Travel Air S6000B
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1929 Wichita, KS
photo courtesy Charles Lander
Three famous names in avaition history belong to the manufacturers/designers of the Travel Air. Walter Beech, Lloyd Stearman, and Clyde Cessna formed the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita, Kansas in January of 1925. Travel Air planes accounted for just over 50% of Department of Commerce license applications for August 1928. The first Travel Air 6000 took to the air April 15, 1928 and a legend was born.
The design of the Travel Air 6000 expanded on the concept of the Travel Air 5000, which was the first commercial aircraft to cross the Pacific (July 1927). The summer of 1928 Walter Beech organized a cross country tour promoting the 6000 and by Fall had 14 firm orders. Lucrative air mail contracts with the idea of passenger service as a second income fueled entrepreneurs' plans. But passengers became more of an income opportunity, and Travel Air modified its existing monoplane design to promote "executive flying." Improvements included a toilet/washroom, luxurious interior, the best engines available, wide windows, and updated instrumentation. The price at the factory ranged from $13,000 to $13,500. The most expensive Travel Air was a $20,000 custom built Travel Air A-6000-A power by a Pratt & Whitney engine for actor Wallace Beery.
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Travel Air 6000, catwalks installed
photo courtesy Charles Landers
While intended for executive flying, Travel Airs saw more use as "feeder liners"; early commuter airlines like Delta operated them, as did Texas Air Transport (later TWA) and Woodley Airways (later Alaska Airlines). Bush pilots in Canada and Alaska discovered the ruggedness, load carrying ability, and dependability of the Travel Air, and it became the bush plane of choice for many. One of the more famous companies to use Travel Airs was Johnson's Flying Service of Missoula, Montana. Once described as a "vitual air force of old planes", Johnson's maintained Forest Service contracts well into the 1960's and used both Ford Tri Motors and Travel Airs on floats or wheels to haul smoke jumpers and freight to remote regions.
Now, Travel Air planes are most likely seen in museums or operating as private aircraft. The exception to this is Travel Air S6000B NC9084, which still operates as an air taxi, both on floats and wheels. Truly, a ride in a Travel Air is a flight through history.
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