Tag Archives: Travel Air Manufacturing Company

12 August 1930

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)
Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

12 August 1930: Frank Monroe Hawks flew from Los Angeles Municipal Airport in California to Curtiss Airport, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, in a record-breaking 12 hours, 25 minutes, 3 seconds. His airplane was a Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship” named Texaco No. 13. It carried civil registration NR1313.

One week earlier, 6 August 1930, Hawks had flown across the continent from east to west, in 14 hours, 50 minutes 3 seconds. More favorable winds allowed the Type R to make a faster west-to-east flight.

Hawks’ Texaco No. 13 was the fourth of five specially designed and constructed racing aircraft produced by Travel Air Manufacturing Company of Wichita, Kansas. The company was founded by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman. The “Type R” refers to one of its designers, Herb Rawdon.

The Type R was a low-wing monoplane with a monocoque fuselage built welded tubular steel. The very thin wing was braced by wires. It used spruce spars and ribs. Both fuselage and wings were covered with 1/16-inch mahogany plywood. Attempts to streamline the airplane included a raised profile behind the pilot’s head, “wheel pants,” as well as a NACA-designed engine cowling that provided better engine cooling and caused less aerodynamic drag.

Three-view drawing of Travel Air Type R “Mystery Ship” with dimensions. (From The Scientific American Magazine, republished in Flight, No. 1165, Vol. XXIII. No. 17, 24 April 1931, at Page 360)

The Travel Air Type R was 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and overall height of 7 feet, 9 inches (2.362 meters). The wing had a chord of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters), and total area of 125 square feet (11.6 square meters). It had an empty weight of 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) and gross weight of 3,300 pounds (1,497 kilograms).

The Mystery Ship was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch-displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Whirlwind Nine (also known as the J-6-9 or R-975) nine-cylinder radial engine, normally rated at 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Various sources state that Hawks’ R-975 had been modified by increasing its compression ratio and supercharger speed, and that it produced 450 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The R-975 was built in both direct drive and geared versions. The two-bladed Standard Steel propeller had a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters).

The Mystery Ship’s cruising speed was 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) at 1,950 r.p.m., and it had a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. It had an initial rate of climb of 3,200 feet per minute (16.26 meters per second). The service ceiling was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and the absolute ceiling was 31,000 feet (9,449 meters). The range at cruise speed was 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).

One of the fastest airplanes of its time, the Type R set over 200 speed records.

Frank Monroe Hawks with the Texaco 13 Travel-Air Mystery Ship at East Boston Airport, 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Frank Monroe Hawks with the Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship, Texaco No. 13, NR1313, at East Boston Airport, 1930. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
Frank Hawks, 1930 (SDA&SM)

Newspapers called the Type R airplanes “mystery ships” because Beech was very secretive about them. When two of them were flown to the 1929 National Air Races at Cleveland, Ohio, they taxied directly to a hangar and shut off their engines. They were immediately pushed inside. The hangar was kept locked and under guard.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mystery Pilot.”

Frank Hawks’ Type R is in the collection of the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.

Travel Air Type R, NR1313, Mystery Ship, Texaco No. 13, at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois. (MSI)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 March 1929

Louise Thaden at Oakland Municipal Airport with a Beech Travel Air, 1929. (NASM-SI-83-2145)

17 March 1929: Louise Thaden, flying a Beech Travel Air 3000, NC5426, over Oakland, California, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Duration, staying aloft for 22 hours, 3 minutes.¹ This flight broke the previous record which had been set five weeks earlier, 10–11 February, by Evelyn (“Bobbie”) Trout—which had broken the record set 2 January 1929 by Elinor Smith.

The Oakland Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association wanted to have all new U.S. records set at Oakland, and Mrs. Thaden’s duration flight was a part of that campaign. Officials from the Oakland NAA group observed her flight in order to certify the record for the international body, the FAI.

