Travel Air 12Q/W, G-AAOK – a fine aircraft, just built at the wrong time
Tags: $399000, 'Biggin On The Bump', 'tandem' aircraft, 12 Q/W, 125 hp, 12Q/W, 1879 - 1954, 1891 - 1950, 1898 - 1975, 1925, 1978, 19th October 2004, 4-cylinder inline engine, 90 hp, air racing, air racing world, air rallies, aircraft company, aircraft instruments, aircraft preservation movement, airshows, beautiful biplane, Biggin Hill, Biggin Hill Airport, biplane, built in 1929, c/n 2026, California, centre-section of the upper wing, Chris Bond, classic biplane, close-fitted cowling, Clyde Cessna, company failed in 1929, Cotswold Airport, Curtiss-Wright, Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Corporation Inc., Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 12 Q/W, David Saunders, De Havilland DH 60 Moth, DH 60 Moth, electric starter, engine type, engineers, exhibits in museums, first post-restoration flight, flexible fuel pipe, flown from the rear seat, former RAF Biggin Hill, front cockpit, fully restored, fuselage, G-AAOK, Gary Duncan, giants of the aviation world, Gloucestershire, Great Depression, group of engineers, Herbert Rawdon, high-wing monoplane, in their spare time, John Davy, Kemble, Kent, Lloyd Stearman, Mike Pearson, Model 12 trainer, Model 12W, monoplane, monument to the aircraft preservation movement, N11713, N370N, N418W, NC352M, NC370N, non-profit organization, November 1981, oldest flying aircraft on the UK Register, original Gipsy engines, port side of the fuselage, preservation and flying of Travel Air aircraft, private owners, RAF Biggin Hill, rare aircraft from the 1920s and 30s, San Jose, Shipping & Airlines Ltd, six-seater high-wing monoplane, substantial bank balance, surviving Travel Air aircraft, swung by hand, tank in the centre-section of the upper wing, TARA, Ted Wells, three-seat Model 16, Tony Habgood, training and touring aircraft, Travel Air, Travel Air 12Q, Travel Air 6000, Travel Air designs, Travel Air Manufacturing Company, Travel Air Restorer's Association, U.S. Register, UK Register of Civil Aircraft, uncowled Scarab engines, upper wing, vacuum, venturi tube, Walter Beech, Warner Scarab, Warner Scarab seven-cylinder radial engine, Wright-built D H Gipsy, WW2 fighter station
You would think that an aircraft company founded by Clyde Cessna (1879 – 1954), Lloyd Stearman (1898 – 1975) and Walter Beech (1891 – 1950) – all later to become giants of the aviation world – could not fail. You would be wrong. These three founded the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in 1925, to manufacture training and touring aircraft, just before the Great Depression hit. Despite some success in the air racing world and a few sales to private owners, the company failed in 1929 and the rights to the Travel Air designs were taken over by the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Corporation Inc.
The Model 12 trainer (and its related three-seat Model 16) were designed by Herbert Rawdon and Ted Wells; they were built by Curtiss-Wright in several versions – usually distinguished by engine type – for a total of 41 aircraft. For example, the Travel Air 12Q was powered by a Wright-built D H Gipsy, 4-cylinder inline engine, of 90 hp, and the Model 12W was powered by a Warner Scarab seven-cylinder radial engine of 125 hp.
Here we can see a beautiful example of this classic biplane, a Curtiss-Wright Travel Air 12 Q/W, G-AAOK, at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire. It is owned by Shipping & Airlines Ltd, a company which has been responsible for the restoration and survival of many rare aircraft from the 1920s and 30s. The 12 Q/W designation is caused by the fact that many 12Q’s had their original Gipsy engines replaced with Warner Scarabs (it is 30 lbs lighter and has 35 hp more). G-AAOK was built in 1929 (c/n 2026), and had American civil identities of N370N, NC370N, NC352M before coming onto the UK Register of Civil Aircraft in November, 1981. It is believed that G-AAOK is the oldest flying aircraft on the UK Register. If you look closely, you can just make out the flexible fuel pipe, running from the tank in the centre-section of the upper wing to the engine (an arrangement very like its contemporary, the De Havilland DH 60 Moth). Unfortunately, you cannot see the venturi tube, which provides vacuum to power several aircraft instruments, as this is located on the port side of the fuselage. At least G-AAOK has the benefit of an electric starter and doesn’t need to be swung by hand. Like most ‘tandem’ aircraft of this period, it is flown from the rear seat when the front cockpit is unoccupied.
The surviving Travel Air aircraft are ably supported by TARA, the Travel Air Restorer’s Association, based in San Jose, California. It is (quote) ‘….an independent, non-profit organization, dedicated to the preservation and flying of Travel Air aircraft.’ There are eight Model 12W aircraft listed on the U.S. Register, as well as five 12Qs; not all of them are ‘active’ with some being exhibits in museums. At least two 12Ws have uncowled Scarab engines (N11713, N418W), whereas G-AAOK has a very fine close-fitted cowling. This 12Q/W was fully restored, in their spare time no less, by a group of engineers from Shipping & Airlines Ltd. at Biggin Hill Airport, Kent, the famous ‘Biggin On The Bump’, the former WW2 fighter station, RAF Biggin Hill. The personnel involved were Chris Bond, Gary Duncan, Mike Pearson, John Davy and David Saunders and they have done a superb job. The aircraft’s first post-restoration flight was on 19th October, 2004, and Tony Habgood of Shipping & Airlines Ltd, who started working at Biggin Hill in 1978, has registered many hours in G-AAOK, attending airshows and air rallies all over the U.K.
If you wanted to buy a Travel Air aircraft today, you had better have access to a substantial bank balance! The last I heard, a Travel Air 6000 (a six-seater high-wing monoplane) was being offered for $399,000! G-AAOK is a monument to the aircraft preservation movement, and a really beautiful biplane.
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