The Longest Air Race Ever

Digested slightly from a 1930 Aero Digest

The All-America Flying Derby, longest air race ever held in this or any other country, passed into the annals of successful sporting events when ten of the eighteen pilots who had taken off at 6:00 a.m. on July 21, 1930 set their planes down at the Detroit municipal airport 11 days later. The influence of the race upon the future design of airplanes and powerplant installations will be significant in the future.

    The first three prizes totaled $25,000—a tremendous amount during those depression days. Winner was Lee Gehlbach (Command-Aire), whose cash prize was $15,000. Second place $7,000 was awarded Lowell Bayles (Gee Bee) and Charles Meyers (Great Lakes) earned $3,000 for third place.

    American Cirrus Engines organized and sponsored the event to demonstrate the possibilities of long-distance flight by light airplanes. One requirement for entry was that the aircraft had to be powered with an American Cirrus or American Ensign upright or inverted inline engine. The 5,541-mile race presented all the weather and terrain difficulties of flying that would be found within the USA.

    Cities designated as mandatory overnight control stops were Buffalo, New York, Cincinnati, Little Rock, Houston, San Angelo, Douglas, Los Angeles, Ogden, Lincoln, Chicago, and final stop Detroit. Sometime before the start of the race a Mexico City leg was eliminated.

As evidence of the ability of light planes to attain a high sustained rate of speed, the race produced particularly surprising results. Lee Gehlbach, the winner, flying a specially-built Command-Aire with an overall average of 127.11 mph. Other finishers and average speeds were 2: Bayles (Gee Bee 116:40), 3: Meyers (Great Lakes 107:43), 4: H. H. Ogden (Ogden Osprey 103:90), 5: W. H. Cahill (Great Lakes 98:84), 6: Larry Brown (California Cub 79:47), 7: Stanley Stanton, (Cessna 72:50), 8: Jim Wedell (Wedell-Williams 63:13), 9: Cecil Coffrin (Great Lakes 56:10), and 10: W.H.Holliday (Great Lakes 44:00). Not finishing were Herman Hainer (Laird), Stub Quinby (Mono Special), Basil Smith (P.S.E.), Joe Meehan (Great Lakes), R. A. Hosler (G & G), J. Kruttachnitt (DH Moth), Harvey Mummert (Mercury), and E.B.Todd (Alexander).

    The behavior of stock model planes in the race is significant as five of the ten planes to finish were stock aircraft. When the race was first announced, inquiries were received from almost all makers of light planes. More than 20 undertook to produce planes for entry, and seven stock models arrived at the starting line.

    In addition to demonstrating the ability of light planes to engage in long-distance cross-country flight, the race established the practicality and value of several construction forms for which only experimental evidence had perviously been available. Lessons learned from the race were divided into those which apply chiefly to the engines and those which have to do with plane construction. Eleven of the 18 planes were equipped with supercharged engines and five of those were of the inverted type. There were two other inverted motors not supercharged, and 10 planes had upright Cirrus engines, of which five were supercharged.

In the field of airplane construction, it is probable that the results of the race will continue to occupy engineers for some time to come. There were high-wing, mid-wing, and low-wing monoplanes, biplanes, and one parasol monoplane—the California Cub. The high-wing monoplane was the tri-motor Ogden Osprey. Cessna and Mono Special were mid-wing designs, and the low-wings included the Command-Aire, Pacific School of Engineering Special, Gee Bee Sportster, Wedell-Williams "WeWill Jr," Hosler G & G Special, Mummert Mercury, and Alexander Bullet. Biplanes included Laird, De Havilland Moth, a Great Lakes Speedster and four of their Trainers.

    The Ogden, with a gross load more than three times that of some of the ships, was a six-passenger cabin plane powered by three Cirrus motors. It was the only multi-engine aircraft entered in the race.

    Although Gehlbach's "Little Rocket" had a wing area of 88 sq. ft., it showed a surprising ability to climb, actually outclimbing ships of larger wing area. This performance contradicts the previously held theory that thick wings with large area are necessary for climbing.

    To gain additional lift, Hosler incorporated flaps ingeneously designed with the ailerons so that both turned down together, yet were capable of acting in opposite directions as is necessary for usual maneuvers. By turning both down, Hosler achieved a convex wing, although one with a somewhat sharp angle instead of a smooth slope of the usual wing.

    The G & G Special incorporated a single mono-wheel landing gear with skids attached to the wing ends to prevent wing tip damage. Mummert's Mercury sat closer to the ground than any of its competitors; its inverted engine permitted use of short landing gear legs to clear the prop. It was equipped with retractable wheels which retracted flush into the very thick cantilever wing.

    Novel cockpit enclosures were built in many of the planes, Mummert's ship incorporating a novel enclosure that slid down the fuselage side when not in use. B. B. Smith had a sliding cockpit in the Pacific Engineering craft which, when not in use, ran forward over the fuselage on a pair of tracks.