South American Aviation
The Electra on the Highway
By Carlos A. Abella (LAAHS Argentina)
Aug 16, 2007, 12:25
Translation by Tulio R. Soto (LAAHS USA)
Graphics by: Gonzálo Carballo (LAAHS USA)
N6131A in American Airlines' livery.The example covered by this story, is a Lockheed model L-188A-08-10, part of a series of 35 aircraft ordered by American Airlines. Its first flight took place on 09Feb60, and was registered as N6131A by the American air carrier, which took possession of the aircraft on 17Feb60. As it was customary in the decade of the 1960’s, their aircraft were given names preceded by the word “Flagship” and in this case, the metal was painted with "Flagship Little Rock
American Airlines employed these types of aircraft until the end of the 1960s; on 30May69 the airplane was delivered to McCulloch Properties Inc together with others aircraft; this company changed its name to McCulloch International
N6131A sporting the colors of McCulloch International Airlines. Note the similitude with the Argentinean Navy scheme.With the passing of time, the airplane would find its way to Argentina and, of course, a new identity. It was to serve with the “Armada” [Navy] as “0693/5-T-3” and it was also baptized with the name “Río Grande”.
5-T-3 was one of the first Electras for the Aviación Naval Argentina. These were reconditioned and modified for cargo transportation. The aircraft were incorporated into service with the goal of replacing the long-serving Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 that were undertaking logistics flights to the Armada’s different bases across the country, especially to the points where this national institution has been making presence for a long time, in the Patagonia.
At the time of their incorporation, the Aviacion Naval Argentina’s Electras had an internal configuration for 72 seats, with a double galley and were operated by a 5 member crew.
The "Río Grande" right after her arrival to Argentina.They were later re-configured to carry 90 passengers together with 1,500 kilograms of cargo, or 11, 500 kilograms of cargo alone, a capacity that was achieved easily thanks to a cargo door located on the left rear side of the fuselage.
The aircraft’s range was 5, 570 Km @ 722 km/h and were equipped with 4 Allison 501-D13A turboprops producing 450HP each, and each with a four-bladed propeller.
The Government’s decree for the purchase of the three initial aircraft was signed by General Alejandro Agustin Lanusse, President of the Nation, and by Almirante Carlos G. Coda, Commander in Chief of the Navy; when the aircraft arrived in country however, neither of these military officers was in their jobs anymore. The delivery of the aircraft was, in consequence, subject of a careful study by the authorities of the Partido Justicialista
which had assumed power on 25May73, and after analyzing the requirements from the Armada, gave their okay for the completion of this operation.
The "Río Grande" sporting her delivery color scheme.It must be noted that parallel to the acquisition of the Electras, the Argentinean Navy had evaluated new aircraft such as the Fokker F-27 and F-28, the VFW-614 and other second hand aircraft, such as the Convair 580. The purchase of the L-188 was due exclusively to the country’s economic situation, where a criterion was applied, similar to when the T-28s from France were acquired, that is, at a greatly discounted price.
While these aircraft remained operational with naval aviation, were operated by the 1° Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Sostén Logístico Móvil
[1st Aeronaval Mobile Logistical Support Squadron] as part of the 5ta. Escuadra Aeronaval [The 5th Aeronaval Fleet].
The color scheme applied to the aircraft closely resembled that of a commercial airline, composed by an overall white fuselage, with light blue cheatlines. On the upper surfaces, clearly visible were, in black, the titles for the Armada Argentina.
.:: Operations in the Malvinas
During the conflict for the Islas Malvinas, the Navy’s Electras provided active services with the Grupo de Tareas
80.4 (Task Force 80.4), which was commanded by CN Jorge Vildoza. The tasks assigned to the Electras were quite a few from the beginning of Operación Rosario
, being fully employed to carry personnel and cargo. The first Electra to arrive to the Malvinas was 5-T-1 on 02Apr, from Río Grande and carrying 86 personnel, covering the route in 1:05 hours.
