Aviation

Travel Air enthusiasts mark Wichita planemaker’s 90th anniversary

A Travel Air Model R monoplane known as the “Mystery S” or “Mystery Ship.” Designed by engineers Walter Burnham and Herb Rawdon, it was the first civilian aircraft to defeat a military one in the annual National Air Race in 1929.
A Travel Air Model R monoplane known as the “Mystery S” or “Mystery Ship.” Designed by engineers Walter Burnham and Herb Rawdon, it was the first civilian aircraft to defeat a military one in the annual National Air Race in 1929. Courtesy

Owners of nearly 20 Travel Air airplanes will mark the 90th anniversary of the former Wichita company with a national fly-in and reunion this week.

The Travel Air Restorers Association will base its activities at Stearman Field in Benton, about 22 miles northeast of Wichita.

Jerry Impellezzeri, president of the California-based group with national membership, said he expects about a half-dozen Travel Air aircraft to participate in the four-day event, which began Thursday. He was expecting about double that, but bad weather in other parts of the country prevented several owners and their aircraft from flying to Wichita, Impellezzeri said Thursday afternoon.

He is expecting attendance of 25 to 30 people.

He said members of the group plan to bring their Travel Air airplanes to Wichita for a free public viewing. That event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Jabara Airport, 3512 N. Webb, in northeast Wichita. He said the Jabara event will take place as scheduled unless there are thunderstorms or rain on Saturday.

The group typically holds an annual gathering in California, Oregon or Washington, Impellezzeri said. It chose the Wichita area this year because of Travel Air’s roots here.

Travel Air Airplane Manufacturing Co. comprised aviation legends Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman. They would go on to start Beech Aircraft, Cessna Aircraft and Stearman Aircraft (later acquired by the Boeing Co.), respectively.

They made airplanes from 1926 to 1932, some of which set world records. Travel Air’s “Mystery Ship” racer was the winner of the 1929 National Air Races, attaining a speed of 194.9 mph. That event marked the first time a civilian aircraft beat a military airplane in an open speed competition.

Impellezzeri added that Travel Air was the second-largest producer of commercial aircraft in the late 1920s.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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