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Artifact Friday: The Travel Air Type "R" Mystery Ship

Happy Friday!

The Arkansas Air and Military Museum is home to an infamous replica of a 1920s racing aircraft. This aircraft is known as the Mystery Ship.

When the Type R “Mystery Ships” were produced, the biplanes had been the aircraft of choice for pilots up to that time. Even the United States Military kept modifying and flying the biplanes.

Then in 1929, the aviation world was shifted.

It was the brainchild of Herb Rawdon and Walter Burnham. They were determined to build a civilian aircraft from scratch strictly for racing. The result was the low-winged, monoplane design or “Mystery Ship.” Their operations were so secret that they painted the windows of the hangar black so no one would be able to see them working. Additionally, they worked on this design in their spare time without paying the CEO of Travel Air to convince him to start building monoplanes.

They decided to evaluate their design in the 1929 National Air Race in Cleveland, Ohio.

It was well-known that the U.S. military aircraft would always dominate the field as they would

stick with the best designs and modify them to be faster and more powerful every year.

This civilian design was entered, flown to Ohio in secret, and hidden under a tarp in a hangar until racing day.

The Thompson Air Race-September 2, 1929-the “Mystery Ship” made its national debut.

It was racing against eleven other racers including the Army’s Curtiss P-3-A and the Navy’s Curtiss F6C-C Hawk which were expected to be the finalists.

The race began and the sleek aircraft worked its way up to the lead. In fact, it was so fast that it was able to circle one of the racing pylons twice and still win the race.

After its introduction to the racing stage, the “Mystery Ship” became famous, and soon five other models of this design were produced. These included models flown by aviators such as Pancho Barnes and even Jimmy Doolittle himself.

While the one in our hangar is just a replica, the keen design of this aircraft can still be observed including the low wings, the monoplane frame, and the slant of the aircraft all combined creating an exceedingly fast and maneuverable aircraft.

It was a gem of its time.

Just in case you do not get to visit the museum soon to see it in person, you can also watch it fly in Walt Disney's famous movie, the Rocketeer!

Have a great weekend!

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