Bendix Trophy

In 1931 Cliff Henderson decided that the United States needed an annual cross country air race to promote and encourage the achievements of the US aviation community. The emphasis would be placed on reliability and endurance as well as speed. To this end Cliff Henderson managed to persuade businessman, Mr. Vincent Bendix, to back his ideas and the Bendix Transcontinental Trophy Race was born.

During the "Golden Age of Aviation" (mid-1920's to the late 1930's) the Bendix Race attracted many of America's most innovative and daring aviators, many of whom would win many aviation records over the years. After the war the event became a military event and for most people it lost it's pioneering appeal that had made it so popular in the early years.  

Up until the early 1930's, the race was completely male dominated and the races were seen as no place for women. Admittedly, it was mainly the male pilots who kept women from competing. The tragic death of Florence Klingensmith at the Frank Phillips Trophy Races in Chicago flying her Gee Bee racer lead to Henderson ruling women out of the 1934 finals. However, women could not be kept from competing for long and the ban was lifted in 1935 following increasing pressure from America's increasingly talented top female pilots. The only question left was, "were women up to the stresses and endurance demanded by the race?".

Each year in early September the aviation world has been thrilled by the roar of planes competing in the Bendix Trophy Race. This year the roar will be only a memory. The National Air Races at Cleveland themselves, of which the Bendix “Transcontinental Speed Dash” was always an exciting part, have been postponed from Labor Day to Armed Forces Day next May.

The Bendix as we have known it since its start nineteen years ago will not be there. Military jet planes alone, if current plans for inclusion of the “J” or jet division are carried out, will vie for the title of fastest-cross-country. Propeller-driven craft and their civilian pilots, it is now realized, flew their last race in 1949.

So, as we close our books on another colourful episode in the on-moving drama of flight, we see in retrospect, a story of great flyers and great airplanes which have characterized the Bendix classic through the years.

Proponents of cross-country air racing have long claimed for it the distinction of being the most practical of all the forms of the high-speed game. Only in these long-range grinds, they contend, do you encounter flying conditions comparable to what an airplane in everyday service must face. Such a contest is a basic problem of getting from one point of the country to another in the shortest possible time, which is, after all, the fundamental purpose of the airplane. Furthermore, it is the supreme test of the pilot’s skill in pre-flight planning and preparation and in-flight navigation. It was with these thoughts in mind that the late Vincent Bendix, manufacturer of aviation accessories, created the great race which bears his name.

For many years before the Bendix was established, civilian air racing had centred in the cross-country type of event. These were generally worked out on a handicap basis, taking into account the speed, power and range of the competing planes. But with the coming of the Bendix, these lesser races passed from the picture. For the Bendix was an all-out race for speed. No limitations were placed on the design or power of the airplanes, nor on the route which a pilot might choose to follow to accomplish his mission, As a consequence, this big race has always attracted the nation’s most colourful flyers and the fastest airplanes.

James H. Doolittle, who has left his imprint on so many of aviation’s annals, inaugurated the Bendix back in 1931 by flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland in 9 hours, 10 minutes and 21 seconds to win at an average speed of 223.058 miles per hour. This was shortly after Doolittle had retired from the Army Air Corps with the rank of major. While in the Air Corps he had established himself as the Army’s top-ranking speed pilot. Naturally that reputation followed him into civilian life, and he lost no time in proving his right to it.

Jimmie flew the only specially built racing plane entered in that first Bendix race. It was a small airplane by today’s standards, a bi-plane of just 21-foot span and 1,580 pounds’ weight. This was the Laird Super Solution. It was powered by the air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. engine of 510 horsepower. Actually, this racer was a refined version of the Laird Solution which won the first Thompson Trophy Race the year before.

Doolittle made refuelling stops at Albuquerque and Kansas City. At Cleveland he refuelled again and went on to Newark to break the transcontinental speed record at 11 hours, 16 minutes and 10 seconds. For winning the race he collected a purse of $5,000 plus an additional $2,500 for the cross-country record.

