Travel Air 4000
Perhaps the most popular
aircraft in the famous Travel Air line, the Model 4000 series certainly
was the most versatile. Ranging from the original A-4000 to the Z-4-D,
there were 12 models with 31 variants of the two-position, three-seat,
open cockpit biplane were manufactured by the Wichita, Kansas, based
company. Introduced in early 1926, the first 4000 series plane had most of
the characteristics typical of its successors -- a welded steel tubing
fuselage and wings constructed with spruce spars and plywood ribs. Various
engines ranging from the 100-horsepower Kinner to the 300-horsepower
Wright J-6-9 were employed during the production run. The airplane was
available as a crop duster, was used by several famous aviators in
barnstorming and racing and could be fitted with floats.
The desire to create safe, reliable airplanes was the hallmark of the
industry in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Travel Air was no exception
and the "elephant ear" wings on the Model 4000 was its attempt to increase
stability and responsiveness by extending the ailerons on the upper wing.
This was the "Type A" wing, one of four available. The "Type B" used Frise
ailerons and had a center section fuel tank. "Type E" wings employed the
Frise ailerons but had no tank. The "Speedwings" were strengthened and
designed for improved cruise and top speed. "Speedwing" versions flown in
several of the air races, notably by Bentonville, Ark., pilot Louise
The Elephant Ear and Speedwing weren't unique to the 4000 series. Both
wing types were consistent features of the earlier Travel Air 2000 and
3000 models. The Elephant Ear aileron was common on the "Flat Nose"
airframes of the OX-5 equipped 2000 and 3000. Thaden's first brush with
fame came in a Speedwing-equipped Model 3000 as she set the first
officially recorded women's altitude record at 20,260 feet on Dec. 7,
1928. The letter D usually came before the model name of Speedwing-equipped
Thaden and others made the Model D-4000 famous. Equipped with Speedwings
and the 220-hp Wright J-5 Whirlwind, some were constructed with only one
seat for racing. In August 1929, the first Women's Air Derby was held. Of
the 20 entrants, seven flew Travel Airs and it was Thaden who won the
Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland race. Opal Kunz finished eighth. The
other five Travel Airs were flown by Pancho Barnes, Claire Fahy, Marvel
Crosson, Mary von Mack and Blanche Noyes. After arriving at the National
Air Races as the cross country winner, Thaden took second in the Ladies DW
Class and the Australian Pursuit in her D-4000 (registered R671H). The
D-4000 was used by Hollywood to represent Nieuports in flying films like
Hell's Angles and Dawn Patrol.
The most popular was the Model E-4000 with the 165-hp Wright J-6-5. There
were 59 of the E-4000 registered with a 1929 list price of $6,425,
dropping to $5,850 in 1930.
Starting in 1928-29, the series changed from 4000 to 4 with letters
generally signifying changes in powerplant. Unfortunately, Travel Air used
an inconsistent system of labelling. Letters before the model usually
indicated wing types: "A" for the Elephant Ear, "B" for the earless
standard wings, "D" for Speedwings (as in the D-3000, D-4000 and D-4-D).
But the leading letter also indicated engine changes like the K-4000 (Kinner
equipped) and L-4000 (Lycoming powered trainers), or with the C-series for
Curtiss. But to illustrate the confusion, several BM-4000s were built with
the Type A Elephant Ear. Individual custom models for famous pilots like
Arthur Goebel's D9-4000 -- a single-seater with a chemical smoke tank in
the former front cockpit and both Speedwings and clipped wings -- broke
“Whirlwind” five-cylinder radial, rated at 165 hp at 1,800 rpm at sea
||24 ft. 1 in.
||8 ft. 11 in.
||28 ft. 9 in.
||171 sq. ft.
||118 sq ft.
with full fuel (67 gal.)
with full load
||720 ft. per