Byline: Edward H. Phillips
The first Type 6000 monoplane under construction in the Travel Air factory, early 1928. (Raytheon Aircraft Company)
The year 1928 witnessed the development of Travel Air’s first enclosed cabin monoplane design-the Type 6000. Walter Beech, sensing that the time was right for a shift from open cockpit biplanes to enclosed monoplanes aimed specifically at the corporate customer, in 1927 launched a research and development program under the leadership of company chief engineer Horace E. Weihmiller.
Beech was aware that the days of the venerable biplane were waning. Open cockpits, bulky, uncomfortable flying suits, leather helmets and flying goggles were slowly being replaced by cabin airplanes that allowed passengers to fly in shirt-sleeve comfort. Beech intended to keep Travel Air ahead of the competition. A market survey indicated that businessmen had a strong preference for enclosed cabin designs and would pay the price to have such an airplane. By 1928 there were a number of airline transports with enclosed cabins, including the famous Ford Trimotor and the Fokker series of monoplanes. But the trend toward cabins and monoplanes was only beginning to catch on in the entry-level, small aircraft market segment.
Constructed of materials typical of that era, the first Type 6000 featured a fuselage of welded steel tubing and a wood semi-cantilever wing. A 200-hp. Wright J-5C "Whirlwind" radial engine would power the six-seat ship to a cruising speed of more than 100 mph. On April 15, 1928 chief test pilot Clarence E. Clark took the monoplane aloft on its maiden flight. Clark reported that the airplane handled well and was docile to takeoff and land, and overall performance met expectations.
Billed by Beech as the "Limousine of the Air," the Type 6000 was soon dispatched on a national sales tour piloted by Beech and Travel Air salesman Owen G. Harned. The airplane impressed many potential buyers, and by the summer of 1928 orders were pouring into the factory on East Central Avenue in Wichita, Kansas. In response to customer complaints that the cabin was too small, Weihmiller and his staff enlarged the entire airplane to allow the installation of office equipment such as typewriters, Dictaphones and a desk. In addition, businessmen wanted room for custom sofas, chairs, and a lavatory with hot and cold running water.
The larger, heavier production airplanes were powered by either a 300-hp. Wright J-6-9 radial (Type 6000B) or a 420/450-hp. Pratt & Whitney radial (Type A6000A). Although the future looked bright for production monoplanes, the same could not be said for the prototype (registered X4765). In what can only be described as a fascinating series of misunderstandings, political intrigue and outright misrepresentation, a bitter struggle between Travel Air and the U.S. Department of Commerce ensued over the fate of the first Type 6000.
Walter Beech had planned to sell the ship as soon as it was issued a commercial license, but by September 1928 it still was being flown as a company demonstrator. Weihmiller and his engineers already had submitted all the stress analysis information for the production airplanes to the government and were awaiting a reply. Gilbert Budwig, an official with the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. and a friend of Walter Beech, visited the factory that autumn to discuss problems that had arisen with certification of the prototype airplane.
The airplane as it appeared prior to its first flight in April 1928. It led an enigmatic life as an airplane that nobody could license. (Raytheon Aircraft Company)
Beech fully expected to have the monoplane licensed as a Type 6000, but Budwig disagreed. He argued that although the aircraft was a Type 6000 on paper, it was not in the flesh because of significant differences from the Type 6000B. Budwig pointed out that the fuselage structural members were not the same, the wing was designed and built differently, and the tail surfaces and landing gear were dissimilar. As a result, the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce refused to certify the airplane as a Type 6000.
To Walter Beech, all the haggling over technical points was a waste of time. Anxious to sell the airplane, in November 1928 Beech wrote to Budwig and stated "on my word of honor" that the airplane was safe and should be granted a commercial license. Budwig refused. Despite the apparent impasse, late that month the airplane was sold to D.C. Warren, a Travel Air dealer in California.
Warren intended to use the aircraft for charter flights, which meant that passengers would be carried for hire and therefore, the airplane required commercial approval by the U.S. government. When Warren applied for a transfer of title and registration using a "C4765" registration instead of "X4765," an irritated Gilbert Budwig demanded to know who had authorized issuance of a commercial license number. Warren pleaded ignorance, and when Budwig insisted that Warren return the small, metal license plate bearing the "X4765" registry, neither Warren nor Travel Air could find it.
