Ben Howard became one of America’s premier aircraft designers and competitive pilots during the mid-1930s with a series of models carrying the DGA, or “Darn Good Aircraft,” moniker. None was more famous than Mister Mulligan, the racing DGA-6 which captured both the Bendix and Thompson trophies at the 1935 National Air Races. No other pilot or single aircraft achieved that feat in the same year. The Bendix Trophy was a cross-country race from the west coast to the site of the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, and typically was the starting event of the week-long aviation festival. The Thompson Trophy was given to the winner of the unlimited division in close-course pylon racing at the National Air Races. Howard’s DGA-6 added the further distinction of being the only racer during the golden age of airshows to evolve into a successful commercial production aircraft, first as the DGA-8 & -9; then the DGA-11 & 12.
Howard’s engineering advantage was his low-drag airframe and the use of the 850-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial. The four-seat Mister Mulligan’s commercial orientation proved the difference in the Bendix, beating out Roscoe Turner by less than a minute thanks to two fewer fueling stops in the race from Burbank, Calif., to Cleveland. Turner’s 1000-hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet on his Weddell-Williams low-wing racer gave him the power advantage.
In fact, the New Orleans, La., based Weddell-Williams had dominated the American air racing scene in the early 1930s. Mister Mulligan broke a three-year streak of wins in the Bendix for Weddell-Williams. By the end of the week, Howard replaced W-W as the rising star of aviation by upsetting defending champion Turner in the Thompson race when he was forced out.
Newspapers hailed the 1935 event as the “Ben Howard National Air Races” as the Kansas City based pilot swept not only the major trophy events, but captured all three of the 550-cubic-inch limited class races with his Menasco-powered low-wing racer called “Mike.” Howard’s speed for the Bendix win was 238.70 m.p.h, a substantial improvement over Turner’s speeds in 1933 and D. Davis’ run in 1934. Howard turned in a 220.19 in winning the Thompson.
Mister Mulligan’s days on the national scene were limited. The next year, Howard and his wife were injured when Mister Mulligan lost a propeller blade and crash-landed in New Mexico during the early stages of the 1936 Bendix. Turner met a similar fate, ground-looping on a rough field in Texas. The misfortunes of Howard and Turner opened the way for Arkansan Louise Thadden in her Beechcraft Staggerwing to become the first woman to win a national air trophy.
The original Mister Mulligan was destroyed during the 1936 Bendix Trophy race when Ben Howard lost one of the propeller blades in a forced landing in New Mexico. Since it was a one-of-a-kind plane, there were no full blueprints and no original plans exist today. Jim Younkin of Springdale, Ark., is nationally-famous for his restoration and construction of Golden Age aircraft. Mister Mulligan is one of two famous 1930s racers that Jim built from scratch. The other is the Travel Air Mystery Ship flown by Pancho Barnes.
The Mister Mulligan replica housed at the Arkansas Air Museum took over 8,000 hours for Younkin to construct. He performed the work using existing photographs and three view drawings of the original. The only notable difference is the engine as Younkin employs a 550-horse Pratt & Whitney rather than the original 850-hp P&W Wasp.
In full flying shape, NR273Y has brought back to life a time of great aviation advances and wonder for a new audience of modern airshow fans.
Jim and his brother Bob probably have rebuilt more Howard aircraft than any restorers in the world. In addition to the Mister Mulligan, Bob Younkin restored and owns one of the commercial versions of the Mulligan, a DGA-11.
The Howard DGA-6 replica known as Mister Mulligan is shown with a scale model of the aircraft also on display at the A.A.M. Mister Mulligan is on loan to the Arkansas Air Museum by Fayetteville resident and Howard restoration expert Bob Younkin.