The Golden Age of the National Air Races

From 1929 to the late 1940’s Cleveland, Ohio was a major player in the early days of the US National Air Races (a testing and proving ground for new aviation technology). Initially from the first race in 1920 until 1928, the races alternated between various cities such as New York, Omaha, Detroit, Dayton, Philadelphia and Spokane. Races were then held in Cleveland along the shore of Lake Erie in 1929, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1935 and 1937 to 1939 before a break was put in place during World War Two (Chicago hosted the race in 1930 and Los Angeles in 1928, 1933 and 1936).

Cleveland National Air Races 1929
The air races come to Cleveland

Why Cleveland? Local businessmen such as Louis W. Greve and Frederick C. Crawford who were involved in the aviation parts industry, along with the city and numerous local businesses and the aviation industry provided the support and finances to host the races. They also contributed to providing sizable cash prizes for the racers. The first Cleveland race in 1929 was a great success with over 100,000 spectators and the event turned a sizable profit. Other cities involved in the races were not as successful as Cleveland, so  with the support of the National Aeronautical Association who licensed the races, it remained the air racing centre for the majority of the 1920’s and 30’s.

National Air Races Cleveland
An early Cleveland air race (photo source: Western Reserve Historical Society)

Following the break during World War Two the races resumed in Cleveland from 1946 to 1949 with the dynamic addition of more powerful ex-military aircraft such as the De Havilland MosquitoLockheed P-38 Lightning, North American P-51 Mustang, Supermarine Spitfire and Vought F4U Corsair. Can you imagine the excitement these low and fast races must have created when aviation was only just starting to take a foothold in history?

National Air Races Poster  Travel Air Mystery Ship Cleveland
Racing Travel Air Mystery Ships

The past glory of the Cleveland National Air Races can be relived in The Crawford Auto Aviation Collection exhibition at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Here they have on display historic racing aircraft and memorabilia. The car collection on display is also well worth a  mention. There are some incredible vehicles to see!

1929 national air race memorabilia cleveland western reserve historical society
1929 air race memorabilia
1931 National Air Race contestant pass Cleveland
1931 National Air Race contestant pass
1930 Howard DGA-3 “Pete” National Air Races
1930 Howard DGA-3 “Pete” which finished 3rd in that year in the men’s “Free for All” race
1932 Wedell-Williams Model 44  National Air Races 1932  Crawford Aviation Collection
1932 Wedell-Williams Model 44 took third place in both the Thompson and Bendix Races of 1932
1932 Wedell-Williams Model 44  Crawford Auto Aviation Collection Cleveland Ohio
1932 Wedell-Williams Model 44
Thompson Trophy 1930s National Air Races Cleveland
The Thompson Trophy the racers were competing for
National Air Races Cleveland Poster 1938
Another great air races poster (1938)
P-51 Mustang National Air Races Cleveland Crawford Auto Aviation Collection
1944 North American P-51K-10NT Mustang “Second Fiddle” despite not being heavily modified came fifth in 1946 with the aid of a “witches brew” fuel mix
1949 cleveland air races
Tragedy marred the 1949 races

Unfortunately in 1949 a crash occurred during the Cleveland races resulting in a P-51 Mustang racer crashing into a house near the course. The pilot and 2 occupants of the house died as result of the crash (a mother and child were in the house). Following this incident the races were suspended from 1950 to 1963. This hiatus and incident must have meant Cleveland lost their hold on the race as upon resumption in 1964 the race was held in Reno, Nevada. The 1949 race looks like it was an incredible event with an amazing array of aircraft participating in the races and it is a shame it had to end in that way (take a look at this link for a great summary of the race, the aircraft and the events that transpired throughout the day).

Today Reno remains as the only location for the annual National Air Races. In a spooky and sad reminder of the past, in 2011 a modified P-51 again crashed at the races tragically killing the pilot and 10 spectators plus injuring 69 others. This could have spelt the end of the National Air Races forever, but luckily safety changes were made and the following year the race was held again and continues to do so.  I am glad such a unique race can continue on. It is a link to aviation heritage (old warbirds continue to race just like the old days) and I can tell you from my own experience at the air races in 2012 it is quite an event and very, very exciting!

Sea Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Sea Fury’s racing at Reno 2012
Sea Fury Argonaut Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Sea Fury “Argonaut” at the Reno Air Races 2012
P-51 F7F Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Mustang & Tigercat Unlimited Class racers at Reno 2012
Advertisements

11 thoughts on “The Golden Age of the National Air Races

  1. Great post! I’ve wanted to visit this museum as well — your photos show it to be a very good one (nice shots by-the-way). Air racing days — what must have that been like? And you ventured to Reno in 2012 🙂

    Like

    1. Thanks. If Reno is any example it must have been incredible back in those days. The exhibition was revamped and only just reopened about a month ago in Cleveland. Well worth a visit.

      Like

    1. Ha ha, sorry about that! Thanks for taking a look at my blog. At some stage I will post photos of the cars there. What a collection especially the stainless steel Fords!

      Like

  2. […] http://www.airrace.com/1938NAR.htmhttps://acesflyinghigh.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/the-golden-age-of-the-national-air-races/ 1930s late Planes RACE 2016-03-09 admin Share ! window.___gcfg = {lang: 'en-US'}; (function(w, d, s) { function go(){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], load = function(url, id) { if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.src = url; js.id = id; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }; load('//connect.facebook.net/en/all.js#xfbml=1', 'fbjssdk'); load('https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js', 'gplus1js'); load('//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js', 'tweetjs'); } if (w.addEventListener) { w.addEventListener("load", go, false); } else if (w.attachEvent) { w.attachEvent("onload",go); } }(window, document, 'script')); […]

    Like

  3. […] http://www.airrace.com/1938NAR.htmhttps://acesflyinghigh.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/the-golden-age-of-the-national-air-races/ 1930's Late Planes Race 2016-03-09 admin Share ! window.___gcfg = {lang: 'en-US'}; (function(w, d, s) { function go(){ var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], load = function(url, id) { if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.src = url; js.id = id; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }; load('//connect.facebook.net/en/all.js#xfbml=1', 'fbjssdk'); load('https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js', 'gplus1js'); load('//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js', 'tweetjs'); } if (w.addEventListener) { w.addEventListener("load", go, false); } else if (w.attachEvent) { w.attachEvent("onload",go); } }(window, document, 'script')); […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s