is my updated Lindberg kit (# 533) of Wiley
Post's celebrated, much modified, Lockheed Vega 5C, "The
Winnie Mae". I have had a longstanding,
personal history with this particular aircraft, having been commissioned on
behalf of Phillips Petroleum's Aviation Division to paint two illustrations of
the plane in 1975. Post flew it around the World twice.
Once in 1931 with a navigator, Harold Gatty (just 4 yrs.
after Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic), then solo (the
first) in 1933 using one of Sperry's first autopilots, and one of
their early automatic direction finders (ADF for short, which
homes in on radio signals). The Lindberg kit roughly
approximates the aircraft in it's 1933 setup. Strictly speaking,
the Winnie Mae was never a "stock" Vega, Post
overseeing, and authorizing many modifications during it's construction at
Lockheed's Burbank factory, where he had been a test pilot. He had Pratt
& Whitney install a custom 10:1 gear ratio setup on the R-1340-SC (replacing
the stock 7:1 gears). Lockheed lowered the wing's angle of
incidence to reduce drag, and four extra fuel tanks were installed, which
increased the fuel capacity to 500 gallons. Lockheed's manufacturing records
always listed NC-105-W as a "Special". The aircraft was also
frequently upgraded to include any improvements Lockheed made to the Vega line.
Examples being internally balanced ailerons, and different vertical tails. It
was manufactured as a 5B model, but soon upgraded to a 5C. It was
constantly modified from before it's first flight, until right before it's last.
the World Flights, Post began a high alititude modification
program on the Vega, and had a pressure suit made by B.F.Goodrich to
his specs (the first). Lockheed carried out the modification work
at their Burbank factory, much of it at their own expense (remember,
Post's accmplishments were the greatest advertising a depression era company
could've asked for). His other major sponsors were Phillips
Petroleum (who were still using their sponsorship for advertising
over 40 yrs. later, when I did the illustrations ), and
Howard Hughes who funnelled money to Wiley from his TWA Air Mail funds.
One of the last modifications was a set of jettisonable landing gear. Freed of
the weight, and drag, the Winnie's performance was greatly
increased. They installed a keel (belly) skid, made
of a spruce beam, covered in sheet metal to absorb the power-off, gearless landings.
The design of the jettisonable gear was the very first assignment Lockheed gave
to a young engineer named Kelly Johnson (who later designed the
P-38, P-80, F-104, U-2, & SR-71). Other
modifications included a much larger supercharger added to the Pratt &
Whitney R-1340SC, which needed an intake mounted on the top of the cowling, and
straight exhaust stacks replacing the collector ring with dual exits (the
engine's output was increased from 450, to over 550 h.p. through this,
& the use of experimental high octane fuels from Phillips). The
cowling had additional notches cut into the frontal intake to allow more
cold air in for cooling the fuselage sides, which were now being heated by
the exhaust stacks. Wing filets at the trailing edge root were added, and
replacement of the tall Vega 5C vertical stab, and rudder with it's
earlier, shorter 5B unit (which saved weight, & reduced
drag). These modifications were added in steps, as Post gradually
pushed the Vega to it's limits.
eventually reached altitudes up to 55,000 ft.,with ground speeds
exceeding 340 mph (with tailwinds from the West)...being
the first to discover, and use the jetstream (one reason Hughes and TWA were eager to sponsor him).
X-Plane flight test programs, undoubtedly owed much to the systematic approach
Post, Lockheed, and Pratt & Whitney used for
these flights. In a sense, it was the X-15 of the 1930s. The Winnie
Mae was purchased by the Smithsonian shortly before Post and Will Rogers were
killed in Post's new plane (a Lockheed "Orion-Explorer"
hybrid) at Point Barrow, Alaska on August 15, 1935.
images below to see larger images
originially planned to use the AMT-ESCI kit from the late 70s. I had
once started this project in 1980, however but gave up the hobby
shortly after assembling, and painting the
airframe. The decals were terrible, and yellowed
badly over the years. I hoped to find another route ( NOTE: The
AMT kit has a full set of passenger windows. This is how the Winnie
Mae appeared during it's 1931 World Flight. These can easily be filled for
later versions, however. )
stumbled upon Michael Benolkin's excellent review article on the old Lindberg
kit in Cybermodeler Online (http://www.cybermodeler.com/hobby/kits/lin/kit_lin_0533.shtml ),
and thought that kit might be an easier
starting point. I recall my father building one of these when I was
very young (I'm 55 now), so that gives you an idea of
the kit's vintage (I read somewhere the original issue was 1959, but
I'm pretty sure it was earlier). Over an extended period, I
managed to accquire 3 of these kits from Dean Sills at "Dean's Hobby
Stop", as they became available. I knew, I would probably need some
In the meantime, I contacted Keith Davidson of Red Pegasus Decals (who
specializes in Race Plane decals, chiefly post-war Unlimiteds) on
the possibility of having a set of custom decals produced, specifically, in the
Winnie's last "high altitude" scheme. He accepted
the commission, and I began sending him
reference materials (photos, histories, sponsor logos, etc.).
