In the 1920s, Herbert Rawdon was Chief Engineer of the Wichita-based Travel Air Manufacturing Company. In an effort to break the air racing dominance of the US military, Rawdon and fellow designer Walter Burnham set out to design a civilian aircraft that could defeat the higher-powered combat aircraft of the day which the resulting first Type R (for Rawdon) Mystery Ship did at the 1929 National Air Races in Cleveland.
Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship
If any part of aviation can be said to define the interwar period of the 20th century, it is air racing. From cross-country marathons to the dangers of pylon racing, the air racer was part military experiment, part circus plane. The five Mystery Ships, so named by the press because they were built in secret, captured the imaginations of Americans in an age of biplanes and were flown by several of the most famous race pilots of the day—Jimmy Doolittle, Pancho Barnes and Frank Hawks.