After decades of neglect, a restored Travel Air 5000 transport serves as a reminder of one man’s campaign to bring airline service to North Texas.
Nearly 80 years after it first flew, the sole Travel Air transport known to exist has been placed on permanent display in Fort Worth, in a fitting tribute to Texas aviation enthusiast Amon G. Carter Sr. “This airplane is an iconic artifact of Fort Worth’s aviation history, and we believe it should return to Fort Worth as a centerpiece to commemorate Amon G. Carter’s aviation legacy,”said Jim Hodgson, executive director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum. “No other airplane typifies the diversity of our aviation heritage more than National Air Transport’s Travel Air Type 5000. Amon Carter was responsible for so much of what we are today and deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments.”
Efforts to bring the Travel Air to Fort Worth began in 2012, when the museum initiated a campaign to acquire the cabin monoplane. After a series of negotiations,MorningStar Capital purchased the airplane in 2013 and shipped it to Justin, Texas, where it was rebuilt by Cowtown Aerocrafters under the direction of Lanny Parcells.
Parcells and a small group of enthusiasts spent most of 2013 and 2014 rebuilding the 86-year-old airplane. He and his team devoted nearly 3,000 hours to bringing the air frame and engine back to as near original configuration as possible—no mean feat considering the unrestored condition of the transport and the limited technical information available.
“We are very pleased with the way this project turned out, considering the amount of reverse engineering necessary to obtain the correct level of authenticity,” Parcells said. Of all the challenges the crew encountered, he said none was more difficult than the design and fabrication of the many wood fairings and formers that gave shape to the fuselage and the cockpit enclosure.Photos of other Travel Air transports were helpful, but the absence of engineering and certification data proved disappointing. In1928 Travel Air did not seek an Approved Type Certificate for the Type 5000, and little or no technical information existed to help the team.
“We are so pleased to be a part of this project to bring a piece of history back to life,”said Joy Webster, vice president of facilities for Fort Worth–based MorningStar Capital LLC, which provided funding to acquire the aircraft from Harry Hansen, a retired Continental Airlines captain. Hansen had begun rebuilding the Travel Air more than 51 years ago, after buying it from Carter’s family.
In recognition of his support of aeronautics in the Fort Worth area, on February 1,1931, the airplane was presented to Carter by officials of National Air Transport (NAT),which had operated it since 1927. Carter was a Texas oilman, advertising mogul and,above all, a staunch advocate for aviation in North Texas. He began building his reputation as a driving force in Texas aeronautics as early as 1911, when Fort Worth citizens witnessed daredevil aviators flying their“aerial machines.”
Six years later Carter played an important role in establishing three flying fields near the city to train pilots after America’s entry into World War I. During the 1930s,Carter was elected to the board of directors at American Airlines, and soon after the U.S. entered World War II, his influence proved instrumental in the construction of a massive factory in Fort Worth dedicated to producing Consolidated B-24 Liberators.
Built early in 1927 by the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita, Kan.—the self-styled “Air Capital of the World”—the cabin monoplane was the second of eight examples constructed for NAT’s contract airmail route service in the Midwest, including the Chicago–FortWorth route designated CAM-3. According to the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, NAT’s Travel Air transport was the first passenger-carrying airplane employed by a scheduled airline to serve Fort Worth, operating from Meacham Field.
In 1931 Carter parked the Travel Air outside at his Shady Oak Farm on Lake Worth.By 1963, when Hansen acquired the airplane, it had deteriorated into a dilapidated,skeletal airframe barely recognizable as a Type 5000. The cotton fabric on the wings and fuselage had long since withered away,the steel tube empennage was rusted and twisted, and the wooden wings had rotted and collapsed. As for the engine, the WrightJ-5CA 9-cylinder radial was a severely corroded hulk that had seized internally,according to Tom Swindle, who with Dave Ozee handled most of the engine work.
“We only attempted a cosmetic preservation of the power plant because it was so badly deteriorated from decades of exposure to the outside elements,” Swindle said.Although the engine appears complete externally, internally it is missing seven of the nine pistons, the cam ring and all the push rods. “Two of the pistons were so badly seized we could not remove them,and the cylinder barrels had completely rusted through in places,” he explained.
The two Bosch magnetos mounted on the engine’s front crankcase had seized and could not be salvaged, but Swindle and Ozee did replace the deteriorated ignition leads for the radial’s 18 spark plugs with a replica harness closely resembling the original. In addition, both blades of the ground-adjustable Hamilton Standard steel propeller were severely pitted. Through sheer determination, Parcells and his crew managed to resurrect both blades and the hub via aggressive treatment and polishing.They eventually restored the propeller to a cosmetic state sufficient for static display.
Hodgson, who helped initiate discussions between MorningStar Capital and Harry Hansen, recalled that when the corporation acquired the Travel Air, the wooden wings had been mostly rebuilt and welded steel tubing had been used to create a new fuselage structure, with the original serving as a pattern. Parcells and his crew re-covered the fuselage, empennage and wings using durable Dacron fabric supplied with the Stits Poly-Fiber system, and painted the fuselage a shade of blue that closely duplicates the original color applied at the factory in 1927. The semi-cantilever wings feature an M-6 airfoil, with a span of more than 51 feet and a generous wing area of 312 square feet. Each panel was covered, rib-stitched by hand and given a final coat of aluminum pigment dope to protect against damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. All the wood,steel tubing and fabric repair work was done in accordance with acceptable practices set forth in FAA Advisory Circular AC43.13-2, Swindle noted.
Travel Air’s Type 5000 traces its origin back to the legendary Clyde V. Cessna.In 1926, on his own time and at his own expense, Cessna designed and built a five-place monoplane powered by a 110-hp Anzani air-cooled radial. When NAT invited Travel Air to submit a bid to build a small fleet of single-engine transports capable of carrying mail and four passengers, Cessna’s prototype served as the inspiration for the design that would become the Travel Air 5000.
In January 1927 NAT awarded Travel Air a contract for eight airplanes with larger dimensions than the prototype. The Travel Air fleet cost the airline $128,676, and all the transports had been delivered by mid-1927. Among them was Type 5000 constructor number 172, registered as N3002and designated NAT No. 17. Its four-place cabin featured wicker-type seats, sliding windows for ventilation in summer and a heating system that provided only minimal warmth in cold weather. During the rebuilding process, four wicker seats were installed in the fuselage, but the cabin still lacks much of its original detail.
Besides Amon Carter’s airplane, the only other Type 5000 extant is Woolaroc, a custom-built, long-range version that won the 1927 Dole Air Race, now on permanent display at the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Okla. The fate of the other seven NAT Travel Airs has not been documented, but they apparently disappeared from the NAT fleet as new and more efficient airline transports became available in the early 1930s.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.