The Lockheed Ventura was the result of a September 1939 proposal by Lockheed to the British Air Ministry for a military version of the Model 18 Lodestar twin-engined 15/18-passenger commercial transport. It was viewed as a successor to the Lockheed Hudson in RAF service. The Hudson was itself a military version of the Model 14 Super Electra 10/14-passenger commercial transport.
Under the temporary design designation of L-108, the Lockheed company considered several different proposals for a military version of the Model 18. Some of them envisaged the use of powerplants in the 1000/1200 hp class which had been used by the Lodestar to meet a requirement for a general-purpose reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Hudson, whereas others used more-powerful engines rated at 1600/2000 hp to fulfill a requirement for a light/medium bomber as a Blenheim replacement. The latter role had a higher priority for the Air Ministry, and so in February of 1940 Lockheed was awarded a contract for 25 Model 32-94-01 or 132-56-01 bombers. Further discussion with Lockheed led to a switch to the Model 37-21-01 which was powered by a pair of 1850 hp Pratt & Whitney S1A4-G Double Wasp eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radials. This engine was a commercial version of the military R-2800. The RAF was pleased with this proposal and ordered 300 examples in May of 1940 under the name *Ventura*. RAF serials were AE658/AE957. Later in 1940, 375 more Venturas were ordered (RAF serials AJ163/AJ537).
Since Lockheed now had sizable orders in hand from both domestic and overseas customers, they decided to have the Model 37 built by the Vega Airplane Company. The Vega Airplane Company was located right next door to Lockheed at Burbank, California. It had been founded in 1937 and had become a subsidiary of Lockheed. In recognition of the need for expanded output caused by the outbreak of war in Europe, Vega built a new plant at the Union Air Terminal at Burbank about a mile from the parent Lockheed plant. On December 31, 1941, the Vega Airplane Company formally merged with Lockheed. On November 30, 1943, the name Vega finally disappeared when the Vega Airplane Company was formally absorbed into Lockheed, its facilities becoming Lockheed's Plant A-1.
The Ventura had the same overall configuration as the Hudson which preceded it, but it was somewhat larger, heavier, and more powerful. As compared to the Hudson, the dorsal turret was moved forward to improve the field of fire. Early production aircraft had two 0.303-inch machine guns installed in this turret, but later production aircraft increased this to four. Twin flexible 0.303-inch machine guns were mounted in the extreme nose. A pair of flexible 0.303-inch machine guns were mounted in a ventral position behind the wing trailing edge. This gun position gave a distinct kink to the aft fuselage. Two fixed forward-firing 0.50-inch machine guns were installed in the upper decking of the nose. A bomb load of 2500 pounds could be carried in the internal bay. Internal fuel capacity was reduced from 644 US gallons in the Lodestar to 565 US gallons for the Ventura. As on the Lodestar, a set of Fowler flaps were installed on the wing trailing edge, extending all the way from the ailerons inward to the fuselage. When fully extended, these flaps increased the wing area from 551 to 619 square feet.
The first Ventura (AE658) took off on its maiden flight at the Lockheed Air Terminal on July 31, 1941. Although the dorsal turret was mounted, no armament was actually fitted. The Ventura I (Model 37-21-01) was powered by a pair of 1850 hp Pratt & Whitney S1A4-G Double Wasps. 188 were delivered under the original British contract, with serials being AE658/AE845. One (AE662) was fitted with a pair of 2200 hp Wright R-3350 engines as a testbed for the engine installation in the Constellation transport. It had a shortened nose to permit propeller clearance.
Deliveries of Venturas to Britain began in September of 1941. 21 of the early production run of Ventura Is (AE658, AE659, AE661, AE663/AE674, AE676/AE678, AE696, AE703 and AE728) were retained in Canada for the RCAF. At least six (AE690, AE694, AE727, AE752, AE754, AE765) were transferred to the South African Air Force.
The Ventura II (Model 37-27-01) was generally similar to the Ventura I, but was powered by 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-31s instead of the Double Wasp S1A4-Gs of the Mark I version. It had a redesigned bomb bay capable of carrying 3000 pounds of bombs or 780-gallon ferry tanks. Production totaled 487 aircraft (the 112 aircraft of AE846/AE957 which filled out the remainder of the original British contract, plus the 375 aircraft in the second contract AJ163/AJ537). Only 196 Ventura IIs actually reached Commonwealth forces, with 264 (among these AJ235/AJ442) being retained by the USAAF as Model 37s. For some reason, they never got USAAF designations or serial numbers.
The Ventura I was first delivered to the RAF in September of 1941, and went into service with No 21 Squadron at Bodney, Norfolk, in May of 1942. It also served with Nos 464 (RAAF) and 487 (RNZAF) Squadrons. It flew its first combat mission on November 3, 1942, an attack by three aircraft of No. 21 Squadron against a factory at Hengelo which had to be diverted into a raid against railway lines instead.
47 Venturas from Nos 21, 464, and 487 Squadrons took part along with Mosquitos and Bostons in a daylight low-level attack on December 6, 1942 against the Philips radio and vacuum tube factory at Eindhoven in the Netherlands. The raid did not go well--nine of the Venturas were shot down and 37 were damaged.
