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This is a “Sirius” Business

28 July 2010

This is a Sirius” Business

My apologies for the pun but I have to use them when they present themselves 🙂

Charles and Anne Lindbergh purchased a Lockheed Sirius aircraft for exploration in the early 1930s — about three years after Charles Lindbergh’s historical first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft could hardly have had a better parentage since it was designed by James Northrop and Gerard Vultee — design engineers who would soon have their own companies. The Sirius is a large single engine aircraft that could carry 1700 pounds (~780kg) of payload.

Sirius is the name of the brightest star on the sky of the Northern Hemisphere, also called The Dog Star since it is the constellation Canis Major. Sirius is not simply a star, instead it is a binary system having a duet of stars, so Lockheed’s Sirius is fittingly named since it was made for a crew of two. As a crew, the Lindberghs would fly this aircraft for tens of thousands of miles, visiting dozens of countries and crossing immense expanses of wilderness and water.

The first of their treks with the Lockheed started in Maine and finished in China — exploring routes from the West to the East by way of great circle type navigation. Distance flying in those early days was intrepid. Weather forecasting, radio and navigation aids as well as airfields were not reliable or numerous — so the Lindberghs packed enough survival gear to last several days as a contingency. For these same reasons the wings were painted with a high visibility orange color, in the event of a forced landing so that they might be more easilylocated and rescued. Prior to putting the west coast behind them, large Edo manufactured floats were installed for the Pacific Ocean crossing and these floats also carried extra fuel to extend the range of the Sirius. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote several books during her long life, including one about this trip to the Far East entitled, North to the Orient.

I was surprised one day in Fukuoka Airport 福岡空港 Fukuoka Kūkō which services Fukuoka 福岡市 Fukuoka-shi Japan日本 Nippon. In the main hall of the international terminal, descending on an escalator and working out where to rent a car … What did I see? … a large scale model of the famous Lockheed Sirius flown by the Lindberghs!

This aircraft is unmistakable in appearance and I had seen the actual aircraft many times — but why was a professional and expensive model of it it here? There was an explanation at the display of course and I did some further research, as well. I later read the section of Anne Lindbergh’s book that would include the stop made in Fukuoka, that part begins 0n page 183, but she makes no mention of it except to note its location on the backcover’s map as a town visited on their way to Nanching China from Osaka Japan. Information at the airport tells us that the Lindberghs landed at Fukuoka’s Najima Aquatic Landing Base on September 17, 1931 — and completed their trek two days later when they landed on Lotus Lake in Nanking China on September 19th. This area of China was heavily flooded at the time and the Lindberghs had the sole flying aircraft so they put it to good use and surveyed the area — Anne piloting and Charles sketching maps showing the damaged areas, the flooded lands and the dry ground. This amount of information gathered so quickly greatly assisted in the efforts to get relief where it was need most quickly.

Fukuoka Airport’s quarter scale model of the Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius — photo by Joe May

Fukuoka Airport’s quarter scale model of the Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius — photo by Joe May

Fukuoka Airport’s quarter scale model of the Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius — photo by Joe May

They next explored routes across the Atlantic, and beyond, flying 30,000 miles (48,280km) with a newer and stronger engine. On this trip they flew across Greenland many times trying different routes. During this time a native person mentioned a name for the aircraft that the Lindberghs accepted for their Sirius — Tingmissartoq — Greenlandic for “one who flies like a big bird”. This trip would take them as far east as Moscow, down through Africa, then across to South America and northward across the Caribbean Sea.

Tingmissartoqt, with the Edo floats attached, can be seen in the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC, USA.

Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius “Tingmissartoq” at the National Air & Space Museum — photo by Joe May

Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius “Tingmissartoq” at the National Air & Space Museum — photo by Joe May

Lindbergh’s Lockheed Sirius “Tingmissartoq” at the National Air & Space Museum — photo by Joe May

A small historical note — the registration number NR-211 is the almost same as that of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis (NX-211). More historically important for aviation and airline travel is the partnership of Charles Lindbergh and Juan Trippe — Lindbergh was the trailblazer of transoceanic routes, consulting with Trippe, while Trippe was the driving force behind Pan American Airways who led the way to commercial overseas airline and airmail routes. Trippe’s letters of design fostered the Sikorsky, Martin as well as Boeing flying boats that would become known as the Pan Am clippers — each ship with its own unique name (e.g., Brazilian Clipper, Dixie Clipper, China Clipper, Philippine Clipper, etc.)

There are several posts that involve the National Air & Space Museum at the National Mall, and here are two which will help the most for planning a visit:

  • National Air & Space Museum at the National Mall — Part I
  • National Air & Space Museum at the National Mall — Part II
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 July 2010 10:38

    Fascinating where aircrafts eventualy wind up, and how they’re found in the first place. A great find, and pun.

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