National Air Races

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The National Air Races (also known as Pulitzer Trophy Races) were a series of pylon and cross-country races that took place in the United States from 1920 to 1949. The science of aviation, and the speed and reliability of aircraft and engines grew rapidly during this period; the National Air Races were both a proving ground and showcase for this.


In 1920 publisher Ralph Pulitzer sponsored the Pulitzer Trophy Race and the Pulitzer Speed Trophy for military airplanes at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, in an effort to publicize aviation and his newspaper. The races eventually moved to Cleveland and then they were known as the Cleveland National Air Races.[1] They drew the best flyers of the time, including James Doolittle, Wiley Post, Tex Rankin, Frank Hawks, Jimmy Wedell, Roscoe Turner, and others from the pioneer age of aviation. These air races helped to inspire Donald Blakeslee as a young boy. [2]

The races usually ran for up to 10 days, usually at the end of August. During World War II the races were on hiatus.

The races included a variety of events, including cross-country races that ended in Cleveland, landing contests, glider demonstrations, airship flights, and parachute-jumping contests. The most popular event was the Thompson Trophy Race, a closed-course race where aviators raced their planes around pylons, and the Bendix Trophy Race across most of the USA.

In 1929, Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio were the start and end for the Women's Air Derby (nicknamed the "Powder Puff Derby"), featuring well-known female pilots such as Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, Bobbi Trout, and Louise Thaden. Thaden was the winner in the heavy class, while Phoebe Omlie won the light class.

In Chicago, during the last day of the 1930 trophy race, 1 September, Capt. Arthur Page, USMC, crashed his modified Curtiss Hawk Seaplane F6C-3, dying of his injuries later that day.[3]

When the races resumed after World War II, they featured newer surplus military planes that greatly outclassed the planes from the pre-war era. In 1949 Bill Odom lost control of his P-51 "Beguine" and crashed into a home, killing himself and two people inside.[4] The races went on hiatus again.

The annual event resumed in 1964 as the Reno National Championship Air Races, taking place in mid-September.[1] The Cleveland National Air Show also began in 1964.

National Air Races were run by U.S. Air Race, Inc. from 1995-2007. The company was founded by famed World Race Gold Medalist Marion P. Jayne and after her death from cancer in 1996, was run by her daughter Patricia Jayne (Pat) Keefer, 1994 World Race Gold Medalist. Under Keefer's leadership, the events tabulated a perfect safety record with nearly 600,000 miles raced, over 3,200 safe landings at 81 different airports in 43 states and two countries in 25 events. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and over 250 different sponsors she awarded 26 Learn-to-Fly scholarships and reached an estimated 20 million people with a positive message about General Aviation.

Locations and dates[edit]

The Pulitzer Trophy on display in 2012 in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
  • 1920 Roosevelt Field, New York, November 27
  • 1921 Omaha, Nebraska, November 5
  • 1922 Detroit, Michigan, October 12-14
  • 1923 Robertson, Missouri (as the International Air Races), October 6-8
  • 1924 Dayton, Ohio, October 2-4
  • 1925 Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, October 8-13
  • 1926 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 4-13
  • 1927 Spokane, Washington, September 19-25
  • 1928 Los Angeles, California September 8-16
  • 1929 Cleveland, Ohio, August 24-September 2
  • 1930 Chicago, Illinois, August 23-September 1
  • 1931 Cleveland, Ohio, August 29-September 7
  • 1932 Cleveland, Ohio, August 27-September 5
  • 1933 Los Angeles, California, July 1-4
  • 1934 Cleveland, Ohio, August 31-September 4
  • 1935 Cleveland, Ohio, August 30-September 2
  • 1936 Los Angeles, California, September 4-7
  • 1937 Cleveland, Ohio, September 3-7
  • 1938 Cleveland, Ohio, September 3-5
  • 1939 Cleveland, Ohio, September 2-5
  • 1942 to 1945 Hiatus for World War II
  • 1946 Cleveland, Ohio, August 30-September 2
  • 1947 Cleveland, Ohio, August 30-September 1
  • 1948 Cleveland, Ohio, September 4-6
  • 1949 Cleveland, Ohio from September 3-5
  • 1950 to 1963 Hiatus after crash
  • 1964 Resumption as National Championships in Reno, Nevada
  • 1964 Indirect successor as the Cleveland National Air Show[5]


External links[edit]