Travel Air

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Travel Air Manufacturing Company
Founded1925 (1925)
FateMerged with Curtiss-Wright Corporation
SuccessorCurtiss-Wright Corporation
Key people
Herbert Rawdon
1928 D-4-D at the Hiller Aviation Museum

The Travel Air Manufacturing Company was an aircraft manufacturer established in Wichita, Kansas, United States in January 1925 by Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech, and Lloyd Stearman.

An early leader in single-engine, light-aircraft manufacturing, from 1925 to 1931, Travel Air was the largest-volume aircraft manufacturer in the United States in 1928 -- the principal contributor to Wichita becoming named the "Air Capital City" by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce.[1][2]

Travel Air produced the trend-setting Travel Air Mystery Ship racer, which forced radical changes in U.S. military aircraft. Travel Air also developed early small airliners, including Delta Airlines' first, and the first civilian plane to reach Hawaii by air.[1][3]

With Walter Beech as its last President, the company was acquired by Curtiss-Wright Corporation, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, before production ceased in the Great Depression. However, Beech returned to Wichita in 1932, acquired the abandoned Travel Air factory, and resumed production under his own name, with the Beech Aircraft Corporation — producing what would have been the 17th Travel Air model, but as the Beech Model 17 "Staggerwing."[1]


Early biplanes[edit]

Travel Air 2000 c/n 669. Built 1928. Now displayed in Yanks Air Museum, in Chino, California, USA

The company initially built a series of sporting and training open-cockpit biplanes, including the Model A, Model B, Model BH, and Model BW (These were subsequently renumbered.) Other types included the 5000 and 6000 high wing cabin monoplanes and the CW / 7000 mailplane.

The A differed in some minor details such as lacking the overhanging Fokker style ailerons that gave the rest of the series the nickname Wichita Fokker (not present on all of the later models though), while the B, BH and BW differed only in the engine installed – the A and B had a Curtiss OX-5, the BH had a Hispano-Suiza V-8, the BW had a Wright radial (of various types)

Travel Air 4000 with 2003 National Air Tour logo, in which it participated

though other radials would be installed later (especially after it became the 4000).

Aside from the Wichita Fokkers seen in such movies as Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels, likely the most famous[citation needed] of the open cockpit biplanes was N434N, a D4D (the ultimate derivative of the BW) painted in Pepsi colors for airshow and skywriting use which survives in the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy annex. A second, backup D4D, N434P, used by Pepsi in later years to supplement and fill-in for the original aircraft, is housed in the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.

Cabin monoplanes[edit]

"Woolaroc" airplane, winner of the 1927 Dole Air Race, at the Woolaroc museum in Oklahoma.
August 2, 2008. Photo courtesy of Tyler Thompson

The Travel Air 5000 was a Cessna design, ordered in small numbers for National Air Transport. Two were custom-built long-range endurance aircraft similar in concept to Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Woolaroc, flown by Art Gobel won the disastrous Dole Air Race from Oakland, California to Hawaii in which the majority of contestants disappeared at sea or otherwise died attempting the crossing.[4]

Travel Air then produced the Model 6000, a five or six-seat high-wing cabin monoplane — intended for airline use, and for very wealthy private owners.[1]

Travel Air 6000 with 2003 National Air Tour logo, in which it participated

A small fleet of Travel Air 6000s were the first airliners for Delta Air Service (eventually renamed Delta Airlines).[3] In 1928, National Air Transport operated the Type 6000 on their mail and passenger routes from Chicago to Dallas, Kansas City and New York.[5]

Two Travel Air 6000 were purchased by the Paraguayan government during the Chaco War (1932–1935) for the Transport Squadron of its Air Arm. These planes belonged to TAT with the registrations NC624K (c/n 6B-2011) and NC9815 (c/n 6B-1029); They received the military serials T-2 and T-5 (later reserialled as T-9). The planes were intensively used during the conflict as air ambulances. They both survived the war and continued flying in the air arm. In 1945, they were transferred to the first Paraguayan airline, Líneas Aéreas de Transporte Nacional (LATN) and received the civil registrations ZP-SEC and ZP-SED. They were withdrawn from use in 1947.[citation needed]

Cabin biplanes[edit]

The CH or 7000 — a single=engine, cabin biplane, with a pilot's open-cockpit above-and-behind the small, enclosed cabin for cargo or passengers — found little success, but ended up in Alaska as an early bushplane.[citation needed]

Racing monoplanes[edit]

Travel Air was also responsible for a series of very successful racing aircraft, which due to the company being extremely secretive about them during development, were named Mystery Ships by the press. In 1929, at the National Air Races in Cleveland, the first Travel Air Model R Mystery Ship became the first American airplane to outrun the nation's top fighter aircraft, winning the Thompson Trophy unlimited-class pylon race.

