The ex-Sidney Cotton and the film Amelia

1941 Lockheed Electra 12A

Most collectors’ aircraft from the ‘Golden Era’ such as warbirds are just for egocentric owners flying solo. But this one is equipped to carry a total of eight people including the pilot(s) in real classic comfort, a Duesenberg of the skies” – the current owner of F-AZLL

There are few more evocative aircraft than the Lockheed Electra, the class of the field in the Art Deco era and the choice of daring pioneer Amelia Earhart for her final, ill fated record attempt. Her complete disappearance, together with her co-pilot and aircraft, remains one of history’s great unsolved mysteries and was turned into a Hollywood film in 2009 starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.
 
This Electra has enjoyed a romantic history too, although fate has been kinder to it. Some speculate that the Lockheed 12 seen at the end of the film Casablanca was ‘1287’- after all, it was still at Lockheed’s Burbank factory when the film was being shot almost next door at Warner Bros studios. Others say it was ‘1207’. Who knows? The war intervened and shortly after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the US Navy took delivery of ‘1287’, which flew the Atlantic and was assigned to the office of the US Naval Attaché in London. RAF Coastal Command took it over in 1945 for anti-submarine missions, and during D-Day festivities it was signed by celebrating pilots whose names are still visible on the empennage. Soon thereafter aviation pioneer, WW1 fighter pilot and dashing entrepreneur Sidney Cotton acquired the Electra for his private use including photo reconnaissance over Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A close friend of Ian Fleming, Cotton is often cited as the inspiration for Fleming’s most famous fictional character, James Bond.
   
From Cotton the Electra returned to the RAF as a flying testbed for active radar countermeasures before finally entering a less demanding peacetime life, initially in the hands of a well-known peer of the British realm followed by private and commercial owners on the Cote d’Azur, in Corsica and Valence. The present long-term custodian, a French aviation historian, journalist and documentary producer, has overseen a sympathetic but thorough restoration of the Electra to ensure its complete airworthiness whilst remaining faithful to its historic appearance; over 2,500 man hours have been worked on the aircraft since 2000 and it survives as the only piston-engined airliner still listed on the French register (‘F-AZLL’, formerly G-AGTL’). In testimony to its authenticity and condition, in 2008 the Electra was flown to South Africa where it served as ‘the other star’ of the film, Amelia.
   
The aircraft has flown just 4,500 hours from new; its engines have 160 hours (left) and 0 hours (right); new Hamilton Standard props were fitted in 2008. Remarkably, most of the interior trim is still original.
   
Just ten Electra 12As are known to remain in flying condition worldwide; seven in the USA, two in Australia and this sole example in Europe. This is the lowest time airframe in existence and the only original example to have lived through history and time.