Of the eight planes starting in this race, six finished within the established time limit. Aside from the winning Laird, all of the finishing planes were commercial model Lockheed Orions and Altairs. Harold Johnson made the best time of this group, coming in one hour and four minutes behind Doolittle.

Jimmy Doolittle
Doug Davis
Ben Howard
Louise Thaden
Frank Fuller Jr.
1937 & 1939
Jacquiline Cochran
Paul Mantz
Joe De Bona

The Bendix has on occasion brought unusual distinction to the designer and builder of a racing airplane as well as to its pilot. This was particularly true in the case of James R. Wedell. Although this designer-pilot who built his own racing planes in a small hangar at Patterson, Louisiana, never won the big race himself, his airplanes figured prominently in it for a number of years. For instance, the three racers which he built for the 1932 races, each in turn won the Bendix. In fact, in that ‘32 event they finished in one-two-three order with James Haizlip, Wedell and Roscoe Turner capturing those respective positions.

Turner copped the trophy in ‘33 and Doug Davis flew Wedell’s own “Miss Patterson” to victory in ‘34. Wedell planes also took second money in both of these latter races and were the only entries to finish within the allotted time.

This transcontinental dash has not always been a Los Angeles to Cleveland affair, for on two occasions the National Air Races were terminated at the West Coast metropolis. That was in 1933 and again in 1936. In these years New York served as the starting point and the race was thus fully transcontinental in nature. Incidentally, this east to west crossing of the nation was considered much more difficult in those days because of prevailing head winds.
Up-and-coming Roscoe Turner scored the first major victory of his long and colourful career in air racing when he won that ‘33 event. His time of 11 hours and 30 minutes was an east-west record and evidence of the gruelling type of flying found in the Bendix of that time. It was reliable Jimmy Wedell who placed second to Roscoe. This was the race in which Russell Boardman lost his life when his big Gee Bee racer crashed on take-off after refuelling at Indianapolis.

The other east to west race, that of 1936, was strictly a “ladies’ day” affair and the slowest of all the Bendix contests. Louise Thaden with Blanche Noyes as her co-pilot flew a stock model Beechcraft biplane into the winner’s circle in less than 5 minutes under 15 hours. Laura Ingalls followed with a Lockheed Orion and Amelia Earhart took fifth position with her Lockheed Electra. Strangely enough, only commercial planes finished this race, with all of the special racers being forced out along the route. Even a big Douglas DC-2 finished in the money.
Of course that 1936 race was not the only Bendix in which the ladies have starred. Amelia Earhart was the first of her sex to participate, taking fifth position with a Lockheed Vega in 1935. Then the famous Jacqueline Cochran entered the picture with a third place in 1937. Jackie’s big year, however, came in 1938 when she won the contest under adverse weather conditions and against red-hot competition. She flew a civilian equivalent of the Seversky P-35. Again in the postwar races of 1946 and 1948 Miss Cochran proved her ability at the long-range game when she took a second and a third place in her P-51.

The only airplane ever designed for the specific purpose of winning the Bendix Trophy was Ben Howard’s “Mister Mulligan.” That was back in 1935. Although Howard had won his fame as a pylon duster, his job as a transport pilot for United Airlines forbade his participation in closed-course competition. So Ben made an all-out bid for the Bendix. With the aid of Gordon Israel, who is now an engineer for Grumman, he developed an airplane which was to introduce a new technique in transcontinental racing. “Mr. Muilligan” was designed to fly the course nonstop and at high altitude. Neither of these practices had been followed before that time. They were definitely a forward step in long-distance flying and they brought victory to Howard and co-pilot Israel.

This, by the way, was the closest of all Bendix races. Roscoe Turner flying his powerful Wedell-Williams, which was actually a faster airplane, had to make refuelling stops. He also flew at the then conventional lower altitudes. Yet he finished just 23 seconds behind Ben Howard.

