By Frank Joseph Rowe & Craig Miner
Copyright 1994, The Wichita Eagle & Beacon Publishing Company
Chapter 4, Racing Against Time
The title of Chapter 4 (Racing Against Time) alludes to one of the strategies (Air Racing) that helped some of the aircraft manufacturers survive the effects of the Great Depression. Covering roughly 1929 – 1939, the chapter examines some of the root causes of problems suffered by the aviation industry following the "Golden Age" of the 1920’s. Overproduction and follow-on drastic price cuts were not helped by mergers and restructuring. The industry initially looked toward such novel solutions as the development of inexpensive, light-weight personal gliders (such as the Cessna CG2, Roydon, Braley "Skysport", Cook, and Sullivan SG-1 Primary Gliders ) , as well as light-weight, low-powered affordable personal aircraft that would become known as "Flivvers" such as the American Eagle "Eaglet" (built in Kansas City , Missouri), the Cessna EC-2 and the Straughn Models A & B.
Production of these affordable "alternative" aircraft provided a limited amount of relief, and was seen as a temporary (stopgap) measure. What was really needed was a way to research and develop new, powerful and efficient aircraft designs that would allow the companies to be ready for when the market was rejuvenated. An emphasis on participating in Air Racing Development programs to "ride out" the Depression became the new strategy for many companies. By developing new aircraft to compete for Altitude, Endurance, Distance and Speed records, the manufacturers could achieve several important goals. They could keep core R&D operations going by winning Prize money, the high-visibility of winning air races was excellent marketing, competition stimulates innovation as well as the fact that the racing programs were manageable.
Perhaps most notable was the effort by Travel Air of Wichita, when they campaigned the Travel Air Model "R" (The Mystery Ship). Prior to 1929, the military dominated air races. The Model R trounced the competition and ushered in an era in which a variety of fantastic new designs pushed the envelope for innovative, performance-oriented new aircraft design. The Thompson and Bendix races attracted national as well as international attention. Kansas-based aircraft manufacturers such as Cessna (CR1, 2 & 3), Howard (DGA 4,5 & Mr. Mulligan), Inland Aviation (Inland Sport) Travel Air (Model "R") and Rearwin all fielded competitive racers. From these efforts, technology advanced in the form of super charged engines with doubled operational service ceilings, improved aviation fuels, improved methods of metal aircraft construction, controllable pitch propellers and much improved aerodynamics.
Benefiting from these discoveries would be the next generation of new aircraft design that would be built in Kansas. Aircraft such as the Cessna "Airmaster", the Beech "Staggerwings" and model 18’s, Rearwin "Sportster" and "Speedster" as well as a host of Stearman models would eventually become some of the most desirable and classic aircraft ever built.