AFTER COUNTING THE
trophies and money won by "Pete" in the 1930 and 1931 races, Benny
Howard decided that there was money in the race game. He was also aware
that "Pete" was on the way to being outclassed and if he was to remain
in the winner's circle, he would have to do something about it. So early
in 1932 work began on two larger racers. The end result was "Mike" and
"Ike," (they look alike). The two racers were almost identical, the only
difference being in the landing gears. They were both painted snowy
white with shiny black lettering. "Mike" (DGA-4) drew license number
NR-55Y and race number 38, (race number 7 was used, at Omaha)' while
"Ike" (DGA-4), carried NR-56Y and race number 39.
"Mike" at the National Air Races
Both racers were
low-wing, wire braced monoplanes, and like "Pete" were very small and
had a minimum of frontal area. There was a slight difference in weight,
"Ike" being a bit lighter of the two. Both were powered by Menasco
Buccaneer engines of 485 cu. in. displacement, differing in octane
ratings only. The engine in "Ike" was set for a higher octane, thus
giving a little boost in horsepower. The extra horsepower and being a
little lighter may have accounted for "Ike" being the faster of the two
in 1932. Oddly enough, it was always a toss-up as to which of the ships
would be the fastest from year to year.
Wing span of both ships
was 20 ft. 1 in. and the fuselage was 17 ft. Iong. The cockpit in each
case was hinged on the side and closed after the pilot was inside. A
large hole for the pilot's head was left open. Ventilation was assured
by 30 small holes drilled in the windshield. The cockpits were small and
the pilot's seat was level with the rudders. A slight difference
appeared in the engine cowling, with "Mike" having less cooling louvers
than "Ike" but a larger rectangular opening on the left side of the cowl
for cooling. "Mike" had a cowl designed for a spinner, which was never
DGA-4 "Mike" and DGA-5 "Ike"
The landing gears on the
two ships were very different. The gear on "Mike" was similar to that
used on Pete. with the rather large wheels housing an internal shock;
absorbing system needed to meet CAA (then ATC' requirements (both
aircraft were built to these specification-but never certified because
of cancellation of ATC races . "Ike" had a novel tandem gear arrangement
consisting of two small wheels spaced about 20 in. apart and covered by
a single wheel fairing, one on each leg. Howard stated that this was
done for a gag, but the gear did prove rather successful. However,
ground handling and spotting the aircraft in the hangar presented
problems since the wheels did not caster. Single wheels with spats
replaced the original gears on both ships.
Ben Howard entered "Ike"
in six events at the 1932 National Air Races. He flew three of them
himself -taking two firsts and one second. During one of the races he
was pressed closely by Roy Liggett in the Cessna CR-2 with Johnny
Livingston and his short-winged Monocoupe a length behind. Bill Ong ran
fourth in this event but later got "Mike" wound up and took second under
Two major air races
occurred at the same time in 1933, so Howard sent Harold Neumann to the
American Air Races with "Ike". The tandem wheels had been removed and
replaced with normal small panted wheels. This resulted in a weight
saving and improved streamlining so a performance improvement resulted.
Harold participated in only one event, placing third. He was dogged by
engine trouble during the balance of the meet, so he stepped into the
Folkerts SK-1 to finish the races.
Roy Minor and "Mike"
were sent out to take over the Nationals. "Mike" had been modified
considerably. The spinner design for the cowl had been abandoned and the
large rectangular opening on the side was closed. Many of the cowl
louvers were also faired in. A set of small wheels and wheel pants
replaced the large unspatted wheels of 1932.
Minor and "Mike" really
took over the National Air Races of 1933, copping four firsts, two
seconds, two two fifths, two thirds and one fourth. Both ships were
present at the 1934 Nationals, with no apparent changes other than a
recovering job on Mike," whose lettering was now in gold edged with
black. Roy Hunt was in the cockpit of "Mike" and Harold Neumann in
"Ike". Hunt picked up two fifths and .Neumann finished with two fourths.
Best closed course speed for "Ike" this year was 211.55 mph, 30 mph
faster than "Mike".
Jokingly called the 1935
"Benny Howard National Air Races", this was a banner year for Ben. His
racers won the Bendix, Thompson and Greve Trophy races that year.
Ike" was sponsored by
the Chevrolet Division of General Motors and was known as "Miss
Chevrolet". It was equipped with a special carburettor and now held the
worlds inverted speed record. However, the ship did not participate in
the races as Neumann wiped the gear off during qualifying runs. Harold
came back strong winning the Thompson in "Mr. Mulligan" and three firsts
in the 550 cu. in. class with "Mike". Marion McKeen had worked the bugs
out of his new Brown B-2 and gave Neumann some uninvited competition by
finishing less than one mile per hour behind "Mike".