“Mister Mulligan” was truly a fine airplane, for it not only won the Bendix but also the Thompson Trophy for Harold Neumann in a type of race for which it was not particularly well suited. It was a high-wing cabin monoplane, the direct ancestor of the Howard DGA-8, four-place commercial airplane of later years. Unfortunately, the “Mulligan” was completely destroyed in a crash landing which almost cost the lives of Benny and his co-pilot wife, Maxine, in the 1936 Bendix race.

Seversky (civilian race version of the P-35) 1937-38-39 Winner

The first man to repeat a Bendix victory was Frank Fuller, Jr. This sports man pilot got his name on the trophy in 1937 and 1939. Like Jackie Cochran, Fuller was well off in his own right and flew airplanes for the fun of it. He found the Bendix a real adventure. Fuller, too, flew a Seversky P-35. His 1939 time of 7 hours, 14 minutes and 19 seconds was the best of the prewar records, an average speed of 282.098 mph.

During the war years of 1940 to 1945 there was no air racing. But those years produced the airplanes which were to be featured in the postwar Bendix. With surplus fighter planes available at less money than would be required to build a suitable airplane, the Bendix was assured of plenty of hot entries for its resumption in 1946. In fact, that race stands as the one having the greatest number of participants. Twenty-two racers actually made the starting line-up and seventeen finished. Of these, the majority were Lockheed P-38s. But the P-51 demonstrated its superiority when the four in the race took the first four places.

Paul Mantz, the Hollywood stunt flyer, took home the Bendix Trophy that year with the remarkable time of 4 hours, 43 minutes and 14 seconds or 435.5 mph. Mantz is undoubtedly the all-time master of cross-country air racing, for he went on to repeat his Bendix victory again in ‘47 and ‘48. In addition, he has broken more long-distance speed records than you can shake a stick at. His remarkable work with the P-51 is an outstanding page of Bendix history.

The last Bendix Trophy Race was flown in 1962. Captain Bob Sowers piloted an Air Force B-58 Hustler from Los Angles to New York in just 2 hours 56 seconds and won the race. This was quite a contrast to the first race in 1931 when Jimmy Doolittle in his Laird Super Solution flew from Los Angles to Cleveland in 9 hours 10 minutes, or to Louise Thaden's 1936 win from New York to Los Angles in her Staggerwing Beechcraft C-17R with a time of 14 hours 55 minutes.

North American P-51 as a Post War Racer 1946 to 1948 Winner

These postwar races have been notable for their close finishes. Mantz nosed out Jackie Cochran by a few seconds less than 10 minutes, in ‘46, beat Joe De Bona by a mere 1 minute and 18 seconds in ‘47 and edged out Linton Carney by 1 minute, 9 seconds in ‘48.
Then too, in that 1948 contest Jacqueline Cochran followed Carney in by only 10
seconds and Ed Lunken trailed her by 2 minutes and 39 seconds, a real whirl wind finish. These pilots all flew P-51s.

Fittingly, the last of the races for propeller-driven airplanes – 1949 - closed with an all-time record speed. Joe De Bona, flying for movie actor Jimmie Stewart, made the run in 4 hours, 16 minutes and 17 seconds at a speed of 470.136 mph.

It was with the postwar resumption of the Bendix Speed Dash that aviation’s newest important development came into the picture. Jet propulsion entered air racing. A special “J” division of the Bendix was set up in 1946 with a select group of military planes and pilots participating. These events have naturally been faster than the traditional civilian race and have made a spectacular showing. However, they have not as yet resulted in a race between the service branches. Rather, the Air Force and the Navy have taken turns at staging this classic event.

On the first two occasions, Air Force F-80s put on the show and then the Navy FJ-ls had a crack at it. Last year the Air Force’s Thunderjets succeeded in making the run in less than four hours! Major Vernon A. Ford piloted the winning ship in at an average speed of 529.614 mph, a time of 3 hours, 45 min., 51 sec. (one fuelling stop).

