Many of us assume that corporate flying was developed by Texas oil barons and Midwestern entrepreneurs during the 1930s, but it was a Czech shoe company, Bata, that pioneered a particularly productive form of business aviation with this very airplane—a 1937 Lockheed 10A Electra that recently was returned to better-than-new condition by Wichita Air Services.
Rather than simply using the 10-seat twin (eight passengers, two crew) as a royal barge for corporate execs, Bata’s Lockheed was also put to work to fly high-value workers to factories where they were needed and to carry emergency replacement parts for assembly-line machinery. The Electra also made the first successful round-the-world business flight, in April 1937. Bata, which started and still exists as a shoe manufacturer, eventually had more than 100 different companies all over Europe, the UK, India and the Far East.
It’s surprising that Bata approached aviation with such enthusiasm, for the company’s founder, Tomas Bata, was killed in 1932 in the crash of a Junkers J.13, his first bizplane, near his headquarters in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. And despite this tragedy, one of Bata’s divisions became an aircraft-manufacturing company named after that home city: Zlin, the builder of aerobatic trainers and competition aircraft.
The Bata Electra had a varied career after it flew a planeload of executives to freedom in England in 1939. The 10A then saw service as an RAF shuttle and was sent to Canada to fly antisub patrols for the RCAF. Sold as surplus in 1946, it passed through the hands of several owners, including film actress Margaret O’Brien, and ultimately was bought by a Czech aviation enthusiast. The airplane was flying when it arrived at Wichita Air Services’ extensive restoration shop in Newton, Kan., in 2010, but it needed corrosion correction, much reskinning, lots of rewiring and a complete new interior and cockpit.
The Electra first flew again on March 13 of this year, and is being flown to the Czech Republic. The owner of OK-CTB—its original Czech registry—is honoring the airplane’s Bata legacy by displaying it in a purpose-built hangar at an airfield near Prague. Whether the Lockheed will be flown at future European airshows hasn’t yet been determined.