I just received the Dec. 24 issue and was surprised and pleased to see your story on the Lockheed Orion “Shellightning.” Your mention of my book “Revolution in the Sky” was additionally generous and heartwarming.
You might like to know that “Shellightning” is still in existence. l don’t have all the details, but I understand that after the Mantz sale, the buyer, in New Hampshire, sold it to SwissAir, which had it restored (but not flown) and placed in a Swiss museum. The colorful Shell livery has been replaced by a CH license and SwissAir’s crimson and white trim (in simulation of a similar, wooden Orion of the airline, sold in 1937).
Since I wrote the book, l have received other tales of this plane — additional flights, more accidents and rebuildings in Louisiana and Missouri — that should be added to its history.
As you noted, I crawled all over the plane in the TallMantz lot (with Frank Tallman’s blessing) in 1964.
Long before that — late in the afternoon of June 25, 1932 — I was a 15-year-old junior counselor at a Boy Scout camp in Saratoga County, N. Y., and made my way to a scenic hilltop latrine, adjacent to the railroad. Looking out, and instantly recognizable, there came “Shellightning” with Jimmy Doolittle, following the “old iron compass” on his George Washington Bicentennial Flight. As you can imagine, that was the thrill of a lifetime!
I guess, too, I may be responsible for the red-and-yellow speedster leaving the U.S. When SwissAir was looking for any remaining Lockheed Orions, l told them about the guy in New Hampshire having this Orion hybrid. He said he was going to rebuild and reengine it and go for some piston-powered records. I had visions of his clobbering this historic “one and only” airplane and was glad when SwissAir apparently gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
So you see why “Shellightning” is a favorite, and I certainly appreciate artists delving into the story behind each airplane they portray, and sharing their knowledge and expertise with all of us.
Richard Sanders Allen