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Northrop Gamma 2L
Single-engine two-crew low-wing flying-test-bed monoplane

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Northrop Gamma 2L, (G-AFBT, c/n 347) (Northrop/Douglas photo via Reference 4)

Overview — Northrop Gamma Series [2]

The Northrop Gamma was a single-engine all-metal monoplane cargo aircraft used in the 1930s. Towards the end of its service life, it was developed into a light bomber.

Design and Development — The Northrop Gamma was a further development of the successful Northrop Alpha and shared its predecessor's aerodynamic innovations with wing fillets and multicellular stressed-skin wing construction. Like late Northrop Alphas, the fixed landing gear was covered in distinctive aerodynamic spats, and the aircraft introduced a fully enclosed cockpit.

Operational History — The Northrop Gamma saw fairly limited civilian service as mail planes with Trans World Airlines, but had an illustrious career as flying laboratory and record-breaking aircraft. The US military found the design sufficiently interesting to encourage Northrop to develop it into what eventually became the Northrop A-17 Nomad light attack aircraft. Military versions of the Northrop Gamma saw combat with Chinese and Spanish Republican air forces. Twenty Five Northrop Gamma 2Es were assembled in China from components provided by Northrop.

On June 2, 1933 Frank Hawks flew his Northrop Gamma 2A Texaco Sky Chief from Los Angeles to New York in a record 13 hours, 26 minutes, and 15 seconds. In 1935, Howard Hughes improved on this time in his modified Northrop Gamma 2G making the west-east transcontinental run in 9 hours, 26 minutes, and 10 seconds.

The most famous Northrop Gamma was the Northrop Gamma 2B Polar Star. The aircraft was carried via ship and off-loaded onto the pack ice in the Ross Sea during Lincoln Ellsworth's 1934 expedition to Antarctica. The Northrop Gamma 2B was almost lost when the ice underneath it broke and it had to be returned to United States for repairs. The Northrop Gamma 2B Polar Star's second return to Antarctica in September 1934 was also futile — a connecting rod broke and the aircraft had to be returned yet again for repairs. On January 3, 1935, Ellsworth and pilot Bernt Balchen finally flew over Antarctica.

On November 23, 1935, Ellsworth and Canadian pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon attempted the world's first trans-Antarctic flight from Dundee Island in the Weddell Sea to Little America. The crew made four stops during their journey, in the process becoming the first people ever to visit Western Antarctica. During one stop, a blizzard completely packed the fuselage with snow which took a day to clear out. On December 5, after traveling over 2,400 miles (3,865 km) the aircraft ran out of fuel just 25 miles (40 km) short of the goal. The intrepid crew took six days to travel the remainder of the journey and stayed in the abandoned Richard E. Byrd camp until being found by the Discovery II research vessel on January 15, 1936. The Northrop Gamma 2B Polar Star was later recovered and donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum where it resides to this day.

Overview — Northrop Gamma 2L [3,4]

The last Northrop Gamma was specialty built for the Bristol Aeroplane Company in the UK, for use as a flying test-bed for the new fourteen-cylinder sleeve-valve Hercules engine. The aircraft was delivered without engine on 4 June 1937, and a registered G-AFBT to the British Air Ministry, London, England on 6/4/1937 under export certificate #E-2802 of 6/2/1937. The Northrop Gamma 2L (c/n 347) was initially fitted with a 1,290-hp Bristol Hercules Mk.1SM driving a three-blade propeller and tested at Filton, Bristol, England. With this engine, the aircraft made its first flight at Filton, Bristol, during September 1937. Later, the Northrop Gamma 2L was used to test the Hercules Mk.1M(a), Mk.3SM, and Mk.6SM engines. Externally, the Northrop Gamma 2L was easily recognizable because of the characteristic Bristol exhaust collector ring in the forward portion of the cowling and the fixed undercarriage and vertical tail services similar to those of the Northrop A-17 Nomad. The pilot and flight engineer sat in tandem, with the pilot above the wing, under a canopy fairing into the rear fuselage. The aircraft was dismantled at Filton during World War II and scrapped in January 1946.

Northrop Gamma Variants [2]

Civil Variants

Military Variants

Northrop Gamma Operators [2]

Military Operators

Civil Operators

Specifications — Northrop Gamma 2L [3,4]


Power Plant:


Weights and Loadings:


Credits and Works Cited

  1. Photo, Northrop Gamma 2H via Skytamer Archive
  2. Wikipedia, Northrop Gamma
  3. Allen, Richard Sanders, The Northrop Story 1929-1939, Orion Books, New York, 1990, ISBN 0-517-56677-X, pp. 138, 150-155.
  4. Francillon, René J., McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920: Volume I, Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-827-5, pp. 127-138.

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