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They Raced for the Bendix Trophy

DAYTON, Ohio -- "They Raced for the Bendix Trophy" exhibit on the second floor of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- "They Raced for the Bendix Trophy" exhibit on the second floor of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Note: This exhibit is located on the museum's second floor.

The year is 1931. In June, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty fly around the world in the monoplane Winnie Mae. Post's historic solo flight is still two years away. Retractable landing gear is introduced, giving a big boost to aircraft speeds, and a trend develops toward the use of metal rather than wood for aircraft structures. This is the year of the Bendix Trophy.

Conceived in 1931, the Bendix Trophy race was created to encourage experimental developments by airplane designers and to improve the skills of aviators in cross-country flying techniques, such as weather plotting, high altitude and instrument flight.

The winner of the first race, flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland in a Laird Solution at an average speed of 223 mph was a man destined for greatness -- Maj. James H. Doolittle. In 1933 the competition became a coast-to-coast dash with Roscoe Turner setting a New York to Los Angeles record of 11 hours and 30 minutes.

Increasing in prestige with each year, the Bendix Trophy race attracted the most famous names in aviation, both male and female. To such names as Doolittle and Turner were added Bill Lear, Frank Fuller, Ben Howard, Paul Mantz, Louise Thaden, Blanche Noyes, Laura Ingalls, Amelia Earhart and Jacqueline Cochran.

Bendix Trophy races were suspended during World War II. When peace returned, the private airplanes that competed with such dash and color -- the Wedell-Williams, the Laird Solution, the Howard Racer, the Seversky -- were virtual museum pieces. An era had ended. In their places came swift, military fighter aircraft like the P-51 and P-80. And later the F-84, F-86, F-100 and B-58. The average speed of the winning B-58 in 1962 was 1,214.71 mph, flying round-trip between Los Angeles and New York in 4 hours and 42 minutes. The B-58's speed was more than five times that of Jimmy Doolittle's 1931 Laird Solution. 

Today the Bendix Trophy stands in tribute to those men, women and machines who form bright chapters of American history.

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