Douglas C. Warren’s Travel Air 3000, NC5426, flown by Louise Thaden to set a World Record for Duration, (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, Catalog #: 00072288)

The airplane flown by Mrs. Thaden for her duration record was a Travel Air 3000, registration NC5426, serial number 51?. The airplane was modified with an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cockpit.

The Travel Air 3000 was a single-engine, three-place, single-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 24 feet, 3 inches (7.391 meters) long, with an upper wing span of 34 feet, 8 inches (10.566 meters), and lower span of 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters). The airplane had an overall height of 9 feet, 0 inches (2.743 meters). The 3000 had an empty weight of 1,664 pounds (755 kilograms), and gross weight of 2,590 pounds (1,175 kilograms).

Louise Thaden flying the Travel Air 3000, NC5426, during her duration record attempt, 17 March 1929. The auxiliary fuel tank fills the airplane’s forward cockpit. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

Travel Air biplanes could be ordered with several different air-cooled or water-cooled engines, such as the Curtiss OX-5, the 120 h.p. Fairchild Caminez 4-cylinder radial, or the Wright Whirlwind. The 3000 was equipped with a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated Hispano-Suiza 8Ac V-8 (according to FAI records). For the record flight the engine was replaced with a “souped-up” engine.

The Travel Air 3000 had a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), and the maximum range was 400 miles (644 kilometers).

The Travel Air Manufacturing Company built approximately 50 of the “Hisso-powered” Travel Air 3000 variant.

Louise Thaden waves from the cockpit of the Travel Air 3000, NC5426. The forward cockpit has been modified to accept a large auxiliary fuel tank. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

The Oakland Tribune reported:

WOMAN FLIER BREAKS RECORD

Oakland Aviatrix Sets World Mark for Endurance Flight

     Mrs. Louise McPhetridge Thaden wants to break more aviation records, she declared at Oakland airport today. Already holder of the altitude record for women and having brought her biplane to earth here yesterday with a new women’s endurance flight record, she now is thinking about establishing new altitude and speed marks for women.

     For 22 hours, 3 minutes and 25 seconds, Mrs. Thaden kept her plane in teh air over Oakland airport yesterday, fighting against drowsiness and night cold to beat the former women’s sustained flight record of 17 hours, 5 minutes, 37 seconds, recently established by Miss Bobby Trout of Los Angeles.

      It was at noon yesterday that Mrs. Thaden signalled to planes flying close to her that her gasoline supply was getting low.. Still she kept circling over the airport while thousands waited on the ground below, eager to see her and greet her when she landed.

12 GALLONS OF GAS REMAIN AT FINISH.

     Mrs. Thaden made one last great circle of the flying field and brought her plane to earth at 1:55 p.m. She taxied her plane to a hangar, where officials of the Oakland chapter, National Aeronautic association, newspaper men and friends waited to welcome her. Examination of the plane showed that only 12 gallons of 196 gallons of gasoline were left.

     As friends helped her out of the cockpit where she had sat in a cramped position without sleep, she smiled and said: “Well, I made it. But, gosh, I’m tired.”

     Thousands who had waited at the Oakland airport since early morning cheered Mrs. Thaden, and police were busy keeping them from crushing her in their desire to see the flier and her record plane.

     Mrs. Thaden was greeted first with a hug and a kiss from Mrs. Hattie V. Thaden, her mother-in-law, who had waited through the long night at the airport, confident that her son’s wife would succeed in her record-seeking attempt.

Oakland Tribune, Vol. CX, No. 77, Monday, 18 March 1929, Page 1, Column 5, and Page 2, Column 2

Iris Louise McPhetridge was born 12 November 1905 at Bentonville, Arkansas. She was the first of three daughters of Roy Fry McPhetridge, owner of a foundry, and Edna Hobbs McPhetridge. She was educated at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a member of the Class of 1927. She was president of the Delta Delta Delta (ΔΔΔ) Sorority, Delta Iota (ΔΙ) Chapter, head sports for basketball and president of The Panhellenic.

Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative for his Travel Air Manufacturing Company at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. Beech asked her to go to Oakland as an employee of Douglas C. Warren, the new Travel Air dealer for the western region of the United States. He included flying lessons with her employment. (Warren owned the airplanes used by Mrs. Thaden to set her altitude and endurance records.) She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Louise Thaden’s original pilot license, No. 6850, issued by the National Aeronautic Association and signed by Orville Wright. (The Central Arkansas Library System)

Miss McPhetridge married Mr. Herbert von Thaden at San Francisco, California, 21 July 1928. Thaden was a former military pilot and an engineer. They would have two children, William and Patricia.²

In 1929, Mrs. Thaden was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. She was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating.

Mrs Thaden set an FAI World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet) over Oakland, California, 7 December 1928.¹  On 17 March 1929, she set an FAI record for duration of 22 hours, 3 minutes.²

Louise Thaden served as secretary of the National Aeronautic Association, and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines. She served as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936.

Louise Thaden stopped flying in 1938. She died at High Point, North Carolina, 9 November 1979.

Louise Thaden with her 1936 Vincent Bendix Trophy, circa 1975. (NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12223

² Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 December 1928

“Louise Thaden in 1929, in front of the left wing of Beechcraft Travel Air 3000. She is wearing goggles around her neck, she is holding a leather flying helmet, and her left foot is resting on the wheel.” Louise Thaden with a Travel Air 3000 at Oakland Airport, circa 1929 (NASM-SI-83-2145)

7 December 1928: Flying a Travel Air 3000 biplane over Oakland, California, Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden established an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude of 6,178 meters (20,269 feet).¹ Mrs. Thaden surpassed the record of 5,008 meters (16,430 feet) set by Lady Heath, just five days earlier, 2 December 1928.²

The Oakland Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association wanted to have all new U.S. records set at Oakland, and Mrs. Thaden’s altitude flight was a part of that campaign. Officials from the Oakland NAA group observed her flight in order to certify the record for the international body, the FAI.

Before altitude flight, Charles S. Nagel, NAA observer, w/ barograph (SDASM # WOF_00340

The Oakland Tribune reported:

AVIATRIX SETS WORLD RECORD

Oakland Pilot Breaks Mark for Women With Altitude of 25,400 Feet.

     Confident that she has established a new world’s altitude record for women fliers, Mrs. Louise McPhetridge Thaden, Oakland aviatrix, clyaims [sic] to have attained a height of 25,400 feet in her plane during a flight of one hour and fifty-five minutes over Oakland airport.

Mrs. Thaden took off from the local flying field at 2:30 p.m. yesterday in a Travelair [sic] biplane equipped with a 180-horsepower Hispano-Suiza motor. She carried two altimeters and a sealed barograph. One altimeter showed a height of 25,400 feet, while the other registered 23,100 feet. Either mark would be sufficient to break the record of 22,000 feet held by Lady Heath of London.

In the plane were a tank of oxygen and a mask which Mrs. Thaden found necessary to use at a height of 15,000 feet. She was dressed in a fur-lined flying suit, fur-lined boots, and wore a fur-lined helmet and gloves.

“It was awfully cold up there,” said Mrs. Thaden after landing at the airport. “The flight wasn’t difficult, and I believe I can establish a higher altitude mark than this one.”

The flight was conducted under supervision of the Oakland chapter, National Aeronautical [sic] Association, with Leo S. Nagle, local president, assisting. The sealed barograph will be sent to Washington, D.C., for official calibrating to make Mrs. Thaden’s flight official.

__________

     WICHITA, Kansas, Dec. 8.—(AP)—Mrs. Louise McPhetridge von Thaden, Oakland, Calif., aviatrix, who believes she has established a new altitude record for women fliers, learned to fly while she was in Wichita working as a saleswoman for a local company. She came here from Bentonville, Ark., where she formerly taught school.

Walter Beech, president of the airplane manufacturing company which built the plane Mrs. Thaden used in her altitude flight, said he picked as a person having natural ability for flying after she had only 10 hours of instruction in the air

Oakland Tribune, Vol. CIX, No. 161, Saturday, 8 December 1928, Page 1, Column 6

Thaden/oxygen system (University of Arkansas Library, Women in Arkansas Collection ualr-ph-0067_na_na_pho0049)

Because of the altitudes at which she intended to fly, Mrs. Thaden carried a cylinder of pressurized oxygen and face mask. In her autobiography, she wrote:

Louise Thaden after her record flight (CTIE Monash University)

. . . Every foot of altitude was a battle. “Come on baby,” I breathed, “Just a hundred feet more! You can do it—just a hundred feet more. Come on, baby—hunnert—feet—.”

     There was a ringing in my ears, a far away, dim, yet sharply ringing like the sound you hear coming out from under ether. The plane was nose down, turning in wide, fast circles, engine bellowing protestingly under wide-open throttle.

     Automatically easing the throttle back and giving back pressure on the stick, I glanced at the altimeter: 16,200 feet. I fumbled clumsily and my numb fingers succeeded in prying the frozen mass of ice and mask from my face. Fresh air tasted good as I breathed in long, hard, deep, gulps. The plane weaved crazily.

     I thought, “I must have passed out.”

High, Wide, and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2004. Chapter 2, Page 24

Douglas Warren congratulates Louise Thaden, still seated in the cockpit of the Travel Air 3000. (SDASM # WOF_00350)

Louise McPhetridge had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative for his Travel Air Manufacturing Company at Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment. Beech asked her to go to Oakland as an employee of Douglas C. Warren, the new Travel Air dealer for the western region of the United States. He included flying lessons with her employment. (Warren owned the airplanes used by Mrs. Thaden to set her altitude and endurance records.) She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, 16 May 1928.

Once in California, Miss McPhetridge met an aeronautical engineer, Herbert von Thaden,³ and they were married on 21 July 1928.

“Louise in the Hisso-powered Travel Air N5425 used for the Altitude Record.” (High, Wide and Frightened, by Louise McPhetridge Thaden, the University of Arkansas Press, 2004, at Page 22. NASM SI-89-21985)

The airplane flown by Mrs. Thaden for her altitude record was a Travel Air 3000, registration NC5425, serial number 514. The Travel Air 3000 was a single-engine, three-place, single-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was 24 feet, 3 inches (7.391 meters) long, with an upper wing span of 34 feet, 8 inches (10.566 meters), and lower span of 28 feet, 8 inches (8.738 meters). The airplane had an overall height of 9 feet, 0 inches (2.743 meters). The 3000 had an empty weight of 1,664 pounds (755 kilograms), and gross weight of 2,590 pounds (1,175 kilograms).

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, front view

Travel Air biplanes could be ordered with several different air-cooled or water-cooled engines, such as the Curtiss OX-5, the 120 h.p. Fairchild Caminez 4-cylinder radial, or the Wright Whirlwind. The 3000 was equipped with a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated Hispano-Suiza 8Ac V-8 (according to FAI records). For the record flight the engine was replaced with a “souped-up” engine.

The Travel Air 3000 had a cruise speed of 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters), and the maximum range was 400 miles (644 kilometers).

The Travel Air Manufacturing Company built approximately 50 of the “Hisso-powered” Travel Air 3000 variant.

Travel Air 3000 NC6406, left side view
Uncased barograph from Louise Thaden’s altitude record flight.(SDA&SM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12221

² FAI Record File Number 12212

³ Herbert von Thaden had founded the Thaden Metal Aircraft Company, builder of the all-metal Thaden T-1, T-2, and the T-4 Argonaut. Thaden went on to design molded plywood furniture for the Thaden-Jordan Furniture Corporation. His designs are considered to be works of art, and individual pieces sell for as much as $30,000 today.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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