1946 National Air Races
Time had run out for the National Air Races in 1939 as the ten
year deed of gift by Charles E. Thompson
to sponsor the big unlimited classic expired and Germany's Adolph Hitler's troops marched into Poland.
America would be busy manufacturing and testing new aircraft for the many European countries who did
not have the capability to develop and produce aircraft that could compete against the Axis. The
Henderson brothers who managed the races decided they would pursue other interests. Even the site
of the great grandstands would soon be taken over to build the NACA test facility. Perhaps what was
learned by the experience of the men who designed and flew the racers at the National Air races had
a major impact on achieving air superiority over the far advanced German Luftwaffe in a short time.
Many race pilots, either directly or indirectly made major contributions. In 1945, following the end of
WW II, the Cleveland Air Foundation was established. in January of 1946 the Air Foundation of
Cleveland sponsored the first National Aircraft Show that featured a B-29 used in combat and an array
of private aircraft reminiscent of the 1929 Aeronautical Exposition. Ben Franklin, managing director
of the air races stated there would be no foreign participants. The new site for the grandstands would
be directly in front of the Bomber Plant building using the two adjacent hangars (currently being used
by the Army Air Corps as Schlegel Field) to impound the racers after qualifying and until race time.
A number of pre-war race pilots and air show performers returned to Cleveland in1946, some as
participants and many as judges and advisors.
No doubt the largest military presence on record at an air show was in Cleveland
to give the
public a first hand look at the latest combat aircraft developed during the six years since the
last air race here in 1939. General Spaatz, commander of the Army Air Corps was here to
watch the show as the public was treated to the introduction of the "jet age" with the Lockheed
P-80 "Shooting Stars" also known as "yo-yo's' because they could go straight up and straight
down. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Nimitz for the United States Navy was here.
The Army Air Corps opened each days program with a flight of 20 B-29 Superfortresses in
tight formation. Also the US Navy and the Marines Corps also gave the public a "good show".
A few months prior to the opening of the Air Races, Admiral Chester Nimitz, ordered
formation of a US Navy demonstration team to boost Navy morale and demonstrate naval
air power. The team had just transitioned from F-6 Hellcats to the newer F8 Bearcats on
August 25th. Cleveland was one of the first to see them. The underlying mission was to generate
public and political support for a larger allocation of the shrinking defense budget. The team was
assembled and trained in a hurry in fear US Air Corps General Jimmy Doolittle might create a
similar demo team and beat the Navy going public. The team would be named the "Blue Angels".
The United States Marine Corps demonstrated their new aircraft, the Ryan
the first aircraft to be equipped with both a conventional engine and a jet engine.
Troop Carrier Command C-47 demonstrates a glider pick-up.
(Kenn Smith Collection)
Bendix Trophy Race
The Bendix Trophy Race now flown in two divisions, R-division for reciprocating engines
and the J-division for the jet engines flown by the military. The R-division attracted some
22 entries, 4 N. American P-51's, 14 Lockheed P-38's, 2 Bell P-63's, Goodyear FG1
and a Douglas A-26. Most were seasoned pilots except for 18 year old Bill Lear Jr.
Veteran Bendix pilots were Paul Mantz and Jacqueline Cochran. One of the first-timers
was famous Indianapolis 500 race car driver Rex Mays.
The pre to post war Bendix Race was a major change from designer-builder- pilots
to skilled airmen able to push their already state of the art machines to new limits.
The race launch was moved from Burbank to the Van Nuys Airport for the longer
runway and additional ramp space for the 22 entries. Last minute preparations
for those unable to find hangar space were conducted along a blast fence.
Paul Mantz, who flew the pre-war Bendix by now had a sizeable fleet of aircraft
including several P-51's. Mantz choose a "B" model as it was faster than the "D"
model with it's bubble canopy. Mantz consulted with his friend Lockheed Engineer
Kelly Johnson to determine how to fly the route non-stop. Johnson advised him to
"wet the wings", fill all the openings, seal the inside and fill the wings with gasoline.
With 875 gallons of super cold gasoline Mantz was able to fly non-stop and win.