This was a lengthy process, as Keith is quite busy running his business, and
like most modelers, I had other projects, as well.
all the pieces fell into place. I had the needed kits, approved Keith's proofs,
& he sent me a sheet with extras of everything. Keith's work is first
rate, and I was quite pleased. I had
bought a P&W R-1340 from "Engines & Things", but it turned out
to be a later model, with a different gearbox. Fortunately, I had recently built
Academy's nifty little P-26A, which had a beautifully detailed R-1340 (which
only needed spark plugs, & wires), so I bought another to
cannibalize. I'd found this engine readily accepts the prop, and
shaft from a Monogram AT-6 (which, with some refinements, is MUCH
better than the Academy, AMT, or Lindberg airscrews...I'm real picky
about props). A note of interest... Pratt &
Whitney's R-1340s came from the factory with the pushrods painted gloss black.
However, many pilots elected to "dress up"
their engines (as they do today), and
had the pushrods chrome plated. The Winnie's were plated (On the
other hand, Earhart's Vega, the "Little Red Bus", had the stock, gloss
black rods). The high altitude, belly skidded Winnie also
has a "V" shaped brace which is welded to the engine's gearbox,
and bolted to the belly skid at the chin of the
cowling. This was intended to take the shock, and
stress of the gearless landings off the motor mounts. This system seemed to have
worked fine, as I have never seen a mention of damage from the
deliberate belly landings.
I built up a cockpit using the original Lindberg floor-bulkhead, a T-6 seat with
Eduard harness, and other assorted bits from the
spares box. The old Time-Life 'Epic of Flight' series volume,"The
Pathfinders" has a chapter on Post, & the Winnie Mae, with a very nice
two page cutway illustration of the Winnie's innards (in her 1933,
World Flight trim). Nice little details like a lefthand armrest,
and brass fire extinqusher.
these knowing only a destructive vandal, insurance adjustor, or an archaeologist
is apt to see them, as they are buried beneath the dense greenhouse framework, and
the supercharger shroud. I had also decided, I was stuck with the rather
thick, original canopy. It forms part of the kit's airframe structure, and
has to be installed before the wing can be jointed to the fuselage. Given all
the filing, and sanding, this was no spot for a
delicate vacuform piece.
After joining the
fuselage halves (having added the cabin windows, also original,
& for the same filing-sanding reason) I began cutting
down the vertical stab, and rudder to Vega 5B proportions. This was purely an "eyeball"
operation. There are literally hundreds of photos of the Winnie Mae on the
internet, and with a little dedicated detective work, plus some hard
net surfing you can find photos of the Winnie Mae from any point during
it's long career. These photos, along with written histories, will give you
all the information you need for accurately modifying your kit for the time
frame you choose.
stab-rudder. I began building up the belly skid using plasticard in laminated
layers using Crazy Glue as adhesive, and filler. This skid extends out to
the chin of the cowl, which is molded as part of the fuselage on the Lindberg kit
(AMT's has a separate cowl, score one for AMT). Once
that was completed, it was time for the razor saw, and I carefully cut the
cowling off. I built up a very thick firewall, nose extension, then sanded down
the radius, so the cowl would overlap (as the real one does).
I also thinned the interior wall of the cowling. This was to provide clearance
for the nine straight exhaust stacks (one stack for each
cylinder...four on the starboard side, five on the port side).
These were made with small diameter Evergreen plastic tube, thinned with a
rat tail file.
images below to see larger images
Then I cut out the aileron linkage inspection widows on the underside of the
wing. There are four of these, plus one for the pilot tube connection on the
port wingtip. These are just raised rectangles on both the Lindberg, & AMT
parts. I enlarged them slightly using a micro bit to establish the corners,
before cutting them out. The clear windows can be glued in, polished out, then
masked with the paint overlapping the seams. The wing filets were made of fitted
plasticard triangles. The filing, and shaping of
these was one of the more difficult operations. They have a certain "look"
that took several days to get right. I also located, and
added the fuel vent blisters on the top of the wing, along with the fuel caps (Lindberg's
kit has none. AMT's has some, but they are incorrect...although probably passable).
