By Edward H. Phillips
Travel Air & Beechcraft Aficionado
Raytheon Aircraft was the proud host for the 75th Anniversary Travel Air Homecoming Celebration held Oct. 12-14th, 2000, to salute the great Travel Air heritage.
It has been 75 years since a group of talented and determined aviators and businessmen banded together to create the Travel Air Manufacturing Co. in Wichita, Kansas. History remembers their names well: Walter H. Beech, Lloyd C. Stearman, Clyde V. Cessna, Walter Innes, Jr., and William R. Snook.
assisted by a handful of skilled workmen, Beech, Stearman and Cessna supervised construction of the company’s first product – the Model A. Powered by the ubiquitous, 90-horsepower Curtiss OX-5 engine, the biplane possessed trim lines and sported a cowling around the 8-cylinder powerplant. The airplane first flew in March 1925, but sales were slow due to its $3,500 price tag. World War One surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Jennys” could be bought for a mere $500.
Eventually, buyers recognized the Model A’s advantages over war-weary biplanes and sales took off. The company built 19 Travel Air’s in its first year, and 26 in 1926, when the Model BW with its 9-cylinder, 200-hp. Wright J-4 static radial engine was introduced. In 1927, 158 new airplanes were built, and Travel Air’s reputation for building quality aircraft was on the rise.
In 1926 Stearman went to California and formed his own airplane company, and in 1927 Cessna left the company to design a monoplane featuring a full-cantilever wing. That left Beech in command of Travel Air. The tiny factory on West Douglas Street was bursting at the seams, and in 1927 the company moved to new facilities at the flying field on East Central Avenue.
Sales continued to climb in 1928, when engineers designed the Type 6000 cabin monoplane aimed at businessmen. Introduced in 1929, it was an instant hit and helped to start the business aviation industry in America.
Travel Air became a part of the giant Curtiss-Wright corporate conglomerate late in the summer of 1929, just before Wall Street collapsed in October and ushered in the Great Depression. By 1931 Curtiss-Wright was forced to close the Travel Air factory.
In its short, five-year existence, Travel Air became one of the world’s highly respected and dynamic manufacturers of commercial aircraft.
Exactly how many airplanes were built by the company remains a mystery, chiefly because no production records are known to exist. It is estimated, however, that as many as 1,800 airplanes may have been produced, but the author believes the most accurate assessment is 1,700 units, based on notes from factory manager William Snook.
In 1932 Walter and Olive Ann Beech returned to Wichita and founded the Beech ircraft Corporation. By 1934 production of the Model 17 biplane was relocated to the vacant Travel Air factory that became the famous home of Beechcraft and eventually Raytheon Aircraft Company.
Even as recent as 1997, the Travel Air heritage continued. That’s when RAC named its new fractional aircraft ownership company Raytheon Travel Air.