This single-engine airplane riveted with shiny aluminum skin was meant to rule the skies in the new world of commercial passenger aviation.
But it was practically obsolete as soon as it came out of the factory in 1934.
That same year, government regulations for the nascent industry changed. Planes intended to carry commercial passengers at night or over rough terrain had to have two engines.
“It killed the future of single-engine airlines,” said aviation enthusiast John Roper. “This was the tail end of that.”
The plane designated NC13777 had a long history of private service, but for the last couple of decades it sat collecting dust in a hangar at Amelia Earhart Airport in Atchison, Kan. Now it awaits new life at the Airline History Museum in Kansas City, where officials plan to restore it to airworthiness.
“This is a big deal, because it’s basically the last surviving Northrop Delta,” said Roper, vice president of operations at the museum. “It was the peak of technology. This was flying 210 mph in the 1930s. Back then that was a big leap.”
The Northrop Delta was built to carry eight passengers. It had a range that could have taken them from Kansas City to Los Angeles. This particular one was sold to Richfield Oil Corp. and later changed hands a few times. It found its way to Kansas City in the 1960s.
But a miscalculation caused it to run out of fuel during a test flight, and it crashed into a field.
“It was pulled out of the field and restored but never really flown again after that,” said Roper.
The Airline History Museum has all the essential structural parts, including some spares because the Northrop Delta used the same make of engine as the DC-3, one of which is also in the museum collection.
But the cabin interior, which once had wicker seats, is in need of a complete restoration. That will require a significant fundraising campaign. The museum is working with the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, toward the goal of getting it back in the air within a couple of years. Officials are hopeful the owner will donate the plane to the museum.
Meanwhile Hangar 9, the museum’s home at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, is getting crowded. The currently disassembled Northrop Delta sits in the shadow of the museum’s 1958 Lockheed Constellation, or Connie. A few feet away sits a 1951-52 Martin 404.
The museum has various projects in progress and is working with the Northland and Blue Valley centers for advanced placement studies to give high school students opportunities to earn credit for hands-on education.
The airport apron outside Hangar 9 will also get more crowded this year with the expected arrival of two modern aircraft to join the Lockheed L-1011 that the museum acquired in 2010.
A DC-8 that last flew passengers in 2014 has been donated to the museum by the Air Transport International cargo company in Wilmington, Ohio. A Boeing 727 that last flew for American Airlines in 2003 has been donated by the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Both will be flown to Kansas City this spring or summer, assuming ferry permits can be secured from the Federal Aviation Administration.
It’s a lot of activity for the Airline History Museum, whose membership has had a history of internal division. But officials say things have stabilized.
“All of that stuff is behind us,” said Bob Glover, president of the museum’s board. “There were some controversies, some things in our dark past that are way behind us. We’ve got a good, healthy group of folks on our board of directors now.”
“I’d be less than truthful with you if I said we’re in fat city,” said Glover. “It’s always somewhat of a struggle, but we’re coming around the corner.”