1929 Travel Air Mystery Ship
Golden Age of Air Racing
Walter Beech and Loyd Stearman had approached Clyde Cessna and asked him to join with them in Travel Air. They began work in a small workshop at 535 W. Douglas Street in Witchita,Kansas. Their enterprise remained unnamed until the company president, Walter Innes, Jr. suggested “Travel Air.”
Stearman, Cessna and Beech became a nearly unbeatable combination. Cessna was an excellent salesman, as well as a designer and pilot. Stearman, with background as an architect, had become chief designing engineer of the Swallow Co. by 1923. Beech, a highly accomplished pilot with an extra measure of daring and skill, entered competitive air meets around the country, winning numerous trophies, public approval and orders for more planes.
Competing in air meets was still the best way to market a plane. In 1925 and 1926, Beech won top honors for Travel Air in the Ford Reliability Tours. By 1929, Beech garnered 19 air trophies. Travel Air planes broke records of distance, time, endurance and altitude.
Olive Ann Mellor became the 12th employee of Travel Air, as bookkeeper. She was to be quite instrumental in keeping the peace among the strong-willed and opinionated principals. Six years later, in 1930, she would become Mrs. Olive Ann Beech. She would become the first secretary-treasurer of Beech Aircraft in 1932 and later its president.
Travel Air’s big success was the Model R – commonly called the Mystery S, a racing ship designed by two of Travel Air’s engineers in their spare time. By the time Beech asked for his racing plane, ten weeks time remained in which to design and build it. The engineers, Herb Rawdon and Walter Burnham, told him they might have just the thing.
The sleek little black and red Model-R mono-plane was flown to Cleveland from Wichita just before the National Air Races and was immediately placed in a hangar and covered with a canvas tarp.This secrecy resulted in the plane being nicknamed the “Mystery Ship”.This striking red and black aircraft appeared in the grand finale race,the highlight of the closed course races, and was listed in the official program as Event No. 26 and described as follows:
- (1)A free-for-all speed contest for any type of airplane equipped with any type of motor or motors.Superchargers,special fuels,or any other means may be used to increase the speed of planes entered in this race.
- (2)10 laps of the five mile course.
- (3) Prizes: 1st, $750 and the Thompson Trophy: 2nd $450: 3rd: $300.
This event had been dominated by the Army and Navy until the “Mystery Ship” appeared,and Spectators expected a real battle between the Army’s P