created and in the summer of 2011, I began working with a Seller's Agent. Our first meeting was in the Spruce Goose - the greasy spoon restaurant at Jefco - the Pt. Townsend Airport.  Of course, all this was as a private citizen, and not in any way as a legal representative of the Museum. I'm just a volunteer, and not a paid employee of the MOF. But, that little nicety had never stopped me before.

One particular airplane emerged as highly attractive from the Museum's point of view. A Model 10-E airplane that replicated the features on Amelia's airplane, right down to the big engines on the "E" model and the skinned over windows, to the long range tanks in the cabin. Actually, this airplane had already flown around the world once - retracing Amelia's route - and was being prepared for a second round the world flight. There were only two Model 10-Es left in the world - and this was one.

    The best candidate emerged - found in Novato, California

The story of Amelia was a compelling one, from the MOF's perspective - it would bring paying customers through the door - essential for a Non-Profit - to keep the lights on and the heating bill paid for. A recent movie had been released about Amelia, and various searches in the Southwest Pacific were underway. The MOF had even had an extensive Amelia exhibition several years before. Amelia was a symbol for many women aspiring to careers in aviation.  Museum Curators and Docents reported questions about Amelia topped their lists.  Getting this airplane might be like tapping the Mother Lode.

So - what we had, to my way of thinking, was a Nexus - the important crossing of two of the Museum's main themes
Kelly Johnson and Amelia Earhart.


  And here they are together, in person - an unbeatable Nexus - with her Electra in the background.  Can you beat that?

With this in mind, I began negotiations with the owner - through her Agent. A price was established and details of the condition were provided. I discussed some of this with the Collections Committee, but the instant response was always the same - Thanks, but No Thanks. There was no money. And there was no place.

Patience, Bob - Patience!

These negotiations went on for about a year, trying to figure out a way around the financing problem. Finally, a solution appeared - Ray D. - a retired airline pilot from Montana. He offered to buy the airplane from the Seller and donate it free and clear to the Museum. In exchange, he wanted the MOF to trade him a Chance Vought Super Corsair currently displayed in the SW corner of the Great Gallery. He wanted to return it to flying status.

    The F2G-1 Super Corsair - a financing solution AND a prime spot

The MOF has TWO Corsairs - a regular Corsair, and this Big Corsair - it had a P&W R4360 engine which was one of the largest piston engines ever built - 28 cylinders in 4 rows. The Super Corsair was built in limited numbers - about 15 - and only three remained, including ours. It was intended to climb fast and intercept incoming Japanese Kamikaze airplanes attacking U.S. ships toward the end of WW II. But, the war ended before it was ever deployed.


I arranged for Ray to come and inspect the Corsair. Having owned one previously, he knew what he was looking for.

I should point out that not everyone thinks the two Corsairs represent the same model airplane - some think they are two different airplanes. I'm not in that camp. An institution like the MOF can't afford to have two of the same airplane in the inventory. Besides, as a member of the Collections Committee, I knew the Super Corsair had been offered up at least twice before as trade bait for other airplanes the MOF wanted. So I figured I could safely trade it away (as if I could really do any of these things with the Museum's collection...... well, whatever......)

With tape measure in hand, I went down and measured the floor space where the Super Corsair was currently displayed. At home, I created drawings to see if it would fit - it would. An important consideration, since adding an airplane to the collection always ends with the question: "Where are you going to put it?"    Moving out the Corsair would give me a Place - a Two-fer.

I then had discussions with Dan Hagedorn, the MOF Chief Curator about location. In the past, it had been suggested that if we ever got one, it be hung from the ceiling, in place of a Beech C-45. I told Dan I had a deal going, but I felt the airplane had to be on the floor - had to go in the Corsair's spot - prime real estate. There, it would be right behind the Blackbird, completing the Kelly collection. The floor or nothing - I wouldn't go forward without that assurance. Again, as if I could really make any sort of demand. But - He agreed.

After researching Ray D. - this man from Montana - quite a bit - I felt he was for real, and the proposed deal was viable. At this time, I went forward with the Proposal formally to Doug King, CEO of MOF. In an email, I laid out the proposed exchange, and the reasons for adding the Electra to our collection - primarily the Kelly Johnson Collection and the Amelia Earhart Connection - a Nexus.

F O R M A L L Y  P R E S E N T I N G  T H E  D E A L


A fairly lengthy email sent to Doug King on Easter Sunday 2012 - starting with"

a fabulous addition to the MOF collection --  at no cost to the Museum.

and ending

Maybe, together, we can bring Amelia (and Kelly) to the Museum of Flight.

After Ray, the airline pilot, had examined the Corsair, a formal offer was drawn up and submitted to the Museum. At a meeting of the Collections Committee, I made a long presentation on the reasons why this acquisition, and this trade, made great sense for the MOF. All the members discussed the offer in turn, almost all were in favor, and there was strong support from Curator Dan Hagedorn - but two were adamantly opposed - not to the Electra acquisition, but to the loss of the Corsair. Then Doug King made his own lengthy response and supported the trade. A vote was taken and the issue was sent up to the Board of Trustees with a recommendation for acceptance.

    Tom Cathcart photo

My Vision at this point was to have the airplane fly in on July 3, 2012 - the 75th Anniversary of Amelia's disappearance....

I had done all I could at this point - the ball was now in the Museum's court.

