This airplane is a Travel Air Model 4000, S/N 894, manufactured under ATC# 32 by the Travel Air Company, Wichita, KS on February 5, 1929. It left the factory dark blue with silver wings. It went to west coast Travel Air representative and Register pilot H.C. Lippiatt and was sold on March 11, 1929 to Thomas E. Morgan, president of Pickwick Airways, an early west coast ground and air transport operation.
Interestingly, NC8192 left the factory with a 7-cylinder Comet engine (S/N 540) of 150HP. However, the application papers for registration dated April 5, 1929 have 8192 described as a Model 2000 with an OX-5 engine installed. And the registration application for May 21, 1930 identifies it as a Model 2000. The application papers for August 16, 1930 describes a replacement with a "factory built motor mount and J-5 Wright motor," thus converting the airframe to a Model 4000. There is no reason given for the switching back and forth of engines. Through the rest of 1930 and 32 it was registered as a Model 4000 with a Wright engine of 220HP.
Below, shared by Russ Ward (cited, right sidebar) a photograph of NC8192 as it appeared on the ground in New Zealand in 2004.
Travel Air NC8192 in New Zealand, 2004 (Source: Ward)
NC8192 is signed once in the Davis-Monthan Register. It was flown solo by Mildred Morgan (wife of owner Thomas Morgan). Mildred had flown the airplane in the 1931 National Air Races (NAR). At the end of the 1931 Derby, she flew to New Orleans to compete in another cross-country race back to Los Angeles. This race brought Mildred and the two-year-old Travel Air to Tucson on Saturday September 19, 1931 at 10:10 AM. She was racing west from Douglas, AZ to Beverly Hills, enroute from New Orleans. She stayed on the ground for a half-hour and departed to continue competition.
Mildred learned to fly in Hawaii in 1929, and participated in the 1929-1932 NAR making her marks in two. According to the Aircraft Yearbook, she did not place in any of the 1929 events. In 1930, flying NC8192, she placed second (Gladys O'Donnell placed first; Jean LaRene placed third) in the Long Beach, CA to Chicago, IL cross-country Derby. Her time was 21 hours, 8 minutes and 35 seconds. She won $2,100 and picked up another $300 by placing third in the 50-mile race for open cockpit airplanes (with an average speed of 107.24 MPH), and another $80 in dead stick landing contests. Expenses notwithstanding, that was a great week’s pay for those days, especially for a pilot with one year flying experience.
In 1931, the Derby ran from Santa Monica to Cleveland. Mildred placed eighth in that race (with Phoebe Omlie taking first). She also placed fourth in the Women’s 25 Mile Race (104.519 MPH). Neither of her places accrued prize money. The Morgans owned and flew the airplane until 1934.
They sold it on August 23, 1934 to California Air Service, Ltd. of Alhambra, CA. At the time of purchase the airplane was documented to have accumulated 231 flight hours. This was not a lot of time, given that the airplane had competed in at least two major cross-country events in the hands of Mildred, and had been owned by the Morgans for the better part of five years. Regardless, it went into an Alhambra shop for the better part of a month (August 23-September 11, 1934) and the fuselage re-covered with fabric, the wings refinished and the cowling repaired.
The California Air Service sold the airplane to F.H. Nolta, Willows Flying Service, Willows, CA on April 11, 1936. On April 20th, the record shows that the, "Front seat [was] taken out and grain hopper installed. Venturi tube and valve installed." The work was documented for the record as follows.
NC8192 Rice Hopper Modification, April 20, 1937 (Source: FAA)
Additional modifications, in support of the rice hopper, were made to the wings, landing gear and engine mount. These were all professionally well-documented with lists and drawings in the record. The mechanic (whose name was Ray H. Varney*) certainly did a thorough and conscientious job. The registration application filed on April 15, 1936 requested a "restricted" registration for 8192, noting that the airplane would be "restricted for crop sowing." And thus, except for the following hiatus, began the airplane's transition from air racer to use as an agricultural tool.
Incongruously, just after mechanic Varney's stellar work, on July 2, 1936 the crop sowing equipment was removed and replaced by the passenger configuration and the "NC" registration was restored. It flew this way for about eight months. Then the crop sowing equipment was reinstalled and the "NR" registration restored on March 3, 1937.
Our airplane flew as modified until February 20, 1945 when it was sold by F.H. Nolta to W.R. Nolta of Willows, CA for $1,000. It is not clear from the record if this is simply an internal transfer of assets within the Willows Flying Service organization. Interestingly, W.R. Nolta is mentioned in the paperwork as being the registrant of another Register airplane, Travel Air NC9042. I have no information about that airplane or its chain of custody.
W.R. Nolta sold the airplane to Legrande Charles Sherwood of Willows on January 3, 1946 for $200. The airplane still wore its "NR" registration. The bill of sale declared that it would be used for, "agricultural seeding and fertilizing." Sherwood owned NR8192 until February 11, 1953, when he sold it to the Precissi Flying Service, Inc. of Lodi, CA.
Of note is the fact that Precissi Flying Service owned a fleet of 12 Travel Air and other aircraft that were used in their agricultural business. Among the Travel Airs, besides NR8192, were Register airplanes NC1592, NC901 (flown to Tucson by D.C. Warren) and NC1473. These Register aircraft were owned by Precissi as of November 6, 1980, a real testimony to the robustness of the aircraft, and the care they were given.
The use of NC/R8192 for agricultural work was accompanied by various descriptions in the official record of maintenance and repairs made to the wings, fuselage and engine mount. Numerous engine changes and overhauls were made during the 60+ years it served California agriculture. Notably, all of the re-covering of flight surfaces was performed with grade A cotton. It wasn't until 1977 that a synthetic polymer fabric was substuted and documented.
Below, 8192 in Lodi, CA, February 21, 1999. Mr. Ward stands at the propeller.
N8192 in California, February 21, 1999 (Source: Ward)
In the fall of 1999, our Travel Air was sold by Precissi to Russ Ward of New Zealand. Included in the transaction was another Travel Air, N8134 (not a Register airplane), as well as the dataplates for two additional Travel Airs, N901 and N1592 (both Register airplanes). Although from the correspondence it sounds like the two airframes do not exist, the possession of the dataplates, according to FAA rules anyway, allows the airframe to be built from scratch around the dataplate, thus yielding a new aircraft with the same registration number.
Below, shared with us by owner Ward, is NC8192 in his New Zealand hangar (under construction).
Travel Air NC8192 in New Zealand, 2004 (Source: Ward)
Other photos of 8192 can be seen on Mildred Morgan's biography page at the link cited at the top of this page.
* As of the upload date of this page, there is only one Google hit for a Ray H. Varney. He was born January 15, 1906 and died January 1, 2002 in Artois, CA. If this person is our Ray Varney, he would have been just over 30 years old when he performed the conversion work on NC8192. Does anyone KNOW anything about this skilled mechanic?
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/24/10 REVISED: