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 Thaden.

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 Travel Airs.

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 all conventions.

Engine Wright J-6 “Whirlwind” five-cylinder radial, rated at 165 hp at 1,800 rpm at sea level
Length overall 24 ft. 1 in.
Height overall 8 ft. 11 in.
Wingspan (upper) 33 ft.
Wingspan (lower) 28 ft. 9 in.
Wing area (upper) 171 sq. ft.
Wing area (lower) 118 sq ft.
Gross weight 2,702 lbs.
Empty weight 1,695 lbs.
Useful load 1,007 lbs.
Payload with full fuel (67 gal.) 392 lbs.
Performance with full load  
Maximum Speed 120 mph
Cruise Speed (sl.) 103 mph
Rate of climb 720 ft. per minute
Surface ceiling 13,000 ft.
Landing speed 48 mph.
Normal cruising range 650 miles
Fuel capacity 67 gal.
Oil capacity 6 gal.