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The Cleveland Air Races

by John M. White |

From 1929 through 1949 the roar of engines came alive while crowds gathered around to see the giants of aviation each September in Cleveland, Ohio.  For some twenty years the Cleveland Air Races were a showcase of progress in aviation and featured dare devil flying and the greatest skills in the history of aviation.  These races defined aviation and marked the period known as the Golden Age of Aviation.

The participants in these air races are known today as the giants of the golden age.  Among them were Roscoe Turner, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cochran, Jimmy Doolittle and Wylie Post, just to name a few.  In 1949 race pilot Bill Odom crashed his P-51 into a nearby home which ended the races at Cleveland and moved them to a much safer venue in Reno, Nevada.

The original event lasted for 10 days (from August 24th to September 2nd) and set the highest standards for air shows including amazing demonstrations of flying skills.  It is estimated that 300,000 spectators attended, there were 200 floats, 21 bands while 3 Goodyear blimps flew overhead.  It was truly an event to behold.

In 1929 airplanes were new strange mechanical devices that these exciting flying events wound up being reported in newspapers around the world.  Events included dead-stick landings, gliders, Goodyear blimp flights, parachute jumping and military flight demonstrations.  Long before the Blue Angels there was a formation flight team called "The Navy High Hats" which flew their airplanes tied together with one inch ropes from wing strut to wing strut!

Women pilots, including Amelia Earhart, raced from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland in a special "Powder Puff Derby", but the greatest thrills came from the closed course racing.  The Thompson Race was the first free for all closed course race with five laps around a 10 mile course.  Doug Davis, a civilian pilot, won the race with an average speed of 194.9 mph.

The Thompson Trophy was designed around the Greek legend of Icarus whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.  The trophy became as famous as the Green Jacket of the Masters Golf Tournament.  The world's top pilots competed for the right to hold it for a year. Thompson_trophy

Where has all the fun gone?

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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