Mulligan air racer
Neumann was talking in his relaxed, friendly Midwestern way
about the airplane that amazed the aviation world during one
very busy week, back in 1935. During what has since become
known as the "Benny Howard National Air
really the Cleveland Air Races, but the way Howard and his
airplanes won all the big races, it was no wonder he got
credit for the whole show.
Monocoupe" was, in actuality, Howard's classic "Mr.
Mulligan", a hefty, powerful four-place strut-braced,
high-wing machine that didn't Look
a whole lot like a 1930's racer . . . unless you were
looking at it from dead astern, while trying hopelessly to
catch up with it.
seemed that that year was the Benny Howard
Neumann year. No matter what we did, we lucked out on
it. The year before, that was a bad year," Neumann admitted.
And he was right, for 1934 wasn't much of a year for "Mr.
Mulligan" or anything else Benny Howard tried. Neumann
headed for California and the start of the 1934 Bendix
Transcontinental Race, only to be forced down in Nevada and
wipe out the landing gear of the brand new airplane. Neumann
managed to salvage fourth place in the Thompson Trophy Race
and second place in the Greve Race in Howard's little "Ike",
but they had wanted all the marbles.
Bendix Race was really the beginning. "Mr. Mulligan" was
designed very much for such 2,000-mile grinds, having plenty
of power and fuel, as well as oxygen for the vital
high-altitude flying. Howard, himself, was pilot, with
engineer Gordon Israel as co-pilot. After their single re-fueling
stop at Kansas City, they sped on to Cleveland in an elapsed
time of 8 hours, 33 minutes and 16.3 seconds and an average
speed of 238.704 mph. It was the best speed anyone had made
in a Bendix Race since Jimmy Haizlip had won it in a Wedell-Williams
Racer in 1932. Haizlip wasn't in it this time, but Roscoe
Turner was, flying a Wedell-Williams with almost double the
taken off much later than Howard, and so the race would have
to be decided on elapsed time. After an interminable wait,
Turner sped across the finish line in his gold #57 . . . in
the time of 8 hours, 33 minutes and 39.8 seconds! Just 23~/2
seconds later and .2 mph slower than Howard. The great
Bendix Trophy went to Benny Howard and to "Mr. Mulligan".
In its first
real test, the big white airplane had certainly done its job
well, but much more was soon to be demanded of it. The
all-time classic event of American air racing was the
Thompson Trophy Race, finale of the long National Air Races
program. Howard wanted the stately bronze trophy for his
wanted it, too. Mainly, Roscoe Turner. Edged out in the
Bendix, he had no chance for an unprecedented double win,
but he had taken the Thompson in 1934 and wanted very much
to become the first man to win it twice. Turner had plenty
of experience and a fine airplane with more power than any
other in the race. Very much the dark horse was Steve
Wittman, a veteran of the lower horsepower classes who was
about to enter a completely new airplane of his own design,
the Curtiss-powered "Bonzo".
Mulligan's" pilot was to be Harold Neumann, and here's how
he remembers that big day. "It was a hot day and we got out
on the line, engines runnin' and waitin' for the start. Then
they kept stalling us. They kept holding us there, on the
line. I don't know how long we sat there, but it got very
hot in the cabin . . . engine running all the time, head
temperatures goin' wild. I would guess we were out there 20
or 30 minutes but it seemed like hours, because we were all
keyed up to get goin', and we were just sittin' there.
we finally got goin', I had hopes of being the first around
the (home) pylon, because "Mulligan" was pretty fast on the
getaway. When we got the starting flag, why, I had the
brakes set, of course, and was turnin' the engine up pretty
high. And when the flag dropped, I released the brakes and
shoved up on my throttle and the engine just about quit! It
misfired and shook, and I was about to just give up right at
that time . . . just pull off the throttle and say, 'Well,
was on their way and I had started rolling, so I thought,
'well, I'll at least see how much power I can use and then
make a decision whether I can take off.' So, I set up the
power to where it wasn't shaking so bad, and nursed it off
the ground. According to the movies I have, I was the last
off the ground, and everybody left me.
staggered into the air. I was gambling on the (chance) that
it was sparkplugs fouled up, because they'd been working on
the engine all morning, changing cylinders and whatnot,
because I'd burnt out a cylinder that morning, qualifying.
It hadn't been test-flown or anything. I figured it was
sparkplugs because of sittin' on the ground that long. So,
it was a test flight for the first lap or two . . . just to
see how well the engine would run and if it would clear out.