Between 04May and 13May82, the L-188s were employed for scouting flights, since the Neptunes were suffering from low operational availability, and the Trackers were at the time, onboard the “ARA” 25 de Mayo
The L-188s are equipped with meteorological radar that provided them with a limited surface searching capabilities.
Perhaps the longest and most important mission was the one carried to search for the “HMS” Exeter
, conducted on 07May, together with 5-T-1.
The periodical movements of military materials between the Comandante Espora Base and Rio Grande required of the ample interior of the Electras, the same way as the movement of personnel and cargo from Buenos Aires required.
The crossings to the islands diminished sensibly once the British blockade was established. Beginning then, the flights into the Exclusion Zone were conducted in radio silence, and at an altitude that oscillated between 50 and 100 feet. These flights in general, took place at night and were conducted with the support from a Beechcraft King Air 200.
The use of the Fokker F-28s was preferred however, and although their cargo capacity was markedly less than that of the Electra, they counted with the speed advantage.
During the conflict, there were 27 crossings undertaken on Apr82, but after the blockade, there was only one crossing completed, and four were aborted, with 110 flight hours totaled.
Following the sinking of the Cruiser “ARA” General Belgrano
on 02May82, Electras 5-T-1 y 5-T-3 were assigned to a search operation, under which they completed a total of 12 flights between 03May82 - 08May82. Just on 05May82 there were 4 flights with different crews, searching for the ship and its crew.
.:: The Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración and the genesis of the Electrón
This unit was reactivated at the Almirante Zar
Base, Trelew in Apr83. Previously based at Comandante Espora, and under the umbrella of the 2° Escuadra Aeronaval
, it had operated until its deactivation, the last of the 16 Lockheed Neptunes that served with the Navy, and this included the last ones that had taken part in the South Atlantic conflict of 1982.
Nice study of the "low-vis" color scheme applied to the "Río Grande" after the Malvinas War.Given the dire situation encountered with the withdrawal of the Neptunes from service, the Comando de Aviación Naval
(COAN) began the search for an aircraft capable of satisfying the demand left by the retiring aircraft. There were five Electra aircraft purchased, (2 L-188C, 2 L-188PF cargo aircraft and an L-188AF), suitably modified to satisfy the Armada’s [Navy’s] requirements, and these were delivered between Nov82 and Sept83. As soon as they arrived, they were painted on the Armada’s dark gray color scheme and were assigned to the Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración
, which began using them without having modified their commercial transport configuration. The Command of the Fuerza Aeronaval N° 3
had been transferred from Ezeiza to Trelew, together with the 1ra. Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Sostén Logístico Móvil
, which operated the first three Electras (see above). The low-visibility color scheme would be worn until the end of their operational lives.
.:: Encounters with the Phantoms
The ceasing of hostilities on the South Atlantic meant a difficult situation for aerial or maritime transit on the zone. Thus, on 05Aug83 aircraft 0693/5-T-3 was intercepted by 2 McDonnell-Douglas Phantom at 13.10 hs and outside of the exclusion zone. The encounter lasted 8 minutes, and according to the British pilots’ statements, they attempted to make the aircraft to change its course. The first incident of this kind had taken place on 25Jul83, when an Electra had been intercepted by Royal Air Force aircraft based on the Malvinas. In this case, the Argentinean airplane was on a mission from Rio Grande, bound for Trelew. These were not the only incidents and the efficient action of the Electras first and later of the Electrones, has meant frequent aerial encounters with the British Phantoms based on the Islands.
.:: The last chapter
"I saw 5-T-3 in operations for the last time, in 1989. In the early 90’s, I found that the airplane was parked –engineless- at the Ezeiza Aeronaval Base, with the interior completely removed. It remained there until 1997, when it was moved to a roadside location, on the Beltway.
The "Río Grande" while stored at the Ezeiza Aeronaval Base.On the Astilleros Irupé de Marina del Sur SRL
grounds, located on the Beltway (Provincial Route Nº 45) number 8300, locality of 9 de Abril (Buenos Aires), we found the remains of the fuselage of Lockheed L-188 ex 5-T-3, which had been stored for several years inside the Ezeiza Aeronaval Base.
