1937 Aircraft Housed Locally Gets Airworthiness Certificate

Carl Bjurlin, general manager of Chautauqua Aircraft Sales, is pictured in the cockpit of a Lockheed Electra Jr. 12A. Submitted photos

A rare 86-year-old vintage aircraft that has been sitting in southern Chautauqua County will soon be taking flight.

At the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport is a Lockheed Electra Jr. 12A, an eight-seat twin engine transport aircraft built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, Calif. It is a slightly smaller version of the Electra 10A most famously flown by Amelia Earhart on her ill-fated journey around the world.

According to Carl Bjurlin, general manager Chautauqua Aircraft Sales, only 130 Electra Juniors were built and were mainly used as private business aircraft and military VIP transports prior to World War II. Most famously, a Lockheed Electra Junior was featured prominently in the famous ending scene of “Casablanca” where Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blane says goodbye to Ilsa Lund, portrayed by Ingrid Bergman, at the airport.

A few Electra Juniors, including the one currently in Jamestown, were used in the airlines. The 1937 model was originally delivered to Continental Airlines as one of their first aircraft.

Bjurlin explained that it flew with the airline until 1940 when it was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a trainer during the war. After the war, it was passed around by a few companies in the United States, including Noble Drilling, until 2007 when it was purchased by a collector in Canada who had a complete restoration performed on the rare aircraft.

Pictured is a Lockheed Electra Jr. 12A, an eight-passenger twin engine transport aircraft. The plane has been housed at the Jamestown airport since 2020.

“It is estimated there are less than 20 airworthy Electra Juniors left,” Bjurlin added.

After the restoration, the aircraft was then sold and it needed to be brought back into the U.S. registry. That’s where Chautauqua Aircraft Sales got involved.

Bjurlin noted that Chautauqua Aircraft Sales, which operates out of the Jamestown airport, is uniquely suited for the project due to their experience in importing aircraft from Canada and their proximity to where the airplane was based in Canada.

They were able to get Canadian pilots to fly the plane to the Jamestown airport in 2020, where it has been housed in one of the hangars.

Even though the aircraft was originally built in the United States and is not a true “import,” it had some unique challenges.

“When an aircraft is ‘born’ in the U.S. it has very specific specifications and in the U.S. any changes to that specification are documented with the FAA,” Bjurlin said. “If in Canada, it needs to be documented with Transport Canada, but not required to be reported to the FAA. So, in order to bring an aircraft back to the U.S. that was modified abroad we have to document and seek approval on all the changes that were made while it was away.”

He called it a “Herculean task” due to the fact the entire aircraft was completely restored in Canada. However, after a two-and-a-half-year process, the aircraft was finally issued its Airworthiness Certificate again and is ready to begin its next journey.

Depending on weather, the plane may fly out on Wednesday.

Mike Johnson Jr., Chautauqua Aircraft Sales assistant general manager, said once the aircraft leaves Jamestown, it will head to Florida. But that may not be its final stop.

“It may possibly be headed to Europe,” he said.

The owners of the aircraft, who did not want to be identified, plan to use the restored plane in different conventions and events. It’s unlikely to ever return to Jamestown.

The entire project has been unique.

“It’s the first continental airplane that we worked on,” Johnson said.

Chautauqua County Airports Manager Shannon Barnhart said she is glad the county has been able to be part of this process.

“Chautauqua Aircraft Sales has done a great job at establishing a reputation for their service, not just in our region, but worldwide,” she said. “We are happy to be a part of this Lockheed’s journey around the world. We look forward to seeing it fly, and to have the community attend yet another historic event at the Chautauqua County Jamestown airport.”

Johnson said because of the weather conditions all week, he doesn’t know if it will be able to be flown Wednesday or not.

While this was a big project and the hardest import Bjurlin has ever had to complete, he noted that it was his favorite one and that he would do it again if another vintage aircraft showed up at Chautauqua Aircraft Sales.

“It’s always easier the second time — so to translate that to Casablanca terms, ‘Play it again, Sam,'” he said.


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