A Brief History of the Travel Air Type 5000
In 1926 the TravelAir Manufacturing Company was busy building biplanes in a crowded factory on the west side of Wichita, Kansas. Walter H. Beech, along with Lloyd C. Stearman and Clyde V. Cessna, had guided the infant business since its inception late in1924. They were kept busy supervising a growing workforce that labored to produce the Model “A” machine powered by a Curtiss OX-5 engine, as well as the new Model “BW” with its 200-hp., nine-cylinder Wright J-4 static, air-cooled radial engine.
by Edward H. Phillips
Cessna, however, was restless. He wanted to build a monoplane, which he believed was superior to the biplane in overall performance, and in March 1926 he began construction of a five-place machine (of his own design) in a small, rented workshop in the city. The airplane was completed early in June and made its first flight on June 14. Powered by 110-hp. Anzani engine, the ship featured a semi-cantilever wing and could be converted from passenger transport to air ambulance in five minutes, according to Cessna.
Initial test flights were successful, and later that month Walter Beech took the controls and was impressed by the machine’s handling and performance. Cessna continued to develop the aircraft and was keen to offer it for sale, independent of Travel Air. In October 1926 National Air Transport (NAT), which operated a series of mail and passenger routes in the mid-western U.S., had invited Beech and Stearman to submit a design for a new airplane to replace existing machines.
Using Cessna’s monoplane as a starting point, Lloyd Stearman and Clyde Cessna designed a similar but more capable transport powered by a Wright J-4-series radial engine. The pilot sat in a small cockpit ahead of the passenger cabin, covered by a cupola-type canopy that could be jettisoned in an emergency (it was often removed for flight in hot weather). After factory test pilot Clarence Clark completed a few test flights, on December 20 the new ship was flown to Kansas City where NAT pilots flew evaluation flights. In January 1927 the company awarded Travel Air a contract for eight airplanes, recently designated as the Type 5000 “TravelAir Transport.”
Production machines, however, would be slightly larger and more powerful, featuring 220-hp. Wright J-5C engines, increased wingspan and a more spacious cabin environment complete with heating in winter as well as sliding windows for ventilation in the summer. These monoplanes proved popular with passengers and were reliable aircraft for NAT, flying both day and night trips from Chicago to Dallas and routes to other major mid-western cities.
In addition to the prototype airplane and the eight airplanes built for NAT, Travel Air also built two special, long-range versions of the Type 5000 for the ill-fated Dole race from California to the Territory of Hawaii, flown in August 1927. Benny Griffin and Al Henley piloted the “Oklahoma”, and Art Goebel with Navy Lt. William Davis as navigator flew the “Woolaroc”. The “Woolaroc” won the contest, but the “Oklahoma” was forced to turn back with engine trouble soon after departing Oakland. [The “Woolaroc” has been restored and is on permanent display at the Frank Phillips Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.]
The success of theType 5000 led to development in 1928 of the Type 6000 cabin monoplane, designed chiefly by Horace Weihmiller with assistance from Herbert Rawdon and the TravelAir engineering staff. It was an advanced design that catered specifically to the businessman and corporations, and proved to be a highly successful airplane.
General specifications for the Type 5000 include:
Note: The Type 5000 was not awarded an Approved Type Certificate.