In last Monday’s post, I listed the aircraft that I saw in the movie Dive Bomber (1941) and said a few words about the fake RAF fighter in that film. Out of mercy, I held back my extra comments about a couple of the movie’s other airplanes. My forbearance couldn’t last forever!
More About the Lockheed Electra
The film’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra seems to fictionally represent a real Model 10 modified extensively for the USAAC and designated XC-35. That plane was used for pressurized cabin testing in 1937. The actual XC-35 had a more circular cabin cross-section than the movie Electra, and smaller windows. (You have to look closely to see the movie Electra’s painted-over cabin windows, but they are there.)
The show’s “pressurized cabin test” might resemble an actual XC-35 flight, except it has only a two-man crew and the real XC-35‘s cabin was nicer. The real XC-35 flew above 30,000 feet, so the movie test’s calamity at 38,000 feet seems consistent with reality.
On the other hand, in the movie the test was judged an utter failure, while in real life the XC-35 tests earned the 1937 Collier trophy and laid ground for the pressurized Boeing 307 Stratoliner and B-29 Superfortress.
The movie’s eventual cure for altitude sickness was a rather comical pressure suit; a solution Wiley Post had already proved to 50,000 feet in 1934. In reality, the U.S. military’s oxygen systems (PDF link) were just too primitive to work reliably above 20,000 feet. (Look for WWI-style “pipe-stem” rigs in this movie!)
In 1941, the first U.S. diluter-demand oxygen mask system (partly cribbed from the Germans) began pushing unpressurized operation to 30,000 feet, and later to 45,000 feet with the addition of mask pressure.
Given these advances, it makes sense that pressure suits are still rare except for the highest fliers, while the pressurized cabin pioneered by the XC-35 is a common luxury in larger passenger and military planes.
The XC-35 angle aside, I also did not use the Navy designation XR2O or R2O for this movie’s Electra in last week’s list. I doubt the movie’s example was a real military plane at all. The few prewar military Model 10s appear to have served as VIP or staff transports. I cannot find any that were painted all over like the movie plane; nor any, including the XC-35, that lack U.S. insignia on wings and tail. The only Navy R2O that I can nail down had a Navy blue fuselage and mostly bare metal wings.
The movie Electra is overall olive drab with nondescript “X” marks on the wings and tail. Only the black “NAVY” mark on the sides looks realistic. I suspect this plane was a between-duties civilian Model 10, perhaps borrowed or rented from the nearby Lockheed plant and painted as per the movie crew’s whim; maybe even to match model effects, if those had already been shot.
More About the BT-1
The Northrop BT-1 torpedo bomber was out of date for this movie, and I only saw three, in three separate scenes. Even so, in its first scene the BT-1 fills the foreground in front of many newer but similar (from the angle shown) Vought SB2U bombers; as if to suggest a whole flock of BT-1s. Later, a BT-1 plays a significant role in a ground ceremony near the end of the movie. I don’t understand why, but it seems this particular model was significant for some reason.
Again, I suppose maybe they shot the final scene first with a disused BT-1 that was handy, and only then realized the type was phased out (as I surmise) and none would actually be flown. Maybe then the movie crew scrambled to shoot a scene or two suggesting all those SB2C’s in the air were the same as the final scene’s BT-1.
If I hadn’t watched so closely, the illusion would have worked on me. But was that the real reason they did it? I guess I’ll never really know!