The very fact that a modern airplane can now negotiate this distance in so short a time is due in no small part to the engineering research and flying experience that have gone into the Transcontinental Speed Dash over the years.

Pre-war Bendix Trophy Records

Pilot Ship and Motor Prize Money Aver.
Speed mph Time
1931 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
J. H. Doolittle, 1st
H. S. Johnson, 2nd
Beeler Blevins, 3rd
Ira C. Eaker, 4th
Arthur Goebel, 5th
James G. Hall, 6th
Laird "Super Solution" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
233.058   9:10:21
199.816   9;10:14:22
188.992   10:49:33
188.070   10:59:45
171.500   11:55:48
159.187   12:51:16
1931 Burbank to Newark - Doolittle continued on to Newark, NJ to make it in 11:16:10 with three stops
which beat Frank Hawks' August 13, 1931 record of 12:24 in his Texaco No.13 Travel Air Model R
which in turn beat the Lindbergh's April 21, 1930 record of 14:45 in their Lockheed Sirius
1932 - Burbank to Cleveland
James G. Haizlip, 1st
James R. Wedell, 2nd
Roscoe Turner, 3rd
Lee Gehlbach, 4th
Claire Vance
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Wedell-Willlams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Gee Bee "Model R-2" - P&W Wasp Jr.
. . .  
245.   8:19:45
1932 Burbank to NYC - Haizlip continued on to NYC to make it in 10:19 with two stops as did Roscoe Turner in 10:58
both beating Doolittle's 1931 record of 11:16
1933 - New York to Los Angeles
Roscoe Turner, 1st
J. R. Wedell, 2nd
Lee Gehlbach
Amelia Earhart
Russell Boardman
Russell Thaw
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Lockheed Vega -
Gee Bee "Model R-1" - P&W Hornet
Gee Bee "Model R-2" - P&W Wasp
. . .  
. . .  
214.78   11:30:00
209.23   11:58:18
1933 NYC to Burbank - The 1933 Bendix was an east-west transcontinental race
Turner set a new record of 11:30 and Wedell at 11:58 also beat Turner's own 1932 record of 12:33
which beat Frank Hawks' 1930 record of 14:50 in his Texaco No.13 Travel Air Model R
1933 -- not in the Bendix, on June 2, 1933, Captain Frank Hawks flying his Northrop Gamma, Texaco No.11 "Sky Chief", flew non-stop from from Los Angeles to Newark in 13:27 averaging 181 mph
1934 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
Doug Davis, 1st
J. A. Worthen, 2nd
Lee Gehlbach, 3rd
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Wasp Jr.
Wedell-Williams "45" - P&W Wasp
GMD "Model R-6H" "Q.E.D." - P&W Hornet
216.237   9:26:41
203.213   10:03:00
1935 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
Ben O. Howard, 1st
Roscoe Turner, 2nd
Russell Thaw, 3rd
Roy O. Hunt, 4th
Amelia Earhart, 5th
Earl Ortman
Jacckie Cochran
Royal Leonard
Cecil Allen
Howard DGA-6 "Mr. Mulligan" - P&W Wasp
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Hornet
Northrop Gamma - Wright Cyclone
Lockheed Orion - P&W Wasp
Lockheed Vega - P&W Wasp
Northrop Gamma - P&W Tw. Wasp Jr.
Keith Rider R-3 - P&W Wasp
GMD "Model R-6H" "Q.E.D." - P&W Hornet
Spirit of Right - P&W Hornet
. . .  
. . .  
. . .  
crash at start
238.704   8:33:16
238.522   8:33:39
201.928   10:06:45
174.766   11:41:03
149.578   13:47:06
