Travel Air

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Travel Air 6000 carrying the logo of the 2003 National Air Tour, in which it participated.
A 1928 Travel Air Model D-4-D on display 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.

Company history[edit]

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) 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.

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.[1]

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.

In 1928, National Air Transport operated the Type 6000 on their mail and passenger routes from Chicago to Dallas, Kansas City and New York.[2] 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.

The CH or 7000 found little success but ended up in Alaska as an early bushplane with an enclosed cabin for the cargo or passengers. Unfortunately the pilot was not given the protection of the cabin but sat behind it in an open cockpit.

Travel Air was also responsible for a series of very successful racing aircraft, which due to the company being extremely secretive,[citation needed] were named Mystery Ships by the press. 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. 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]

Travel Air merged with the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in August 1929.[3] 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.

Founder Walter Beech quit shortly after the company was amalgamated into Curtiss Wright.

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.”[4]



  1. ^ Ed Phillips (Spring 1985). "Woolarc!". AAHS Journal.
  2. ^ Davies, 1998, p. 73-74
  3. ^ "Travel Air to Merge With Curtiss-Wright". Lawrence Journal-World. 7 August 1929. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  4. ^ “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.
  • accessdate 2011-08-22