1929 TRAVELAIR 4000
By Gene Nora Jessen, 99s Museum of Women Pilots Trustee
99 NEWS Magazine
In August of 1929 twenty intrepid women pilots raced their airplanes from Santa Monica to Cleveland as a part of the Cleveland Air Races. This was the first time women had been invited to race and they took their task seriously, knowing that their performance could be the catalyst to open flying jobs to women. Adventures were to be had as fifteen of the women completed the task in fragile airplanes with all-too-often undependable engines. Louise Thaden won the race in her beautiful blue and gold Walter Beech-sponsored Travel Air. The surviving racer, Bobbi Trout, can tell you of the challenges and excitement of the race.
The women went on to form The Ninety-Nines as a support group in the search for flying jobs. Louise Thaden went on to establish numerous flying records, and was a key figure in The 99s. Through the years her famous racing plane changed hands, disappeared and fell into disrepair. Her friend Dub Yarbrough promised to find that special plane and restore it, which he did, but not before Louise's passing. Upon completion of the restoration, the beautiful airplane was flown by Susan Dusenbury in a 60th anniversary sentimental flight along the path of the original 1929 Powder Puff Derby.
The airplane came to be owned by Bill and Claudia Allen and was proudly displayed in the Allen Airways Flying Museum. When the Allens generously offered it to The Ninety-Nines at a greatly reduced price, 99s member Stacy Howard, with great faith, made a loan to the 99s Museum of Women Pilots to purchase the airplane. Since it could not be displayed on 99s property due to lack of space, it went on loan to the Oklahoma Air & Space Museum across town from the 99s Museum, where it is proudly displayed. Anita and Vic Lewis stepped forward to fund the down payment, transporting the airplane to Oklahoma City, insurance. and continuing interest on the loan. In the meantime, The 99s contributed to a fund to make the airplane truly ours.
Past International President Thon Griffith, fearing that the airplane might slip from our grasp, leaped into action. Thou undertook a recent fund raiser in which many 99s participated, with Fran Bera's gift leading the charge. Thon announced at The Ninety-Nines conference in Kansas City that her husband, Bob DeLong, would finalize the purchase after seeing the generous response of The 99s. That overwhelming act of generosity was to bring the Travel Air "home" permanently to those who truly appreciate its great significance to our heritage.
Thank you Bill and Claudia, Fran, Stacy, Anita and Vic, Thon and Bob and all the 99s who participated in bringing the 1929 Travel Air to Oklahoma City, and then retiring the debt. Amelia's Vega hanging in the Smithsonian and Louise's Travel Air owned by The Ninety-Nines are our reminders of the debt we owe our pioneer sisters. The blue and gold Thaden Travel Air gave clearance to untold numbers of women pilots.