1936 -- not in the Bendix, on January 14, 1936, Howard Hughes broke the transcontinental U.S. speed record in Jackie Cochran's Northrop Gamma which he leased, rebuilt and outfitted with an 800 hp Wright G Cyclone. The 2,490-mile flight from Burbank to Newark took him 9:27:10 averaging 259.111 mph
1936 - New York to Los Angeles
Louise Thaden, 1st
Laura Ingalls, 2nd
William Gullck, 3rd
Geo. C. Pomeroy, 4th
Amelia Earhart, 5th
Joseph Jacobson
Ben O. Howard
Roscoe Turner
Beechcraft - Wright 420
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Vultee - Wright
Douglas - Wright
Lockheed - P&W Wasp
Northrop Gamma - Wright
Howard DGA-6 "Mr. Mulligan" - P&W Wasp
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Hornet
crash before start
166.060   14:55:00
1937 -- not in the Bendix, on January 19, 1937, Howard Hughes broke the transcontinental U.S. speed record in his H-l racer. The 2,490-mile flight from Los Angeles to Newark took him 7:28:25 averaging 332 mph
1937 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
Frank Fuller, 1st
Earl Ortman, 2nd
Jacqueline Cochran, 3rd
Frank Sinclair, 4th
Milo Burcham, 5th
Joe Mackey
Seversky SEV-S2 - P&W Tw. Wasp
Keith-Rider R-3 - P&W Tw. Wasp Jr.
Beechcraft D-17W - P&W Wasp
Seversky SEV-S - P&W Tw. Wasp
Lockheed - P&W Wasp Jr.
Wedell-Williams "44" - P&W Hornet
. . .
258.242   7:54:26
224.833   9:49:21
194.740   10:29:08
184.92   11:02:33
184.52   11:03:58
1937 Los Angeles to Bendix, NJ - Frank Fuller - 9:35 - a new record
1938 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
Jacqueline Cochran, 1st
Frank Fuller, Jr., 2nd
Paul Mantz, 3rd
Max Constant, 4th
Ross Hadley
John Hinchey
George Armistead
Seversky SEV-S - P&W Tw. Wasp
Seversky SEV-S2 - P&W Tw. Wasp
Lockheed Orion - Wright Cyclone
Beechcraft D-17S - P&W Wasp Jr.
Beechcraft D-17 - P&W Wasp Jr.
Spartan Executive - P&W Wasp Jr.
GMD "Model R-6H" "Q.E.D." - P&W Hornet
. . .  
. . .  
. . .  
249.744   8:10:31
238.604   8:33:29
206.579   9:36:25
199.330   10:14:39
181.842   11:13:46
177.449   11:30:27
1938 Los Angeles to Bendix, NJ - Jacqueline Cochran - 10:07:01 - a new Women's Record
1939 - Los Angeles to Cleveland
Frank Fuller, Jr., 1st
Arthur Bussy, 2nd
Paul Mantz, 3rd
Max Constant, 4th
Seversky SEV-S2 - P&W Tw. Wasp
Bellanca 2892 - 1 Ranger-2 Menasco
Lockheed Orion - Wright Cyclone
Beechcraft D-17W - P&W Wasp Jr.
282.098   7:14:19
244.486   8:21:08
234.875   8:41:38
231.366   8:49:33
1939 Los Angeles to Bendix, NJ - Frank Fuller - 8:58:8 - a new record

* includes additional purse for breaking record

post-war Bendix records

Paul Mantz P-51 435.501 4:43:14 $10,000
Jacqueline Cochran P-51 420.925 4:52 :00.4 $5,500
Thomas J. Mayson P-51 408.220 5:01:05.6 $3,000


Paul Mantz P-51 460.423 4:26:57.4 $10,000
Joe C. DeBona P-51 458.203 4:28:15.0 $5,500
Edmund Lunken P-51 408.733 5:00:43.0 $3,000


Paul Mantz P-51 447.980 4:33:48.7 $10,000
Linton B. Carney P-51 446.112 4:34:57.5 $5,500
Jacqueline Cochran P-51 445.847 4:35:07.3 $4000


Joe C. DeBona F-51 470.136 4:16:17.5 $10,000
Stanley Reaver F-51 450.221 4:27:37.7 $5,500
Herman Salmon F-51 449.214 4:28:13.7 $3,000