To 21st-century viewers, Jack Northrop’s Alpha mail and
passenger plane looks quirky and primitive. However, its 1930 debut marked the
appearance of a seminal design that would lead to permanent progress in
aeronautics and such famous airframes as the DC-2, DC-3, and SBD Dauntless.
Until the late 1920s, Northrop was working with the Lockheed
brothers (neé Loughead). He and Gerrard Vultee had designed the Lockheed
Vega, a popular, speedy, and durable plane of wood construction that was
introduced in 1928.
Northrop, Lockheed’s chief engineer, had even bigger
ideas — including a nascent obsession with the “flying wing” — but Lockheed
was happy with the Vega and more inclined to develop it further.