The 1936 Nationals
certainly were not a repeat for Howard. "Mike" was the only one to
finish a race that year. Harold Neumann ran a speed dash in it, clocking
223.714 tnph, which placed him fourth in the Shell event. Joe Jacobson
placed fifth in the Greve and nosed over on landing. The 1936 races
were not profitable to Ben Howard.
DGA-5 "Ike" and Harold Neumann
All American Air Races, Miami 1936
Only "Ike" appeared at
the 1937 Nationals, now travelling with the Fordon-Brown Air Shows. It
did not race as the Menasco was not functioning properly. Both "Ike" and
'Mike" were brought by R. Rovner of Cleveland and were to participate in
the 1939 races, but due to technical difficulties did not appear. The
only visible change was a yellow paint job on each.
'Ike" and "Mike" are
still in existence, located in Ohio where it is rumoured that they are
undergoing restoration. During the racing career of these two ships the
honours for top speed changed hands many times. "Mike" turned a speed
dash of 241.61 mph compared to 239.63 mph for "Ike," but closed course
speed honours went to "Ike" with 215.2 mph, with 214.4 mph for "Mike".
Not much difference in speed performance, yet they differed as much as
30 mph in single events in which both performed. Could it have been
HALLEY'S COMET WENT by
in 1910 and Ben O. Howard whizzed past the spectators at the National
air races, Chicago, in 1930. Both events were equally startling. In
fact, I had expected Halley's Comet, but the comet-like Howard was a
complete surprise to me. Neither before nor since has there been such a
popular racing combination as Bennie and "Pete," the little white plane
with the Gipsy engine, in which he won five first places and finished
third in the Thompson trophy with a speed of 162.80 mph. Since then many
pilots have flown faster, but none have created the sensation that Ben
O. (just plain Oh) Howard created at Chicago in 1930. That was the high
point of his life, everything since then has been a stepping down from
that climactic period of his career-until he finally got married-and
that was the end of him as a speed demon.
His ship won $6,925
prize money, next to the highest amount, won by the Wedell-Williams Air
Service, $13,400. That must have cheered Ben a great deal and sweetened
his outlook on racing, which rather soured on him last year.
Ben Howard was born in
Palestine, Texas, Feb. 4, 1904, and despite his best efforts to avoid
any education whatever, was held in school long enough to finish half a
term in high school, when he leaped clear of all guidance and attached
himself to a soda fountain. They paid him too much money, for one week
he had $10 saved and bought a Standard for the ten, promising to pay
another ten every week for fifteen weeks. Well, next day he sent word
from the hospital that the former owner could have the wreckage of the
craft. Ben had taken it up with enthusiasm, and nothing else. He spent a
hot summer in a plaster cast, which is an uncomfortable way to spend a
hot summer in Texas.
When the 17 year old
flying enthusiast was able to hobble around again, it was that fine
gentleman, the late R. W. Mackie, who gave him some needed flying
lessons in return for mechanical work. This was in Houston in the winter
of 1922, after which Ben flew a year for C. C. Cannon, an oil operator
with drilling operations scattered all over south Texas. He paid for the
Standard he had used up, went to Nicholas-Beazley in the summer of 1924
and then back to Houston to build his first ship, DGA-1. "Mike" and
"Ike" are DGA-4 and DGA-5. DGA stands for. The answer is Damned Good Airplane!
In the spring of 1926
Ben joined J. Don Alexander at Denver, where he stayed two years, was
fired twice, and went to Dearborn to insert rivets in Fords for a month,
then joined Robertson Air Lines in St. Louis to fly J-5 Fords on the
Chicago run. Next spring he was fired by his dear friend, Bud Gurney,
and went to work for T. A. T., which was just starting. By Christmas he
was fired for reasons that seemed adequate to Dog Collins, even if they
didn't to Ben, so he went to work for Universal, flying mail back and
forth between St. Louis and Omaha in Pitcairns and Stearmans, and mail
and passengers from Chicago to Tulsa in F-10's, until he told his boss,
Bob Dentz, a few truths, and got fired in September, 1930 In November he
was working for N. A. T., in time to be canned in December because they
shut down the Stout Airlines.
For a couple of months he rebuilt "Pete"
and then went to work for Bill Bliss, in person, for Century Airlines,
but was offered his job back with N. A. T., so returned to that company,
where he has been ever since, flying between Kansas City and Chicago. He
is careful not to get fired from N. A. T. because he is running out of
airlines. Besides, he's married now and settled down. Probably the
sensible thing to do will be to stay on the airline, and shuttle back
and forth between Kansas City and Chicago until he finally wears out. We
all wear out at something or other - usually something we don't care
especially about. In Ben Howard's case he has an undoubted genius for
designing racing planes - and I hope he designs a dozen more of that
interesting series known as DGA.