Wichita aviation pioneer Herbert “Herb” Rawdon was posthumously inducted into the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kansas Aviation Museum’s 26th Annual Wright Brothers’ Celebration.
Herb Rawdon played a key role as the designer, in collaboration with Walter Burnham, of the Travel Air Model R, or best known as the “Mystery Ship.”
Born in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec.30, 1904, Herbert “Herb” Rawdon received a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering in 1925 from Tri-State College at Angola, Ind. While there he became interested in airplane design and by 1923 he had designed and engineered a high-wing, single-engine aircraft.
In the summer of 1925, he interned at the fledgling Travel Air Mfg. Company in Wichita. A year later, he was hired as a factory mechanic and was soon promoted to engineer. He was an assistant engineer on the 6000 series and also worked with the Department of Commerce to get the 2000, 3000 and 4000 certified under new federal regulations. He was named Chief Engineer in late 1928.
Rawdon left Travel Air in 1931, not wanting to move to St. Louis after Curtiss-Wright absorbed the company in 1929. Between the Curtiss-Wright take-over and Rawdon’s departure, however, Rawdon designed the CW-12 “Sport Trainer” and CW-16 “Light Sport,” both in conjunction with Ted Wells.
After leaving Travel Air, Rawdon partnered with E.B. Christopher to form the Rawdon-Christopher Aircraft Co., a partnership which lasted only one year. In December of 1932, he assisted Walter Beech on the “Staggerwing,” even though he was not officially on the new Beech Aircraft Company’s payroll.
Rawdon spent the next year several years in California where he worked briefly as a draftsman for Lockheed and as a design engineer for Douglas Aircraft. He also taught engineering at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute in California. He returned to Wichita in 1940 to work at Beech as Assistant Chief Engineer for Research and Development.
At the same time, he was President of the Rawdon Brothers’ Aircraft Co. in partnership with Gene and Alanson (“Dutch”). They not only operated Piper Cubs but also built Rawdon’s light touring coupe aircraft, the Model R-1. Shortly thereafter, the Rawdon T-1 was designed as a trainer, although its primary use ended up as a crop sprayer. Rawdon Field, just north and east of Beech Aircraft, was the center of the company’s activities for the next 20 years.
Herb Rawdon is perhaps best known as the designer, in collaboration with Walter Burnham, of the Travel Air Model R or “Mystery Ship.” Rawdon and Burnham designed the plane in complete secrecy. At the 1929 National Air Races in Cleveland, the Mystery Ship was kept hidden until the day of the competition. Finally unveiled, the aircraft easily outdistanced all other entries, both military and civilian, in the Thompson Trophy Race. Although never put into full-scale production, the Mystery Ship was one of the aircraft that helped bring fundamental changes in aircraft design.
At the time of his death on Dec. 2, 1975, Herb Rawdon had been active in aircraft engineering and design for almost fifty years, developing original concepts that improved the standards of general aviation aircraft. More than forty of these years were spent on East Central in Wichita.