After this disaster, the Venturas switched to medium-altitude missions and attacked numerous targets in occupied Europe. On April 4, a formation of 24 Venturs were sent to bomb the Caen/Carpiquet airfield whereas another 24 Venturas were sent to attack the shipyards at Rotterdam. Two Venturas attacking Rotterdam were shot down by German fighters and three more were shot down by fighters on the Brest raid. On April 21, when Venturas of No 21 Squadron hit the marshaling yards at Abbeville, three more shot down by fighters. On May 3, 1943, eleven Venturas from No 487 Squadron attacked a power station in Amsterdam, but only one Ventura survived determined attacks from German fighters. The formation leader, Sqdn Ldr Leonard H. Trent, managed to shoot down a Bf 109 with his forward-firing guns before being shot down himself. Sqdn Ldr Trent was captured and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. He managed to survive the war, and was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.
On May 24, No. 487 Squadron resumed operations. An attack on a power station and coking plant at Zeebrugge came off without losses. On May 29, No. 21 Squadron attacked Zeebrugge again. Two Venturas got involved in a midair collision. One made it back safely, but the other was lost.
On June 22, 1942, Wing Commander R. H. S. King, commander of No. 21 Squadron and his crew were killed when their Ventura was hit by flak in an attack on an enemy gun position near the Abbeville-Drucat airfield.
The Ventura was never very popular with its RAF crews. It was 50 mph faster than the Hudson which preceded it and had a bombload of 2500 pounds instead of the former's 1000 pounds, but it was over 7500 pounds heavier. Losses were high, and the aircraft was not really suitable as a bomber. The RAF Ventura I and II bombers were replaced by deHavilland Mosquitos by the summer of 1943. The last Ventura sortie took place with No. 21 Squadron on September 9, 1943.
After being phased out of the bombardment role, a number of Ventura Is were modified as Ventura G.R.Is for the Coastal Command beginning in the fall of 1943. These Ventura G.R.ls served with Nos. 519 and 521 Squadrons of RAF Coastal Command and with Nos 13 and 500 Squadrons in the Mediterranean.
21 Ventura Mk. Is and 108 Mk. II/IIAs were diverted to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) from British contracts. The first Ventura I was received in June of 1942. The Ventura I and II aircraft retained in Canada were used exclusively in training roles and never saw combat. They retained their RAF serial numbers, and were assigned to No 340 Operational Training Unit at Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick and No 1 Central Flying School at Trenton, Ontario.
The South African Air Force received 135 Ventura Mk I and II aircraft (SAAF serials 6001 to 6135). They equipped three Squadrons (Nos 17, 22, and 27) which initially operated at home to protect shipping routes around the Cape. They also served in the Mediterranean. Venturas of No. 17 Squadron carried out anti-shipping strikes off the coast of Italy, and No 452 flew a few night intruder missions. No 27 Squadron took over 500 Squadron's surviving Venturas and later operated from Malta. Venturas were operated by No. 27 Squadron until January of 1945, while other wartime Venturas, particularly in No. 299 Squadron of the RAF, were used as transports.
Although 264 British-ordered Ventura IIs were taken over by the USAAF and operated under the unorthodox designation of Model 37, the USAAF actually made only limited use of this aircraft in combat. Early in the war, several Model 37s were used for antisubmarine patrols, but most USAAF Venturas were used mainly for training at such stateside units as the Bomber Training Group at Randolph Field, the AAF Gunnery School at Laredo, Texas, and the AAF Navigation School at San Marcos, Texas.
The last 27 Ventura IIs on the British order were delivered to the US Navy under the designation PV-3. Their RAF serials were AJ511/AJ537), and they were assigned the Navy BuNos 33925/33951. They were assigned in October 1942 to VP-82 which operated from Newfoundland on anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic.
Ventura Mk 1 AE658/AE845 c/n 37-4001/4188 AE689 crashed in USA AE693,711,721,725,729,740,747,763,764,766, 767, 771,793,803 were lost en route. Ventura Mk II AE846/AE957 c/n 137-04189/4300 AE862, 890,906,917,935 were lost en route Ventura Mk II AJ163/AJ537 c/n 137-4301/4675 AJ225, 450,459,471,490 were lost en route. AJ235/AJ442 to USAAF as Model 37. AJ511/AJ537 to US Navy as PV-3 (33925/33951
Engines: Two 1850 hp Pratt & Whitney S1A4-G Double Wasps air-cooled radial engines. Performance: Maximum speed 312 mph at 15,500 feet. Cruising speed 272 mph. Initial climb rate 2035 feet per minute. Service ceiling 25,000 feet. Normal range 925 miles. Dimensions: Wingspan 65 feet 6 inches, length 51 feet 5 inches, height 11 feet 10 1/2 inches, wing area 551 square feet. Weights: 17,233 pounds empty, 22,500 pounds loaded, 26,000 pounds maximum. Armament: Two 0.303-inch machine guns installed in dorsal turret. On later production aircraft the number of guns in the dorsal turret was increased to four. Twin flexible 0.303-inch machine guns were mounted in the extreme nose. A pair of flexible 0.303-inch machine guns were mounted in a ventral position behind the wing trailing edge. Two fixed forward-firing 0.50-inch machine guns were installed in the upper decking of the nose. A bomb load of 2500 pounds could be carried in an internal bomb bay.