The following very interesting article was published this month by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) on its web site http://www.eaa.org Every TWAer will cherish the significance of N-18137 in the rich history of aviation, and should visit the EAA site regularly. We are deeply grateful to EAA for granting us permission to post it on “Contrails.”
A rare Lockheed 12A Electra Junior will visit EAA AirVenture Oshkosh for the first time ever this year, which is occasion enough for celebration. But this particular aircraft, one of what is believed to be less than 10 flying throughout the world, and how it came to its current owner comprise a very interesting story that will be told at the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration July 24-30, 2006.
The sleek, twin-engine aircraft, N-18137, serial number 1229, rolled off the assembly line at Lockheed’s Burbank, California plant in 1937 and was delivered to Continental Airlines. Three years later it was sold to Transcontinental and Western Air (later Trans World Airlines, or TWA). Paul E. Richter, Jr., one of TWA’s three founding fathers and Executive Vice President, did the initial test flight before purchase and then flew it to TWA headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.
Richter went on to pilot the Lockheed extensively as an executive transport in the early- to mid-1940s. N-18137 also was TWA’s high-altitude research lab flown by notable pilot Tommy Tomlinson.
Richter’s daughter, Ruth Richter Holden, is an EAA member from San Luis Obispo, California Chapter 170. She acquired the airplane last year and plans to bring it to Oshkosh in July.
Nineteen owners and 60 years after TWA sold the Junior, a series of coincidences led Ruth to acquire Ellie (LE), the airplane her father flew.
It began with a website Ruth created, www.paulrichtertwalegend.com, to post information about her father gleaned from his personal papers. Enter Connie Bowlin, EAA Warbirds of America board member, who attempted to contact Ruth through the website in early 2005 looking for facts about a Lockheed 12A she and her husband, Ed, had up for sale. Connie had information that the plane was owned by TWA years ago.
Despite some initial resistance - “I was so busy that I actually ignored her for some time,” Ruth said - she finally spoke with Connie and in no time determined that this was in fact the same airplane her father flew. Ruth also confirmed through her father’s logbooks that she was a passenger in the plane as a child, on a 1945 flight from TWA headquarters in Kansas City to Washington, D.C.
During a phone call, it finally hit her: “I don’t know why I am trying to help you sell this airplane,” Ruth told Connie. “I have to buy this airplane!” Ruth recalls stumbling upon the W. Clement Stone quote tucked away in her fathers papers: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” She went to sleep that night and the words scrolled across her mind like a moving map.
“I was getting daily confirmation through the logs and Dad’s old papers that I was supposed to have the airplane,” she said. Ruth soon came to the conclusion that she needed to do whatever it took to buy the airplane. “I mortgaged the house, sold my 1st born child, and decided to let the county bury me,” she joked. The deal closed in June 2005, and the next several months were spent restoring the airplane to how it looked during its TWA days in the 1940s.
Ruth, who owns a Piper Warrior and has 1,500 hours of pilot experience, was not qualified to fly Ellie so she enlisted her friend, American Eagle pilot Curt “Rocky” Walters, to fly her back to SLO from Georgia. A check pilot flew part way to ensure Rocky learned her subtle nuances.
He is now a part owner of Ellie as well as PIC. Meanwhile, Ruth gets plenty of right-seat time and aims to fly Ellie herself someday. She has logged about 8 hours multi-engine and five hours of tail wheel time.
Chris Clark, Board member of the Airline History Museum in Kansas City and pilot of its Star of America Lockheed Super Constellation, encouraged Ruth to bring Ellie to Oshkosh this summer where it could join the Super Connie for a nostalgic TWA display on AeroShell Square.
It will be the first Oshkosh visit for both Rocky and Ruth. “We both feel strongly that our purpose now is not as plane owners, but as guardians,” she said. “You can’t own history.