T H E  M U S E U M  P I C K S  U P  T H E  B A L L

At the Trustee meeting, some questions and objections were raised. One of these involved the relative valuations of the two airplanes, and whether the MOF was not giving more than it was getting. Another had to do with objections by some members, to allowing airplanes in our care to return to flight status, with the possible loss of a rare artifact in an accident.

In the end, the Trustees decided to go forward and acquire the Electra, but via direct Purchase, and not via Trade. I was very happy the Electra would be coming to the Museum, but was dismayed to see us spending scarce dollars to acquire it, when it could be had "for nothing" - so to speak. One of my main missions in life - is not just to acquire great airplanes - but to do so without adding to the funding burdens already present at the Museum. I don't like fund raisers and perpetually asking for money.

The Museum Exhibits Department created renderings of what the airplane would look like in the Corsair's corner.

In any event, it was decided to make it a Ladies Event, in honor of Amelia, and a sub-committee of Lady Trustees was given the task of raising the money - $1.2 Million. Anne Simpson, Nancy Auth, and Patti Payne were given the task. I had my doubts, but they did a great job; Capt. Simpson in particular made a great contribution to our ultimate success.

From Decision to Contract signing took quite a while, as the negotiations bumped along.  I tried to make quiet nudges from the sidelines when needed, but was constantly reminded about how lawyers always wound up as the biggest challenge in my job.

I thought it both interesting and satisfying that the Museum's Home Page had three of my projects displayed at the same time -  the Electra, F-104 Starfighter, and Super G Constellation.  All were Kelly Johnson designs.


Events always take longer than it seems they should, and so my goal of flying the airplane in on July 3, 2012 for the 75th Anniversary of Amelia's disappearance was not to be.  However, in September 2013 the airplane was flown into Boeing Field on its Final Flight from Reno where it had been stored (last flights are always bittersweet for me.)  A few weeks later, it was moved into the Great Gallery, and took the place of the Super Corsair, that - having been displaced - would be moved ultimately to Paine Field in Everett.

September 21st was an auspicious day - for me anyway. It marked 10 years to the day since NASA 515, the 737 Prototype airplane, had flown in to Boeing Field on it's Final Flight. I had worked hard on preparing for that trip from Moses Lake - also six years in the making - and was fortunate enough to make it's last flight. I almost worked that deal for the Electra also, but my arrangements fell through at the last minute...... @#!$%$#  ):(

The weather was forecast to be marginal to poor, but fortunately, the weatherman busted another forecast - and the day turned out to be beautiful.

Still - A personal dream fulfilled - Kelly's First and his Last -  finally together.

As said in the last line of The Maltese Falcon - "the stuff that dreams are made of..."

N-number : N72GT
Aircraft Serial Number : 1015
Aircraft Manufacturer : LOCKHEED
Model : ELECTRA 10-E
Engine Manufacturer : P&W Model : R1340 SERIES
Aircraft Year : 1935
Owner Address : 9494 E MARGINAL WAY S SEATTLE, WA, 981084097
Type of Owner : Corporation
Registration Date : 07-Feb-2013
Airworthiness Certificate Type : Experimental
Approved Operations : Exhibition

Some of the Details - More data here

Note:  The two Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engines on this airplane are as unique as the airframe.  They have about 600 hours TTN (Total Time since New)  - not TSO (Time Since Overhaul.)  These engines were built new by Pratt & Whitney to support the Linda Finch 1997 Round-the-World flight.  They were the last two piston engines ever produced by Pratt & Whitney.

Some photos of the Electra's arrival at Boeing Field and Entry into the Museum


 September 21, 2013

This - in the air - is where she belongs - with AIR supporting her wings

Rolling out after her last landing


Always very sad to see an airplane - any airplane - make her last flight

What history she has seen in her 78 years!  We are just late-comers......




NR16020 is a "decorative marking" applied to S/N 1015 to replicate Amelia Earhart's aircraft registration; her airplane was S/N 1055
The actual Registration is N72GT


Quite a polish!!!

Couldn't have done it without my undertanding Co-pilot - Dot!

Entry into the Great Gallery

    October 12, 2013 - Installation into the Great Gallery

My good buddy Evan Elliot (aka B-17 tug driver) - on the tug again - with direction from his master Co-pilot - Donna.



 Who measured this???


Tom Cathcart making a last minute wing tip removal to make it just fit through the door

         Asst. Curator John Little -  Pretty close!

      Next - Tom - fitting jackpoints for installing some dollies



How's that for a "Mirror Finish"?


  In, - finally - on dollies, -  and now to slide her into her final place.  Watch those fingerprints!!!


 What a Shine!!!


So polished - you can see the Museum's Collection in her skin



M I S S I O N   A C C O M P L I S H E D

My Vision becomes a Reality.   Worth it - don'tcha think?

All of Kelly's airplanes together, finally, .... and I can rest on my laurals -- well -- ALMOST all - still .... there's that pesky U-2 still hanging out there...and I know where there are 32 that might be available some day soon ..........Always one more thing!

  From 1934 and the Electra's 200 mph to 1962 and the Blackbird's 2000 mph.  The two airplanes are only 28 years and a few steps apart.  Maybe 28 steps - one step for each year in the great engineer's career.  Come and see the Electra and take those few steps yourself - and think about it - one step per year.  Oh!  They both have twin tail fins.  You did notice that -- didn't you?

Back to Home Page

 It's been a multi year long road - but, that's how you get a great airplane into the Museum's Collection. You asked. Now you know.

So.... if you want your favorite airplane displayed at the Museum - there's your Roadmap - now, get to work!