As a result, Budwig ordered that the "X" registration be removed from the airplane until an inspector could resolve the problem. In the interim the airplane continued to be operated under an "identified" status that essentially placed it in a nebulous category. Upon inspection of the monoplane, however, a government inspector pronounced it safe and eligible for a commercial license. On December 15, 1928 C4765 was applied to the aircraft and it was flown without incident until December 20, 1929. On that day a sharp-eyed official with the Aeronautics Branch noticed that the airplane’s license card had been altered. Instead of D.C. Warren, the name of James N. Warner had been added, then scratched out, and replaced by Carlos S. Greeley.
Suspecting foul play, the official fired off a telegram to Washington asking for the status of Travel Air Type 6000 registered as C4765. The Aeronautics Branch, incensed that the airplane had changed owners without following proper, legal protocol, threatened Warren with full prosecution under the law. Warren quickly retorted that another government inspector had authorized him to make the name changes, but when pressed about the matter, the inspector said he never told Warren to make the changes.
Cabin interior and cockpit area of the first Type 6000, registered X4765.
The plot thickened further. After finger pointing and accusations, it became known that Warren had sold the ship to Warner for use as a refueling tanker for a planned endurance flight that never occurred. Warren was severely reprimanded by the Aeronautics Branch and warned that any further breaches of conduct would result in his arrest and prosecution. That was enough for Warren. He quickly sold the airplane to H.B. Griswold, who flew it until February 1930 when it returned to Warren’s possession in a lien action.
Later that year Herbert Rawdon, who had replaced Weihmiller as chief engineer at Travel Air, wrote to parent company Curtiss-Wright to respond to claims by the Aeronautics Branch that the original Type 6000 monoplane was not eligible for a commercial license. In fact, the government was demanding that Curtiss-Wright produce an affidavit certifying that the airplane was built in strict compliance with Approve Type Certificate (ATC) 100 for the Type 6000 production aircraft. That was impossible, and Rawdon knew it.
On Curtiss-Wright’s behalf, Rawdon informed the government that the prototype did not comply with the ATC 100. In view of the embarrassing situation, he suggested that the airplane be returned to the factory. But Warren, who knew nothing of Rawdon’s letter and confession, had sold the airplane yet again. When the owner attempted to renew the license for another year, the inspector could not find it listed under ATC 100 and sought advice from his superiors in Washington. They had none, and the unhappy owner swiftly sold the ship back to Warren, who refused to give up on the ship, had it flown back to the factory in May 1930 for modifications.
Warren planned to have the aircraft rebuilt to incorporate as many features of the production airplanes as was feasible, but after spending more than $2000 he was forced to abandon the project when a veteran inspector, Walter Pike, refused to consider the airplane for a commercial license. In a letter to the Aeronautics Branch, Pike stated that "the subject airplane did not conform to ATC 100 when it was originally manufactured," and asked for guidance. Tired of playing a game of cat and mouse with Travel Air, the government officially declared the prototype ineligible for commercial certification.
THorace E. Weihmiller posed with the monoplane he designed soon after its completion. (Mal Holcomb).
That left Warren with a "white elephant" monoplane that he could not easily sell and that nobody wanted. Finally, Curtiss-Wright Corporation agreed to take the airplane and retained it until October 1932, when it was sold to C.C. Whitaker of Wichita. His attempts to acquire a commercial license failed, and Curtiss-Wright had to buy it back again. A year later, however, the company found another buyer in Charles E. Quick, another native resident and long-time aviator from Wichita.
He traded the aging monoplane to Gene Rawdon (Herbert Rawdon’s brother), in August 1937. Rawdon kept the old ship at the Swallow factory airfield north of the city, and made at least one attempt to have it licensed in the commercial category, but to no avail. Rawdon tried to sell the airplane to Albert Frakes of Kansas City, but the deal fell through when Frakes learned of the airplane’s tainted history.
In November 1937 Rawdon finally found a buyer in Texas, who, as did so many before him, failed in his battle to get the ship licensed. The last person known to acquire the airplane was Edgar Didion of Houston. He placed the airplane in storage from November 1939 until 1948, when it apparently ceased to exist, at least on paper.
The final fate of the first Type 6000 remains a mystery. It may have been dismantled and sold for scrap, perhaps meet its fate in a hangar fire, or simply died of old age and neglect. In any case, the saga of X4765 is unique in the history of Travel Air and the airplanes it produced.