Bendix "R" division
|12||H. L. Marshal||99||F-5G||335.93||6:05:52|
|14||William Lear Jr,||71||F-5G||327.10||6:15:46|
|16||W. A. Fairbrother||58||P-38J||325.29||6:17:53|
* Landed late
** Out, Winslow AZ
*** Returned, mechanical problem
**** Out, Toledo OH
***** Out, Hutchinson KS
Paul Mantz P-51C Jackie Cochran P-51B
Tom Mayson P-51C William Eddy P-51D
James Harp F-5
Donald Huster A-26C
Charles Tucker P-63C Harvey Hughes F-5
Walter Bullock F-5G Harold Johnson F-5G
John Carroll F-5 H L Marshal F-5G
Rex Mays F-5G William Lear Jr. F-5G
Thomas Call F4U W A Fairbrother P-38J
Andrew Grant F-5G John Shields F-5G
John Shields F-5G Spiro Dilles P-63
Herman Salmon P-38L John Yandell P-38
Hasson Calloway P-38
Bendix "J" Division
|1||Col. Leon Gray||PN 465||494.779||4:08:25|
|2||Maj. George Ruddell||PN 347||474.836||4:18:51.2|
1 Out in Kansas, engine trouble.
2 Out in Kansas, engine trouble.
Col. Leon Gray's FP-80A
Halle Trophy Race (Women)
75 miles, 5 laps of a 15 mile course
Marge Hurlburt and her AT-6
SOHIO Trophy Race
240 Miles 8 laps of 30 mile course
|6||James De Santo||51||F-5D||303.682|
Dale Fulton P-51D Bill Ong P-51D
Jack Hardwick F-5G Wilson Newhall P-63C
Earl Ortman P-51D DeSanto F-5F
Charles Bing P-39Q
The Thompson Trophy Race
There were many elements of the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race that differed
New grandstands had to be constructed as the old ones no longer existed. The site had
to be chosen as the NACA laboratory had been built on the site of the pre-war grandstands.
The huge bomber plant complex proved to be ideal location for the spectators and the planes.
The grandstands would be placed next to the north wall of the huge building and the adjacent
hangars now being used by the Army Air Corps Reserve known as Schlegel Field. The large
parking lot and open surrounding fields provided plenty of parking space. The double hangars
were used to impound the planes after they qualified. A new race course was laid out south and
east of the grandstands to avoid flying over homes. Home pylon was placed next to the hangars.
Home pylon was the only conventional type pylon as US Army barrage
balloon's were used
to mark the balance of the quadrangular 30 mile race course.
Three pre war race pilots returned to fly ex WW II fighter planes, Tony
LeVier, Earl Ortman
and Steve Wittman, all of them with a lot of experience flying a race course. Joining them
would be a number of test pilots, some of them helping to develop the very aircraft entered
in the Thompson Trophy Race. Some of the pilots with thousands of hours flying war planes.
Also on hand were pre war race pilots who would be judges, timers and advisors like Benny
Howard, Art Chester and Roscoe Turner who were a great asset. Fred Crawford would
again play a very important role in the resumption of the National Air Races. A problem
with the Thompson Trophy would arise due to the fact that Roscoe Turner had the original
plus the fact there would be two "divisions" of the race, one for prop planes or "R" division
and the "J" division for the new jet aircraft. Two new trophy's had to be created, one for each.
Bell Aircraft's Jack Woolams and Alvin "Tex" Johnson entered a pair of modified P-39
Airacobra's. Woolams red "Cobra I" and Johnson's bright yellow "Cobra II" qualified
at the top of the list. Woolams unhappy with his engine flew back to the factory for a
replacement. During a testflight "Cobra I" crashed into Lake Ontario killing Jack Woolams.
"Cobra I" & "Cobra II" at the Bell
Courtesy of Mark Erickson
Thompson "R" division
300 miles 10 laps of a 30 mile course
|1||Alvin "Tex" Johnson||84||P-39Q||373.908|
|10||H L Pemberton||21||P-63F||304.406|
* Out 1st lap gear stuck
** Out 2nd lap engine problem
"Tex" Johnson P-39Q Tony LeVier P-38L
Earl Ortman P-51D Bruce Raymond P-51D
Robert Swanson P-51D Cook Cleland Goodyear FG -1D
Woody Edmonson P-51D Steve Wittman P-63
Howard Lilly P-63 H. L. Pemberton P-63
Charles Tucker P-63 George Welch P- 51D
Thompson "J" division
|Place||Pilot||Race No||Aircraft||Av. Speed|
|1||Maj. Gus Lindquist||PN 123||P-80A||515.853|
|2||Maj. Robin Olds||PN 027||P-80A||514.715|
|3||Capt. A.M. Fell||PN 309||P-80A||509.382|
|4||Capt J.E. Sullivan||PN 247||P-80A||470.048|
|Lt. Col. R.L. Petit||PN 069||P-80A||1|
|Maj. R.O. Chilstrom||PN 044||P-80A||2|
1 cut a pylon, disqualified
2 Out on 3rd lap, mechanical
Maj. Gus Lundquist
(Kevin Grantham collection)
Maj. Robin Olds
(Kevin Grantham collection)
Capt. J. E. Sullivan
(Kenn Smith Collection)
Photos are from the Hansen collection unless otherwise noted.
Updated Wednesday, March 06, 2013