Why Delta Air Lines Flew The Lockheed 10 Electra

Before the emergence of the Jet Age, Delta Air Lines had tried its hand with several propellers. One of these planes was the Lockheed Model 10 Electra. The carrier flew the type between 1936 and 1942. Let’s take a look at the relationship between the operator and the aircraft.

Delta Lockheed Electra 10
Delta primarily operated the Lockheed 10-B Electra model. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Keeping up to date

The variants that Delta took on were the Lockheed 10-A and 10B Electra. The first unit arrived at the airline’s facilities on December 21st, 1935. Even though it was the first Lockheed aircraft to be taken on by the carrier for passenger use, two of the manufacturer’s models formed part of the fleet the year before. The 5C Vega and 8A Sirius joined in 1935 solely for mail handling.

According to the Delta Flight Museum, Delta took these units on because they were quicker, larger, and more comfortable than the Stinson T and Stinson A aircraft that it held. Even though these Stinson planes were taken on not so long before, the airline felt that the Lockheed 10 Electra was the most modern equipment piece of equipment of its time.

Charles Dolson, who joined Delta in 1934 and would become the operator’s second CEO, highlighted that the plane brought his company out of the barnstorming era. Notably, the Electra’s modern instrumentation and retractable wheels helped it become the airline’s flagship aircraft towards the end of the 1930s.

There were also revolutions inside the aircraft. The 10 passengers that could fit in the cabin would have noticed features such as window curtains, hat nets, ashtrays, reading lamps, and a dome light. There was also drinking water and a lavatory onboard. Meanwhile, bag bins for luggage and mail were found under the wings and in the nose of the aircraft.

Travelers would have been in for a treat when it came to meals during their flight. This is because Delta introduced its first-ever onboard meal service with the plane. Box lunches were provided while the co-pilot served coffee.

Delta Electra 10
Delta progressed from a crop-dusting company to a passenger airline with the help of its propellers. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

High hopes

The airline was undoubtedly excited to introduce the plane. It said passengers routing via Delta are assured of swift, luxurious service with the aircraft. Initial service was between Forth Worth, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina.

“Delta Air Lines is pleased to announce the inauguration of Lockheed Electra service and new high-speed schedules between Atlanta and Dallas…also new low-wing, multimotored eight-passenger airliners between Atlanta and Charleston. With new equipment on all schedules, deluxe transportation is available over the entire Trans-Southern Route,” a Lockheed Electra service brochure said, as shared by the Delta Flight Museum.

“The new all-metal Electras are manned by two pilots and powered with the world-famous Wright Whirlwind motors…speed in excess of 200 M.P.H…scientifically sound-proofed…1100 miles cruising range…two-way radio telephone.”

Delta Electra 10 Poster
An advert promoting the Lockheed 10 Electra’s service. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

In total, Delta flew six units of the type. Four of the aircraft were 10-Bs fresh from Lockheed. Meanwhile, one 10-B was acquired from Eastern Airlines. Along with this, a 10-A was leased from Braniff Airways between December 1939 and March 1940.

Delta Electra 10 Cabin
There was a lot to shout about with the aircraft. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Industry appreciation

The Lockheed Electra family was a groundbreaking piece of kit when it was introduced. Along with airlines enjoying hitting the skies with the type, it was also part of historical feats around the world.

“Together, the Lockheed team created a unique twin-engine, twin-tail prototype. It was called the Electra—named after a star in the Pleiades cluster —but also carried the designation Model 10, which was the next available model number in the Lockheed line. The Electra immediately attracted the interest of smaller airlines, especially Northwest Airlines and Pan American Airways, both of which purchased Electras for their fleets by yearend 1934,” Lockheed Martin shared on its website.

“Enter Amelia Earhart. As the first woman to successfully undertake a transatlantic flight, which she navigated in a red Lockheed Vega, Earhart positively sparkled with star power. Earhart had set her sights on a new goal: circumnavigate the globe along a grueling 29,000-mile route following the equator, the longest distance yet attempted. The aircraft she’d use for the journey would be a Lockheed Electra. To enable the plane to travel farther between fueling stops, Lockheed engineers equipped her 10-E Electra with special fuselage tanks that allowed the plane to carry 1,200 gallons of fuel instead of the customary 200.”

Delta Lockheed Electra 10 Graphic
The aircraft had an MTOW of 10,300 lb. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

A change in climate

The story between Delta and the Lockheed 10 Electra started to come to an end due to World War II. By the time the United States entered the realm of the war, Delta had already made waves across the southern states’ commercial aviation scene. However, the war caused a storm within the industry across the nation, forcing several airlines to change their way of operating.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1940, many commercial flights were ordered to land at the nearest airport. They were then asked to unload those on board and await orders. Subsequently, US airline staff and their resources were deployed to help out with the war effort. So, four of Delta’s Electras were requisitioned by the military for action.

By the time the 1940s rolled around, the Douglas DC-3 was the standard in US aviation, which Delta also took on at the beginning of the decade. Along with this, the airline took on the DC-4 a year after the war ended.

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Amid the significant transformations in society and the market, Delta officially retired its Electra 10 aircraft in May 1942. There was an abundance of excitement surrounding the aircraft ahead of its launch. However, there soon became no place for the plane within the airline’s fleet.

Nonetheless, the association between Delta and Lockheed would continue through the years. In 1953, the airline took on the Lockheed 749 Constellation before snapping up the Lockheed L-100 in 1966. The airline also enjoyed hitting the air with the Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar between 1973 and 2001.

What are your thoughts about the Lockheed 10 Electra? What do you make of Delta Air Lines’ time with the aircraft? Let us know what you think in the comment section.