By Casey Asher
The Pima Air and Space Museum is preparing to roll out a long-awaited addition, their newly restored Lockheed R5O-5 Lodestar, for display in their outdoor collection.
The Lockheed Model 18 airliner was developed in the late 1930s as a competitor to the Douglas DC-3. Both the United States Army Air Force and United States Navy adopted the Model 18 in various configurations and designations, the USN requisitioning the type as the R5O, essentially without modification. Configured with 14 passenger seats, the R5O-5 (equivalent to the USAAF C-60) was most often used as a VIP transport. Many were converted back to airline use in the post-war years when military need for such aircraft was greatly reduced but, because it had fewer seats than the DC-3, the Model 18 quickly waned in popularity.
This particular airframe was originally delivered to the US in May of 1943 and was assigned to NAS Anacostia, in Washington D.C., for use as a VIP transport for Navy officials. Many famous wartime leaders likely came aboard this aircraft during its service there. Following the war, the aircraft was reassigned briefly to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, before being removed from the USN inventory and sold as surplus to Bell Aviation. In their hands, it was utilized for a brief period in South Africa, before being sold to a Saudi Arabian airline. The aircraft was never delivered to that airline, however, and instead made its way back to the US where it was flown by State Airlines before being obtained by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Pima Air and Space Museum stored the aircraft on their property for the Smithsonian until 1985, when it was officially donated to Pima. However, restoration did not begin until the fall of 2021.
As with many of Pima’s recent restorations, great effort has been made to preserve the history of the specific airframe, and this R5O is no exception. The decision was made to clothe her in the colors of her first duty assignment with the Navy at NAS Anacostia. Because this restoration is intended to be an outdoor display, great care has been taken to protect the airframe from the elements and includes the modern concession of silver paint instead of polished aluminum, protective panels in the windshield and windows, and the addition of bird spikes and mesh in the engine nacelles. As the Lodestar is awaiting the completion of a portion of the skin, an official rollout date has not yet been announced.