The Electra was moved to its present location on 11Aug97, with the movement taking only one-and-a-half hours, since it counted with the support from the Buenos Aires Police and the Highway personnel on the Ricchiery Freeway, using two patrol cars for traffic control.
The wings of the airplane had been removed previous to the transportation, with the necessary care that made possible to re-attach them later to the airframe. The tail cone together with the stabilizers was also removed and for some time, it was stored in the rear of the building, until it was eventually re-attached to the fuselage. The engines had been removed when the airplane had been discharged from service with the Armada Argentina.
This photo shows the "Río Grande" while being re-assembled at her final resting place. The Argentinean Navy's lettering and markings have been covered with day-glo paint.When the airplane was being moved from the Ezeiza Airport, the personnel in charge of the moving found a gate that had not been opened for many years, and conducted the necessary negotiations with the air station authorities, in order to be able to move the Electra’s main fuselage section in one piece.
The airplane is nowadays resting on a metal structure at an approximate height of 3 meters; the front landing gear is fully deployed.
The new owner, Mr. Jorge O. Ramirez would like to restore the machine, according to his own words, with the aim to making it look as close as possible, to the way it was when it was in flying conditions. At some time, it was considered to find a sponsor to paint the airplane and to obtain some income from advertisement, offering the possibility of having a 36 meter long advertisement surface alongside the Beltway, which would convert it into a mandatory view for those on the road.
The project was part of a candy store, with seats facing each other, inside of a recreation park and an artificial lake destined for aquatic activities, but up until today, these plans have not prospered.
Mr. Ramirez indicated that Armada officers had told him that this Electra, had accumulated a total of 37,000 flight hours, and that the preparations previous to its move to the present location, had taken two weeks.
At the time of the move to its new location, the Armada Argentina titles, as well as the emblems related to this arm, were covered by orange-colored stripes.
Upon entering the aircraft through the front door, you face directly what used to be the toilet and next to it, looking towards the rear of the airplane, there is a sector that looks like it had been a galley, occupying the width of the fuselage. These two areas divided the aircraft in two sectors, the forward just from behind the cockpit and up to the area already described, and the rear area being a larger one, ending with what looked like a room with chairs.
Currently, it's very difficult to gain any access into the plane.It seems that the Electra suffered the visit of some graffiti lovers, since the original panels had been damaged by spray paint and absurd writings. This shows once again, the level of safety that the Ezeiza Airport provides.
In closing, it must be said that it was not possible to find the plaque with the construction number, but in several areas inside the fuselage, it is possible to find a seal that shows assembly number “1122.”
During the almost ten years that 5-T-3 has been alongside Route 4, it has only recovered the original Armada Argentina colors, and the re-conditioning of the interior flooring. While there are other Electras preserved at the Museo de la Armada Argentina [Argentinean Navy Museum] in Bahía Blanca, this example because of its participation on the Austral conflict, should deserve a better fate that the one it has now.
.:: 5-T-3 Details
- Lockheed L-188A-08-10 Electra msn 1122. FF. 09Feb60
N6131A American Airlines 17Feb60 "Flagship Little Rock" / McCulloch Properties Inc. 30May69 / McCulloch International / 10May72 / 0693 Aviación Naval Argentina 27Dic73 – named "Río Grande" "5-T-3” cvt. L-188PF 1974. Stored without engines at Ezeiza ca. 90s.
- El Electrón y La Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración
- Jorge Felix Nuñez Padín. LAW Vol. 3 N° 4 Oct/Dic, 1988.
- Latin American Military Aviation
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. Héctor A. Martini. Tomo 3. Buenos Aires 1992.
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Año III N° 18 Setiembre 1987 (Magazine)
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Año V N° 31 (Magazine)
Sept. 97 (Electronic Bulletin)
- Ulrich Hoppe Lockheed Electra web page at:
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