Oshkosh — Joseph Shepherd performed some of his most notable flying hunched down in the right seat of his beautifully restored Lockheed Electra Junior.
In 2009, the retired Northwest Airlines pilot was at the controls while actress Hilary Swank — portraying Amelia Earhart — pretended to fly the plane as a camera crew filmed her for a movie on the doomed aviatrix. Because Lockheed made just 130 Model 12 Electra Juniors in the 1930s and only a handful are still flying, Shepherd and his plane got the call to appear in the film “Amelia.”
Though, of course, only his plane got the beauty shots.
Shiny as mirrors, it’s rare for more than two or three of the planes to gather in one place today. But EAA AirVenture visitors wandering by the vintage plane area are seeing an unprecedented collection.
“There will never be a time this will happen again. They’re expensive to operate but we’re proud to do it at AirVenture,” said Shepherd.
Seven Lockheed Electra Juniors are scheduled to attend the Oshkosh aviation convention this week, along with the only flying Lockheed Vega. The Vega is the same type of aircraft flown by Earhart when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, and by aviator Wiley Post, the first to circumnavigate the globe alone. The Lockheed Electra Juniors are scheduled to fly in formation Wednesday afternoon.
When Shepherd flew his plane to New York for the premiere of “Amelia,” Swank and director Mira Nair autographed the door panel. Though set designers made sure the flight control panel in the movie was spot-on for the time period, Shepherd uses GPS, radar and modern technology not available to 1930s pilots.
“For a light twin-engine, they’re fast and easy to fly. There’s nothing like it in the world that flies as nice,” said Shepherd, who bought his 1936 Electra Junior in 1988. “This is a slide rule plane, no computers. But when World War II started, Lockheed switched over to P-38 Lightnings. Otherwise I think they would have made thousands of the Lockheed 12s.”
David Marco of Jacksonville, Fla., bought his 1938 Electra Junior five years ago. It took 10,000 hours to restore the plane to its former glory. With the aid of photos from the firm’s archives, Marco made sure the plane’s paint scheme matched what it looked like when Phillips Petroleum pilots were shuttling company executives seven decades ago.
“It’s got that ’30s Art Deco look to it. I think it’s beautiful,” said Marco. “Lockheed was way ahead of its time. They were phenomenally designed planes.”
John Magoffin bought his 1933 Lockheed Vega — the only surviving all-metal Vega — in Oklahoma City in 1995 after it had been involved in several mishaps and was in bad shape, its fuselage resembling Swiss cheese. After years of rebuilding, Magoffin flew the Vega for the first time last December.
Magoffin’s day job is flying an Airbus A320 for US Airways. But like Shepherd, he enjoys climbing into the cockpit of his Lockheed.
“When I get in this plane it’s like going back in time to the era of Wiley Post and Charles Lindbergh. It’s like flying a time machine,” said Magoffin.
Shepherd’s plane took 20,000 hours of labor to restore after he traded a Cessna 175 for it in 1988. He rebuilt it with the help of a couple of friends. Shepherd spent 35 years as a commercial airlines pilot and by the end of his career he was piloting DC-10s, a much different experience.
“It’s a totally different realm of flying. If you think back to 1936 when this was built,” Shepherd said in an interview in the cockpit, “this was the luxury travel of the day, the Learjet of its era.”