The wing tip navigation lights were also sanded off, and
the landing lights filled in (2 convex indentions on the
underside of the Lindberg kit's wings, no indication on AMT's, so these should
remain, or be added if you are building a World Flight version), as
they were removed from the high altitude Winnie, as well. If I had been building
an early version, I would have drilled the landing lights out, and
replaced them with large model railroad CV lenses (Note: Earhart's
Vega had extra landing lights in the wing leading edges.)
The Lindberg's wheel pants are about an 1/8" longer than the ones supplied
by AMT. Lindberg's are correct length-wise, but too thick by at least a
third, and must be thinned (along with
the wheels, which are separate). AMT's are thinner, but actually
too thin, and need a plasticard insert between the
halves (the wheels are molded into the pants).
I reshaped, and made additions to the T-6 prop (which
has a unique hub with flat plates wielded to the sides), turning
it into a reasonable replica of the last unit installed on the Winnie Mae (an
early constant speed model). Like everything else, this
airplane had different props. The earlier World Flight versions had a
ground adjustable type. Even the tail skid wasn't stock on the Winnie, Wiley
having removed a balancing weight (a half circle of metal on the
inside of the bend), and
it was shortened by 4" to counter the decreased incidence of the wing
on landings. There are other little details...this last version had no
venturi tubes, earlier versions did. There are retractable step pegs
(all Vegas) on the port side of the fuselage, and
the aileron cables come out of the side of the cockpit into the bottom of the
wing (these on all Vegas, as well), and
so on. Peculiar to the "high altitude" Winnie is
the large supercharger intake with it's butterfly valve at the opening
(as on a fuel dragster), and
it's actuator linkage on the starboard side. I sharpened a piece of aluminum
tube, and used it as a "cookie
cutter" to make the circular valve. Trying to glue it into a half open
position was an ordeal. You might want to consider an earlier version just to
avoid this, the exhaust stacks, and the wing
filets...Lastly, I built the simple jettisonable gear using aluminum tube,
needle sections, plastic spruce, and some wheels
out of the spares box. The cable was made of white, Bobe's EZ-Line (the
thicker , .006 stuff) colored with a silver Sharpie. The attach
loops were made of jeweler's solder.
built both the Lindberg, and AMT kits, I now
think it's a toss up. Both have strong points (and
major weaknesses), but I slightly prefer the older Lindberg.
Another note...the Vega was made of plywood, so no panel lines to scribe...&
no trim tabs either. (AMT's series of civil aircraft of the
1930's often suffered from warped wing halves. They were easy to correct on the
Staggerwing, but difficult on the Vegas, so be prepared to purchase more than
one. The Lindberg wing halves are more robust and
there was no warpage in my 3 examples.)
Keith Davidson's Red Pegasus Decals will soon be offering Winnie Mae sheets as
part of the standard inventory. Keith's instructions will feature some of
my reasearch, and modication tips, along with
variations (mostly omissions of logos, etc.) which
would allow you to build one of the earlier, less modified versions.
So you too, can add one of history's truly great aircraft to your
fleet with a bit less hassle, and much better
results than you previously could (for much less than it cost me, I
might add). Keith is also planning to offer a set for
Earhart's Vega, in it's later Honolulu to L.A form (the earlier
Trans Atlantic version had no wheel pants, & all of the cabin windows),
so if these great aircraft interest you, best start looking for one of these
vintage, long out of production beauties. There may be a run.
Lastly, I added a scanned image of the second painting I executed for
Phillips Petroleum (It was one of a series of suitable for framing
prints given out to pilots by Phillips' Fixed Based Operators).
It represents the Winnie at the beginning of the high altitude program, with the
large supercharger, and wing filets, but without
the short vertical stab-rudder, or belly skid (therefore
retaining it's panted landing gear). The original was acrylic on
illustration board, 17" x 20", as I recall. I no longer own the
original, so had to scan one of the prints. It had gotten a bit dinged up after
33 years, so I reduced, and cleaned it up in
Photoshop. Then it occurred to me, why not drop the gear, shorten the
stab, and add the belly skid...so I did a second
version. It's interesting because in all my research over the years, I have
only seen one air to air photo of the Winnie Mae with the landing gear
Thanks to Dean Sills (Dean's Hobby Stop, Flushing, Michigan),
Keith Davidson (Red Pegasus Decals, Columbus, Ohio), and
to Henry Popp for the photos.
images below to see larger images