Lockheed 12A becomes UK registered (again)

After 80 years a Lockheed 12A, formerly known as G-AFTL (c/n 1203), was registered again under its original British registration on 29 March 2022.

The 12A is also known as the ‘Electra Junior’. Especially Lockheed G-AFTL has an amazing history. It was delivered to the Continental Oil Company with registration NC16077 in October 1938.

It was then registered as G-AFTL for British Airways on 15 May 1939. But this was only a guise, as the plane was actually owned by Sidney Cotton, an Australian businessman, inventor, engineer and adventurer living in the United Kingdom by that time. He owned an aerial survey company Aerofilms, flying from Heston.

With the rise of the Nazi Germany, Cotton was recruited by Frederick W. Winterbottom of MI6 to take clandestine photographs of the German military build-up. For its photo-reconnaissance work the Lockheed was equipped with three F24 cameras positioned behind a hatch in the bottom of the fuselage. The cameras were activated by a switch underneath the pilot’s seat.

Pretending to explore future film locations Cotton overflew interesting places in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa in the mean time taking pictures as many as he could. At several occasions he even managed to cross German territory, the final trip of this kind only four days before the outbreak of WW II.

In the early days of the war the Lockheed was damaged by a parachute bomb and some sources state that it was then shipped to the USA for repairs. According to British CAA files G-AFTL was sold to a mr. Lowell Yerex of Segucigalpa in British Honduras in November 1942.

He then sold the machine to British West Indian Airways and it was registered as VP-TAI on 5 January 1943. From Honduras the Lockheed went to the USA in 1948, where it became N1161V owned by Dan Hartman, Miami (FL).

It made a wheels up landing in September 1965, but was repaired and finally granted its CoA as N12EJ on 27 April 1978. By that time stunt pilot Art Scholl had become the owner. On his demand the L-12A was fitted with three-bladed props instead of the standard two-bladed ones.

After a small number of other owners, N12EJ was acquired by Ben Runyan in December 2003. Unfortunately Runyan was killed in an aircraft crash in 2008 and his widow decided to sell the Lockheed in 2016.

The new owner at that time was said to be Aero Vintage Academy at La Ferté Alais, Cerny, France. But nothing was ever heard again on the whereabouts of the Lockheed. At least until now with the recent registration as G-AFTL to a new owner, Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd., of Dunmow, UK. An amazing story about an amazing plane.

Photos by Russell Williams and CAA archive


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