Friday, July 12, 2013

The First Mystery

R614K posing outside Travel Air's Wichita Hangar when she was fairly new.
Last week we took a look at our newly acquired photo of Pancho Barne's Travel Air Mystery Ship, this week we display the Archive's two prints of the first Travel Air Model R, NR614K, Race #31.

Built to beat the Army's fighters that were perennially winning the National Air Races, #31 stunned even its designers on its first flight with an airspeed that was 15% greater than what they'd predicted from their calculations.

During the 1929 Thompson Trophy race, pilot Doug Davis and the Mystery Ship were in the lead when he accidently cut a pylon, so he had to circle back and re-fly that particular turn. Back on course, Davis found himself at the back of the pack, but the little Model R was so fast that he caught up and passed all the other contestants. His average speed was an unheard-of 194.90 mph. The Army's entry, a Curtiss P3A, was a distant second with an average speed of 186.84 over the fifty mile course. Roscoe Turner in a Lockheed Vega was third, and a Navy Curtiss F6C-6 was fourth.

R614K still in her 1929 colors, but showing some wear (note the paint knocked
off around the tire pressure valve access hole in the wheel pant). An unident-
ified pilot is in the cockpit and the engine is running fast enough that the prop
is completely blurred in this exposure. 
The plane missed the 1930 races, but returned to Cleveland for the 1931 event. During a test flight before the Thompson Trophy race, 614K caught fire and pilot Walter Hunter bailed out. The plane was completely destroyed in the crash. The Type R came with two sets of wings, a short set designed for pylon racing, and a longer set used for cross-country flying. The long set from 614K has survived and are currently displayed at the Staggerwing Museum.

While Travel Air only built five of the Model Rs, a sixth one was built by Jim Youngkin (some sources say that it was built in 1979, the FAA registration lists the manufacture date as 1971, and the registration certificate issued 3/10/1976; a photo and writeup can be seen here). While termed a re-creation or replica, it was built meticulously from the original plans, and carries the registration number N614K. It is currently owned by the Staggerwing Museum Foundation, and appeared in the movie The Rocketeer.

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