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Northrop Alpha: Gateway to modern aviation

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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.

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