Sunday, December 30, 2018

Rolleston-based Lockheed 12A Electra Junior VH-ABH ‘Silver City’

One of my personal plane spotting highlights this year was travelling to Rolleston for their annual Wings and Wheels day where local pilot Ross Smith had his small collection historic aircraft on display.  One aircraft I was particularly excited to see was his beautifully presented Lockheed 12A Electra Junior VH-ABH named ‘Silver City’.

The Electra was the 36th Lockheed 12A from the factory in 1937 and has the Airframe number of 1236.  It is powered by two Pratt and Whitney Wasp Junior Supercharged 450HP radial engines.

Other technical data includes the Electra being some 11.07m (26ft 4ins) long, 2.97m (9ft 9ins) high with a wingspan of 15.09m (49ft 6ins).

In the air, the Electra’s range is around 800 nautical miles (1287kms) at a maximum speed of 200kts (226mph / 364kph) although usual cruise speed is 178kts (203mph / 327kph).

Inside, VH-ABH is configured to seat 6 passengers and is crewed by two pilots in the flightdeck.

VH-ABH has a rich history being initially shipped new from the Lockheed factory to Australia in 1937 and registered to Zinc Corporation as VH-ABH.  It was then christened as ‘Silver City’.  It attracted the attention of BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd) and they formed Associated Airlines with VH-ABH as their first company airplane.  This remained their only airplane until the end of World War II.

The Lockheed heralded many firsts for Australian aviation. It was Australia’s first all-metal aircraft, the nation’s first with two-way ground-to-air radio communications and was the fastest aircraft in the country at that time.  Both the speed and ease of travel with ‘Silver City’ revolutionised communication and transportation for company executives.

By the early 1940’s, VH-ABH had attracted the attention of the Commonwealth Government and was being utilised on regular occasions by Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the Governor General, Cabinet Ministers, State Governors as well as defence chiefs, all on flights across Australia.

In fact, I was told on the day that the seat pictured above was PM Menzies own seat!

In 1957, the Electra was sold by Associated Airlines.  It then had several owners until 1985 when it was acquired by the Wangaratta city Council in Victoria, who put the aircraft on permanent display at the Airworld Museum as a featured attraction.

Ross and Peggy Smith finally purchased VH-ABH from the Museum in 2004.  Ross had the aircraft fully restored to full airworthiness which included fitting two newly overhauled engines and propellers as well as completed refurbishment of the undercarriage/landing hear.  In late 2005, VH-ABH was flown out of the museum to Rolleston where it currently resides.

It is really great to see Ross continue to maintain and preserve this historic treasure of Australian Aviation.

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