The Brothers Rawdon

July 26, 2009 by Carl Chance

By Daryl Murphy

While the name Rawdon isn’t exactly a household word in most of the aviation world, Herb Rawdon exerted a great deal of design influence at Travel Air, Douglas, Beech and Boeing, and with his brothers Gene and Alanson ("Dutch"), manufactured a rugged and sure-footed airplane that could be converted for use as a trainer, an aerobatic airplane or a crop duster.

Herb graduated from Tri-State College at Angola, Indiana in 1925 with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and went to work for Travel Air. Six years later, he had become chief engineer, and left the company when it was acquired by Curtiss-Wright. In 1933 he worked as a draftsman for Lockheed and Boeing, and in 1935 accepted as an engineering instructor for the C-W Technical Institute in California and later was production manager for Spartan Aircraft Co. From 1937 to 1940, he was a design engineer at Douglas Aircraft and served as a consultant for the National Aircraft Co. in San Antonio.

In 1940, Rawdon returned to Wichita to serve as chief engineer for the Design and Research Division at Beech Aircraft until 1960, at which time he served as a consultant to Boeing, Cessna and Lycoming while engaged in advanced design work of his own.

But Rawdon is best known as the co-designer of the Travel Air Model R, the first civil aircraft to win the Thompson Trophy.

Prior to World War II, Herb and Gene designed a primary trainer that they were sure would compete in the CPTP (Civil Pilot Training Program) market, and in 1938 built the 75 horsepower low-wing R-1, and while they were waiting for a government decision on whether to buy the trainer, they modified it for crop spraying. By the time the competition was over (they lost), they’d built five units.

The Rawdons sold the prototype in 1943 and went to work on the T-1 Sport Trainer. It was stronger, had more power and would also have the crop-spraying option. Shelved until after the war, the T-1 was submitted for Type Certification and approved in September 1947.

The lanky T-1 was a light coupe-type sport trainer with seating arranged for two in tandem. Because of its strength and utility, a gaggle of bracing struts adorned the aircraft, including hold-down struts on top of the low wing, making ingress and egress sporting.

Its 125 horsepower Lycoming O-290 made it a good performer, and it was as adept at aerobatics as well as agricultural application, and it was a precise and deft airplane in air show exhibitions.

When the market for sport trainers slacked off in the early Fifties, the T-1 was revised into the T-1SD with a 180 horsepower Lycoming and an 80-gallon fiberglass hopper to carry chemicals behind the pilot

The fuselage was built up of welded steel tubing faired to shape with wood formers and fairing strips, then fabric covered. Top panels of the canopy swung over, and side panels slid down into the fuselage for easier entry. The semi-cantilever wing was built of spruce spar beams and spruce truss-type wing ribs and the completed assembly was fabric-covered. A rollover structure in the cockpit and the landing gear truss had attach points for the wing-bracing struts.

Rawdon T-1The Rawdon Brothers promoted their airplane with its inherent utility, but orders were scarce. A few were sold for crop-spraying in South America and three were delivered to the Columbian Air Force to help quash revolts. However, the brothers made real money selling about 800 of their "Rawdon Hatch," an all-weather canopy designed for war surplus trainers such as the Fairchild PT-19 and PT-23.

The T-1 was one of the best airplanes of its kind, but it’s said that only about 35 were built.

Herb Rawdon passed away in December 1975, and was recently enshrined in the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame.

Early on, the Rawdons bought land across East Central Avenue from Beechcraft and constructed an airport and small manufacturing facility there. Today, that property is part of the sprawling Beech Raytheon operation, the former Rawdon air strip is an extension of the Beech Field runway and East Central is a tunnel that passes beneath it.

Rawdon T-1 Specifications and Performance

  • EngineLyc. O-290-C2
  • Horsepower125
  • Length, ft.24.16
  • Height, ft.7.25
  • Wingspan, ft.33.33
  • Wing area, ft²165
  • Gross weight, lb.1,800
  • Empty weight, lf.1,200
  • Useful load, lb.600
  • Provisional gross wt. for spray, lb.2,110
  • Max. speed, mph134
  • Cruise @75%118
  • Range @75%, mi.415
  • Fuel flow, gal/hr.7.7
  • Takeoff over 50′ , ft.690
  • Climb, ft/min.840
  • Landing over 50′, ft.610
  • Service ceiling, ft.17,000
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