March Mystery Airplane Contest
Travel Air E-4000
May 1, 2021
Between the World Wars, Wichita was the center of aviation in the United States. In January 1925, Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, and Olive Ann Mellor (later Mrs. Olive Ann Beech), along with Walter Innes, formed Travel Air Manufacturing. By 1929, Travel Air had 650 employees and had built over 1800 aircraft. Most were two or three place biplanes designed to compete with or replace surplus WWI aircraft. One of the most famous was the Travel Air 4000.
Early Travel Air biplanes used surplus Curtiss OX-5 or Wright-Hispano liquid-cooled engines, but the 4000 series moved to light weight, simpler air-cooled radials, often the Wright J-5 or J-6. The E-4000 used a 165 hp Wright Whirlwind 5. Produced under Approved Type Certificate #188 issued in July 1929, the E-4000, as Joe Juptner wrote in Volume 2 of his U.S. Civil Aircraft Series, “…was probably the most popular and numerous of them all.” A three place, open cockpit biplane, the E-4000 sold for $6580.00 in 1929 dollars. It was the best seller of the
The E-4000 weighed in at 2700 pounds gross weight with 67 gallons of gas. The pilot sat in the rear seat with two passengers up front. Front seat controls were an extra $75.00. Standard paint, complete with the Department of Commerce registration on the wings and rudder, was overall Travel Air Blue with orange wings. It was a sharp looking bird, capable of 122 mph at sea level and able to land at a respectable 46 mph. Unlike today’s high-tech airplanes, the E-4000 was outfitted with an altimeter, oil pressure gauge, tach, ignition switch, and starting magneto.
The Travel Air E-4000 in this Oshkosh 2018 photo is NC691K, serial number 1277, built in 1929. It had been re-engined with a Continental R-670 and was owned by Robert Lock of Lakeland, Florida. In October 1929, it had been delivered to Texas Air Transport, which after a series of mergers, became American Airways.
The Travel Air E-4000 fooled no one. This month’s winner is Dave Gunderson, who wrote, “Several years ago it (NC691K) was parked across from me at Blakesburg.” Thanks, Dave. Brief before flying. Blue skies and fair winds.