Travel Air Mystery Ship

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Written by Laddie Mikulasko As featured on page 31 in the November 2012 issue of Model Aviation. As featured in the Model Aviation tablet app.

In the 1920s and early 1930s the National Air Races were very popular. The military dominated the racing circuits with their powerful designs. The Travel Air Company wanted to build racers that would outrace the military airplanes.

Two young engineers, Herb Rawdon and Walter Burnham, under the guidance of Walter Beech, president and founder of the Travel Air Company, started designing sleek, low-wing airplanes with the streamlined wheel pants and a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) cowl.

The airplane was entered in the 1929 Thompson Cup Race and won, beating more powerful military entries by 8 to 20 mph. These races showed military that the era of biplanes was over.

Several versions of the Travel Air Mystery Ship were built and raced. This particular racer is hanging in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as a symbol of the racing airplane that started the trend towards low-wing, low-drag aircraft.

I always liked the airplanes from the Golden Age of Aviation. I built several Scale models of aircraft from that era, but never the racer. I decided to build the Mystery Ship because it has right proportions of wing and tail surfaces to be a relatively docile-flying airplane.

I chose 1/6-scale so the model would be a good size. The challenge was how to gain the access to the motor batteries without removing the wing, which would require undoing all the flying and landing wires on the wing. Access to the batteries is through the front, by removing the propeller and the cowl which is held to the firewall with the magnets.

I decided on a three-piece wing; the outer wing panels are removable to transport the model. The aileron servos are located inside each removable wing panel. The elevator and the rudder servos are located inside the cockpit.

Because the Mystery Ship has a short nose, select the lightest balsa for building. The model will require some lead in the nose. The outer wing panels can be removed. The Mystery Ship flew well on three- and four-cell LiPo batteries.

The model taxies with positive control and tracks straight in takeoff. In the air, the Mystery Ship feels solid with crisp controls.

Before the first landing, fly high and then slow down until the aircraft stalls to get idea what to expect. My model would mush and sometimes the nose would drop, picking up flying speed. Other times the wing would drop and start spinning. Centering the controls and increasing power stops spinning and landings are easy.

Read about the entire build process in Model Aviation and in the Model Aviation tablet app.

Order The Travel Air Mystery Ship Plans

Laddie Mikulasko's 1/6-scale 1920s air racer spans 60 inches

Order the Travel Air Mystery Ship Kit (plans must be purchased separately above)

If you would like to order a laser kit, visit our partner using the button below. The full kit includes all the wood to complete the model according to the designer, all the laser cut parts have been cut according to the plan. We did not draw these plans, so we cannot guarantee that parts fit or if all the parts are even included on the files. There are no returns or refunds on these part sets. There are no plans included in this kit, or any of the other accessories needed to complete the kit, wood ONLY.


Where did you get the fiberglass parts? I would love to build this, but 'glassing is beyond my abilities.

Hi, Matt, ..

What cowl/ part number did you go with??? gunna build one of these. will look nice next to my ge-6d bipe (golden era- 60)
Thnks, M.

Reminds me of the Travel Air JB Special my grandfather Jerry Behrens designed. Looks very nice.

I am building the model using the Laser Cut parts. All the parts are done and it's about ready to assemble. I am using a Turnigy G60 motor and I have added 2 degrees down and right thrust. Three things bother me about this plane. I searched all over the internet for four inch diameter vintage wheels and NOBODY makes them. Another thing is I'm not sure how to keep the battery and controller in place and have access to connect the wires etc. Thirdly, there doesn't seem to be good solid surfaces to epoxy or glue the wing and fuselage together to prevent separation during maneuvers.

Bernard, have you had any luck with this plan and kit??? I'd love to build one!

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