As war neared, Sidney Cotton and Lockheed 12A G-AFTL helped change the face of British aerial reconnaissance. But what does fresh evidence, gathered as the aircraft was restored for Fighter Aviation Engineering, tell us about their covert activities?
The Lockheed 12A Electra Junior was, and remains, the very embodiment of stylish 1930s air travel for the well-heeled. Then as now, it looked beautiful, even elegant, and for some purposefully innocuous. However, behind that façade was concealed the most capable aerial reconnaissance asset available to Britain during the lead-up to World War Two, faster and higher-flying than its predecessors, able to pass with ease through increasingly hostile skies while capturing good-quality photographic imagery for what we now know popularly as MI6. And, adding to its unassuming lustre, the example registered G-AFTL did so in the hands of a man known for being among the most colourful and buccaneering in aviation history: Australian Sidney Cotton, no less.