Travel Air Model 'R' racer NR-1313 (Texaco #13)

The Mystery Ships dominated the racing circuit for several years and had the distinction of being faster than anything the U.S. military had on strength.[6][7][8] It forced the U.S. military to face the need to give up biplane fighters and water-cooled engines.[citation needed]

Its renown led to one example being sold to the Italians which inspired the design of a racing aircraft and the Breda Ba.27 fighter.[citation needed]

Acquisition by Curtiss-Wright[edit]

Travel Air merged with the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in August 1929.[9] Curtiss-Wright continued to manufacture some of the Travel Air designs though they were renumbered again so that the 4000 became the 4, the 6000 became the 6. Additional types that had been close to production number from 8 to 16 were built while under Curtiss-Wright management such as the Curtiss-Wright CW-12. which in various marks was sold to several South American countries.

Travel Air Founder (with Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman) Walter Beech resigned from the Curtis-Wright Corporation in March 1932 to form Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita,Ks.

Powder Puff Derby[edit]

In August 1929, the first Women's Air Derby was held. Of the 20 entrants in the Women's Air Derby, otherwise known as "the Powder Puff Derby", seven flew Travel Airs and it was Louise Thaden who won the Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland race. Opal Kunz finished eighth. The other five Travel Airs were flown by Pancho Barnes, Claire Fahy, Marvel Crosson, Mary von Mack, and Blanche Noyes.

One of the odd qualifications was that the aircraft would have to have horsepower “appropriate for a woman.” Opal Kunz was told her airplane was too fast for a woman to handle, and had to get another aircraft or stay out of the race. “…Though Opal Kunz owned and flew her own 300 horse power Travel Air, it was disallowed since it was deemed by the judges to be “too fast for a woman to fly.” With US$25,000.00 in prize money at stake, she bought a lower powered Travel Air to race with.”[10]


Model 1st flight No. built Type
A 1925 1 Open cockpit biplane with Curtiss OX-5 engine
1000 1925 1 Open cockpit biplane with Curtiss OX-5 engine
B/2000 1927 ~600 Open cockpit biplane with OX-5 engine
BH/3000 1926 ~50 Model 2000 with a Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine
BW/4000/4 1926 99 Model 2000 with a Wright J-6-7 Whirlwind engine, many converted
5000 1926 14 Single engine cabin monoplane, includes Woolaroc
6000/6 1929 8+ Cabin monoplane with single radial engine
CH/CW/7000 1926 2 Single engine biplane with open cockpit but enclosed cabin
8000 1928 3 Alternate designation for 4000-CAM (Caminez engine)
9000 1928 4 or 5 Alternate designation for 4000-SH (Siemens engine)
10 1929 12+ Cabin monoplane scaled down from model 6000
11 1929 2 D-2000 powered by a Wright J-6 engine for competition purposes
Type R Mystery Ship 1929 5 Monoplane racer
12 1931 41 Open cockpit biplane trainer built as Curtiss-Wright CW-12
14 1931 9+ Replacement for 4000, built as Curtiss-Wright CW-14
15 1931 16+ Improved model 6000 built as Curtiss-Wright CW-15
16 1931 23 Three seat CW-12, built as Curtiss-Wright CW-16



  1. ^ a b c d Phillips, Edward H.: Travel Air: Wings over the Prairie, Flying Books (1982), ISBN 0911139001
  2. ^ sidebar: "...Aircraft Production Numbers..." in "Monocoupe: Speed for the Common Man," Winter 2011, AAHS Journal, Volume 56, No.4, American Aviation Historical Society, retrieved December 31, 2022
  3. ^ a b "Travel Air S-6000-B 1929-1930," "Aircraft by Type," History, Delta Flight Museum, retrieved December 31, 2022
  4. ^ Ed Phillips (Spring 1985). "Woolaroc!". AAHS Journal.
  5. ^ Davies, 1998, p. 73-74
  6. ^ "The Scarlet Marvel (Part One)" November 9, 2020, King Air Magazine, retrieved December 31, 2022
  7. ^ "The Scarlet Marvel (Part Two)" December 8, 2020, King Air Magazine, retrieved December 31, 2022
  8. ^ The Mystery of the Mystery Ship, Part 7, The Legend of Pancho Barnes... official movie website, retrieved December 31, 2022
  9. ^ "Travel Air to Merge with Curtiss-Wright". Lawrence Daily Journal-World. AP. 7 August 1929. p. 1. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  10. ^ “Travel Air Speedwing.” Flight Journal. January–February 1998. No pagination given.


  • Davies, R.E.G. (1998). Airlines of the United States since 1914. Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1-888962-08-9.
  • Gunston, Bill (1993). World Encyclopedia of Aircraft Manufacturers. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. p. 307.
  • Hagedorn, Dan; Antonio Luis Sapienza: Aircraft of the Chaco War, 1928-1935. Schiffer Publishing Co. Atglen, PA. 1996
  • Sapienza Fracchia, Antonio Luis: La Contribución Italiana en la Aviación Paraguaya. Author's edition. Asunción, 2007. 300pp.

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