From Point A to Point B: Planning for the National Air Races at Los Angeles in Aviation Magazine, 26 March 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The late 1920s was a particularly important period for the rapid development of aviation and in greater Los Angeles this was especially the case as its wide-open spaces, impeccable climate and other conditions made the region, as with the film and automotive industries as other examples, particularly important in its growth.

One of the most important, if not the most, events pertaining to flight in the area came with the holding of the National Air Races at Mines Field, now Los Angeles International Airport, in September 1928. The races drew enormous crowds for a diverse program and was a true milestone in aviation in the region.

This post focuses on an article in the magazine Aviation from 26 March 1928 and its discussion on the planning, specifically with the financial component, for the event and which demonstrated the importance placed on the races not just for the Angel City and its environs but on a national level, as well.

There are, naturally, other important contents to the issue. The editorial page, for example, noted that “one all important step that has recently been made in the progress of commercial aeronautics in this country is the securing of the assistance of various insurance companies to the extent that they are now willing to accept certain risks.” Provisions for insurance also meant more ease of securing financing for aviation companies as they continued manufacturing and keeping production costs reasonable.

At the same time, it was observed that airlines, flight schools, airports and owners of craft “should take particular care that they live up to the requirements stipulated by insurance companies,” while also mitigating risk. This involves restricting smoking in and around hangars, keeping unauthorized persons away from aircraft that were powered up, pilots adhering strictly to airport rules, students and pilots being extra careful when in flight. If there was any dereliction on a significant scale, the piece warned, insurers could terminate policy issuing, “which would unquestionably have a most disastrous effect upon commercial aeronautical development in the United States.”

In the aftermath of Charles Lindbergh’s epochal achievement with his solo flight across the Atlantic nearly a year prior, Aviation warned readers about “The Challenge,” noting that the time of year for others to seek to replicate the feat was at hand, but that the problem was for those trying to do in a single-engine craft like the “Flying Eagle” used with his Ryan Aircraft-built Spirit of St. Louis.

A British pair perished in a recent incident (this mentioned elsewhere in the magazine and concerned Capt. Walter G.R. Hinchliffe and Elsie Mackay, who vanished in mid-March near the Irish coast) and the magazine opined, “the importance of the tragedy lies rather in its effect upon public opinion than in its relation to whether or not flying across the Atlantic will ever be practical.” Trying to do in a monoplane “is a stunt and a fool-hardy one at that,” though many still felt aviation as a whole was a stunt, but the piece concluded that building reliable craft to make the trip was a challenge, but “that they will ultimately conquer there is no doubt, [though] it will not be a easy battle.”

Also of note was a comment on “Foreign Markets,” specifically stating that manufacturers of planes and accessories “will in the long run establish a profitable business which will given them a stead outlet for their products” when those markets are tapped efficiently and effectively. An example in which American firms were not invoicing appropriately and charging too much for their goods in trade in Canada showed that being unmindful of what was needed would be a hindrance for success and it ended by warning the rules and requirements in other countries were different “and it will be necessary for engineers in the factories to study these and adopt their designs.”

Other articles concerned the latest in engines and craft, including a new Army Air Corps (predecessor of the Air Force) bomber, as well as a third part of a continuing series of requirements issued by the Department of Commerce with respect to design standards, especially structural integrity with respect to pounds of material per horsepower; flight load factors, level, three-point and other landings and more.

A regular column called “Side Slips” which refers to the banking of an airplane. discussed sloppy editing in publications, told the story of a pilot who was barnstorming in Texas and pulled off some slick maneuvers and then executed a trick landing only to find he was three miles from the hangar, and suggested that an Italian dirigible expedition to the North Pole include not just crew from that country, but at least an American and a Norwegian, as well, for a sense of international cooperation. In “Foreign News,” there were reports of a new aviation school in Cuba; an international air tour proposed for 929, an effort to link airplanes with cruise ships in Ireland, and a plan in Brazil and Peru for an Amazon River route across South America.

The “Airports and Airways” columns featured reports from fields in many states while the “United States Air Forces” section reported upon new policies for students at Kelly Field near San Antonio, the establishment of a field near Seattle; the placement of 100 reserve officers on active duty for a year as part of a five-year plan; and the citation of Marine Lt. Christian F. Schilt for his valor while retrieving injured men in Nicaragua during an American military action in that Central American country early in January.

Among many short articles, including ones on engines, batteries and other components, an act of Congress allowing foreign mail contracts, a Cincinnati airport installing lighting for night landings, and “Last Minute Briefs” are several relating to greater Los Angeles. In the latter, the Lockheed Aircraft Company of Los Angeles appointed an eastern representative in Air Associates, Inc. of New York with a Lockheed Vega called the “Whirlwind” exhibited at Curtiss Field on Long Island. Also noted was that manufacturing was initiated for a biplane at the North Hollywood factory of the Victory Aircraft Company.

