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Travel Air E-4000 – NC648H

EAA’s 1929 Travel Air E-4000 open-cockpit biplane (NC648H, serial number 1224) is among the last flying examples of the aircraft that launched American aviation and earned Wichita, Kansas the title of “Air Capital of the World.”

The Travel Air Company was formed January 1925 in Wichita, Kansas by former employees of the Swallow Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Starting with a 900 square foot factory and six employees, the company grew by 1929 to 650 employees working two shifts in a state-of-the-art aircraft production facility. About 1,800 Travel Air aircraft were built in less than half a decade. Most were biplanes, using 16 basic designs. The company was unable to survive the Great Depression and was absorbed into the Curtiss-Wright Aeronautical Corporation. Travel Air officers included Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech, and Lloyd Stearman, who later formed their own well-known aircraft companies.

The Travel Air E-4000 model was designed to compete with inexpensive World War I surplus Standards and Curtiss “Jennies.” Its major feature was a forward cockpit wide enough to accommodate two passengers (at least by 1929 standards!). Its rugged landing gear used rubber “bungee” shock cords, allowing landings on unimproved fields.

EAA’s Travel Air was among the last produced. Built in July of 1929, it sported a Wright “Whirlwind” J-6, five-cylinder engine, producing 165 horsepower. Bill Shank, one of America’s first civilian airmail pilots, was the plane’s first owner and the Shank family operated it from Indianapolis, Indiana for almost 30 years.

The aircraft was later donated to EAA and fully restored by EAA staff and many volunteers, including Gene Chase and Jim Barton. A more reliable, seven-cylinder, 220 horsepower Continental R670-4 engine was installed with a ground adjustable Hamilton Standard propeller. This engine/propeller combination was used on thousands of Stearman trainers during World War II. The aircraft was fitted with Schweizer release hooks for banner towing. Its original, narrow wheels were replaced with wider ones, offering better flotation on soft ground.

The airplane is now in regular flight service at EAA’s Pioneer Airport. Each flying season it delights AirVenture Museum visitors with the sights, sounds and thrills of open-cockpit biplane flight.

This aircraft was researched by EAA volunteer, Fred Stadler


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