Vultee V1A

The original design on what was to evolve into the Vultee V-1A Transport was completed by Vance Breese and Gerald Vultee in Detroit, Michigan, in 1931. Jerry Vultee, who was Chief Engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Company, was transferred to the Detroit Aircraft Corporation in 1929 when this concern gained controlling interest in Lockheed. While there, he joined Breese on the preliminary V-1 design. The general conception with six to eight passengers was not a unique enterprise in those days. However, the design that came from these men was exceptionally forward and of advanced concept.

The country, then in the depths of a financial depression, could not find expenditures for investment in a commercial airliner - - no matter how advanced the engineering was. Searching for financial backing to make their product a reality, Vance Breese left for the West Coast. Sources were no more receptive there either until a contact was made with E.L. Cord, President of the Cord Automobile Company. Cord, living in Los Angeles, reviewed the material presented by Breese and expressed the desire to use the machines in his Century Airlines. Before the aircraft could be produced however, Cord was forced to sell the airline due to labour disputes in early 1933.

Investments in the aviation field by Cord Corporation had become quite extensive. The Stinson Aircraft Corp. and the Lycoming Manufacturing Company were purchased in 1931. During the same year the operating field was entered with the organization of Century Airlines, Inc. and the following year controlling interest in Transamerican Airlines, Inc. was acquired. By 1933 the Cord Corp. had also purchased the Smith controllable pitch propeller company.

Several airlines were contacted in the meantime to see their response to the new design. American Airlines showed great interest, although a number of changes were necessary to meet their needs. American gave a tentative order for ten aircraft if the design could meet the requirements. Breese felt this could be done and with this received the needed financial backing of E.L. Cord.

Immediately after the business transaction, Vultee was notified and he left Detroit to join Breese. The new company was incorporated under the laws of California on January 26, 1932, as the Airplane Development Corporation. A small office was rented at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale. On January 18, 1932, Vultee hired the first employee, Richard Palmer as Assistant Chief Engineer. Together they started work on the redesign of the original concept to suit the needs of America Airlines. It was necessary to accommodate eight passengers. The original was designed for six. A more powerful engine was necessary. The aircraft grew in overall dimensions, design and scope. It incorporated many advanced aerodynamic features. Then a move was made to a building at the United Airport. By spring it was necessary to move back to Grand Central field where sufficient room was found in a hangar-plant as tooling got underway. Throughout 1932 the airplane took shape. This was the first commercial type aircraft to have full attention from an airline-engineering department throughout its development.

On November 15, 1932 during reorganization of the company, permission was granted by the state of California to sell all its authorized stock of 500 shares to the Cord Corporation. With controlling interest, the management took several unexplained steps. Vance Breese, who was tied up with financial matters in the business, received a termination of employment notice. No explanation was given and it befell Vultee and Palmer to complete the V-1 prototype.

The prototype was completed in February 1933 and Marshall Headle was called upon to perform initial test flights. On the 19th, the V-1 made its first flight. The airplane lived up to every expectation. Not only was the company elated but also American Airlines shortly thereafter signed the order for 10 production machines.

The V-1 was turned over to American for in-service evaluation. The findings of both manufacturer and purchaser found several recommendations of improvements on forthcoming production models. The new aircraft emerged as the Vultee V-1A.

On November 30, 1934 the Vultee concern was reformed as the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation, thus acquiring all of the Cord interests. By this time the V-1 and eight V-1As were built and delivered to American Airlines, plus two to private owners. Under new management an additional four were delivered to American and another 10 to other interests. In April, 1936 when the facilities were moved from the hangar/plant at Glendale to larger quarters at Downey, California, taking over the old E.M. Smity (EMSCO) field and plant, the last of 24 V-1As were delivered.

The year 1936 proved a big one for aviation, especially the Douglas Company and all the airlines. The DC-2 and DC-3 were making airline headlines. Celebrating their tenth anniversary late that year, American Airlines took a bold step with a complete re-equipment program. An all-Douglas fleet was ordered. As a consequence their multi-engined Stinson As, Curtiss-Wright T-32 Condors and the Vultees were being retired. The V-1As remained in service with American a little under two years. In September 1938 the last Stinson trimotor in service (Cincinnati-Washington route) was replaced by a DC-3. American Airlines was now completely equipped with 32 Douglas machines.