One of the lengthier pieces concerned the displays of aeronautics firms at the 15th annual Los Angeles Auto Show with a tent dedicated exclusively to the Aviation Exhibit and through which some 160,000 visitors passed. The displays were praised for being well done, including those that featured aircraft built by Ryan, Lockheed, Mutual, American, General, Douglas and others. Separately noted was that Lockheed completed the “Air Express” for mail and passenger routes plied by Western Air Express and that the plane was one of those shown at the auto show. With up to 100 cubic feet of space for mail and room for between two and four passengers, the airship and a cruising speed of 135 mph, a tank for 100 gallons of gas and 10 gallons of oil, and a range of up to 800 miles.

The feature of article of interest here is about the air races and the piece began with the report that,

According to reports from Los Angeles, Calif., which has been awarded the 1928 National Air Races to be held next September, a complete financial program for the raising of $300,000 to assure the conducting of the various events without a deficit is now well under way. The races are to be handled by a group of seven men, known as the California Air Race Association, and selected by the general representatives of the aviation industry in and near Los Angeles.

Among the septet were Theodore T. Hull, who headed American Aircraft Corporation and who was a lawyer and bank director; Dudley M. Steele who ran the Richfield Oil Company’s aviation department; Donald E. McDaneld, who ran a Packard auto dealership in Pasadena; Dr. Thomas C. Young, a Glendale physician and surgeon “and a pioneer in aviation development in the West” including his work with Grand Central Terminal before his death in a plane crash near Chino in 1931; Douglas Aircraft vice-president Harry Wetzel; Western College of Aeronautics president John Bowers and Robert J. Pritchard who was editor of Western Flying magazine.

The association quickly recruited pledges of some $50,000 and half was raised with Steele sent to Washington, D.C. to get the sanction of the National Aeronautics Association for the races. To obtain the rest of the quarter million dollars a campaign company was hired to mount a subscription drive for the public over nearly four months starting in mid-March. If all went well, “there probably will be a surplus when all expenses for the meet have been met,” something achieved in the 1927 event at Spokane, Washington.

It was stated that Italian and British teams were approached about their participation, while a four-day exhibition was planned with aircraft makers, accessory companies, oil firms and others in the United States, Canada, México and other Latin American nations invited to submit entries. Moreover, contests were expected that were not directly tied to the sanctioned national races.

Interestingly, the magazine observed that, while a field was proposed to the NAA, it was hoped “that the long projected Los Angeles Municipal Airport may be made ready before September to accommodate the races,” based on a statement made by Pierson M. Hall, an attorney and future federal judge who led the Los Angeles City Council’s finance committee. If the plans for what was called Mines Field fell through, there was the backup of a field twelve miles from Los Angeles, though the name was not stated “pending completion of necessary legal steps,” only that it had ready access for autos, streetcars and other means. A grandstand, temporary hangars and loudspeakers were to be placed there, as el.

As for the proposed schedule of events, a baker’s dozen were listed including a relay race of no fewer of than 20 planes in four teams of five equipped with OX-5 engines with $1500 in prize money; a free entry 45-mile contest with craft having engines of 510 cubic inches of displacement or fewer with $2500 in prize money; another of these for planes of 720 cubic inches or under and racing 30 miles with $1500 in prize money; a 75-mile race with planes carrying no less than 340 pounds and with engines under 800 cubic inches and prize money of $3500; a 75-mile race with cabin planes having 800 cubic inches in their engines and carrying 340 pounds beyond the pilot with a $4,000 pot and a trophy from the Aviation Town and Country Club of Detroit; a Detroit News Air Transport Trophy for cabin planes and two classes with winners earning $1500 each; a parachute jump with $1,000 in prizes; Navy and Army plane pursuit races with five laps on a ten-mile course; a National Guard race of 100 miles for $1,000 in prize money; a military pursuit race for a trophy from the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper and spanning 120 miles—the 1927 race being adjudged the best; and, lastly, a race for Army Reserve and National Guard pilots in PT planes with 150-horsepower engines and with $500 in prizes. For the military races, trophies or medals were offered in lieu of money.

In addition, a pair of races from northern California were proposed. One, from Mills Field in San Francisco, involved engines of 510 cubic inches and involving $2,000 in prizes, while the other, with engines of 800 cubic inches, was to start from Oakland’s airport and offered $3,000. Both were to have stops at Bakersfield. As for international races, these were in discussion, but one possibility was for a race from Windsor, Canada, across the border from Detroit, and another from México City—this latter only for Latino pilots. A transcontinental contest from New York was also under consideration an, for any of these carried out, there would be prizes for each hop along the long routes.

Other features in the planning stages were “a number of entertainments or informative events to indicate to the public the capabilities of aircraft in both commercial and military lines.” The aircraft carriers, Lexington and Saratoga, were to be docked at the Port of Los Angeles during the races and among the displays under consideration were a Navy catapult; anti-aircraft guns firing at sleeve targets (cloth tube-shaped devices towed by aircraft) with searchlights for spotting enemy aircraft, these provided by the Army and navy; formation flying by a pursuit group of the Army Air Service and pilots from battle fleet squadrons; smoke screens by Army or Navy craft; and the bombing of a model village.

The previous posts here linked at the beginning of the post provide details on what transpired when the races were carried out, but it is interesting to note what was being contemplated and planned in the early stages a half-year before. Finally, this post includes a few advertisements from the magazine, which provides a notable overview of developments in the aviation industry as the Roaring Twenties neared its end.

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