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The History of Air Racing - Continued

by John M. White |

Starting in 1920 the military formed the National Air Races which they dominated until 1929.  Starting in 1929 civilians were allowed to participate in the National Air Races, and this was the first year the race was held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 1929 air races lasted from the 24th of August until September 2nd, and includes some 35 closed course events, 8 air derbies, and aeronautical exhibition, the national glider conference and a musical extravaganza known as "Wings of 1929."

The domination of the races ended in the "Free For All" event, the grande finale, which was won by Doug Davis who beat out the Army and Navy pilots in his Travel Air Mystery Ship monoplane.  This event caused the US Military to abandon their World War I concepts of aerial warfare and start ordering state of the art aircraft.

In 1930 Charles E. Thompson, President of Thompson Products, Inc., established a trophy in order to encourage faster land planes.  Competition for this trophy soon became the featured event of the National Air Races, and was a race flown around a closed circuit marked with pylons.

In 1931 Cliff Henderson, the originator of the National Air Races, conceived of the Bendix Trophy Race by convincing Vincent Bendix, a local businessman, that the US needed an annual "free for all" cross country air race to stimulate advancement of aircraft and powerplants in a race where speed, reliability and endurance were the ultimate goal.  This is a picture of the trophy: The Bendix Trophy

After the Second World War the race became a strictly military event.  The last Bendix Trophy Race was held in 1962 and won when Captain Bob Sowers flew an Air Force B-58 Hustler from LA to NY in 2 hours and 56 seconds.  Contrast this to the first race in 1931 when Jimmy Doolittle flew from LA to Cleveland in 9 hours and 10 minutes.

More on air races to come.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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