And it finally did, after a couple of laps, started
smoothing out. So I just set a higher power setting and just
let'er go, and I started ketchin' up to the slower planes
and passing them."
passed his friend (and, later, fellow TWA captain) Roger Don
Rae flying the "San Franciscan", Joe Jacobson in Benny
Howard's "Mike", and Marion McKeen in the bright red "Miss
Los Angeles". "And I finally got up to Steve Wittman,"
Neumann continued, "and he was in second place. When I'd
pull up alongside of him, why, he'd add enough speed to pull
away from me. Well, I just left her alone, 'cause I was
happy that I was doin' as well as I was, with that poor
start. Finally, Steve let me go by, so I figured he was
"So, I was
in second place. I saw Roscoe (Turner) 'way up there, and I
figured there was no use tryin' to catch him. It was getting
close to the finish and I was in second place, so I was very
happy. I came around the home pylon and I saw Roscoe
landing. Of course, I didn't see his pull-out and smoke . .
. that he had engine trouble. It flashed through my mind,
'well, is this the end of the race?' I didn't get my signal
of the finish, so I kept goin', made another lap and I got
the right signal of the finish of the race.
"I came in
and landed, and that's when I found out that I'd won the
race! Because I wasn't sure about anything, up to that
point. It was a poor start and an unknown finish, but that's
the way the racing business is."
odds and traditions, Harold Neumann had won the 1935
Thompson Trophy Race in a four-place
cabin airplane, against a field of custom-built little
racers. Moreover, it was the first-and only- time that one
airplane would ever win the two biggest races at Cleveland
in the same year. That "Mr. Mulligan" was a most significant
racing airplane is beyond serious challenge, but where did
it come from . . . and why?
sort of grew from one thing to another, Harold Neumann
reminisced, a few months ago. "The idea, I think, I had a
little something to do with it. When I was flying the Howard
racers in show work, I had a Lambert (powered) Monocoupe.
Benny and his wife, 'Mike' Howard, would
fly it occasionally, coming to some of the shows, and
he was impressed with that little airplane. One time, he was
flying a Tri-motor Ford, with passengers for NAT, from
Moline to Kansas City. I had left a little ahead of him and
he finally caught me, so we flew along together,
side-by-side. I had a little 90-hp Lambert and he had the
Ford with the big Wasps, and I think that impressed him.
"Then he had
a ride with John Livingston in the clipped-wing 'coupe and
he saw the airspeed reading 200 mph with a 145-hp Warner, so
that can't help but impress a man like Benny Howard, who
loved to build airplanes. So (Eddie Fisher told me this,
himself), Benny one day, just says, 'Eddie, how'd you like
to draw up some sketches of a big Monocoupe?' Which Eddie
did. They started out around the 550hp Wasp Senior, and it
was test-flown with that. Then, it was just when they came
out with the engine with the big blower on, that put out 750
"I think, in
the back of his mind, he was thinking about building a
commercial plane. But he wanted to earn some money, and this
was one way of doing it. He was always kidding around with
Walter Beech-Beech had the biplane with retractable gear
(the classic Staggerwing)-and Benny always told him he could
build an airplane that was just as fast, if not faster, with
the landing gear out."
Mulligan" appeared on the starting line for the Bendix Race,
it was more or less in its element. Most of the other
entrants were big cross-country machines: Northrop Gamma,
Lockheed Orion, Lockheed Vega. But when it came time for the
Thompson Trophy Race around a 15-mile pylon course, it was
another matter, for almost all the other airplanes on the
line were conventional little racers. How did Neumann feel?
Was he out of place, sitting there in a formal cabin
"You have to
go back to . . . what has the man done before? Benny Howard
had already proven that he was a successful designer and
engineer, and had the know-how. He
was always shooting high . . . to do something that nobody
else had done, or was afraid to do. Just like when Steve
Wittman showed up with his first little midget racer. We
just shook our heads; we didn't see how it could do the job,
but he proved us wrong.
it was with 'Mulligan': It was big, but when you saw that
big engine up front . . . Power is what it takes, up to a
point, at least. And a clean airplane. The reason 'Mulligan'
was as successful as it was, because the round engine worked
out well in a large fuselage. That's the reason the
Monocoupe was good with a round engine. I have a 145-hp
Warner (radial engine) in my plane and I imagine I can get
as much speed out of it - maybe even more- than somebody
with a flat engine."
Mulligan" had won both the Bendix and the Thompson, it
probably should have been retired, but that's not what
champion racing planes are for. It was entered in the 1936
Bendix Race, with Benny Howard as pilot and his wife as
co-pilot. A little more than two hours short of the finish
at Los Angeles, "Mulligan" broke its propeller. The crash
landing was made on the Colorado Plateau in north-western
New Mexico where the Howards were finally pulled out of the
wreckage by Indians and taken to a hospital, where they
Much of the
remains of the racer were soon removed and its life
supposedly ended. But in 1970, a California Howard
enthusiast, R. W. Reichardt, embarked on an expedition to
the site, eventually locating it with the aid of an old
Navajo who remembered seeing the racer crash, 34 years
before. A lot of parts were salvaged, having been preserved
by the dry, mountain climate, and Reichardt has set out to
reconstruct the famous airplane. Its second first flight is
expected to take place in late 1974 or early 1975.
Neumann, now well into his 60's, be interested in once again
flying the airplane which carried him into the history books
almost 40 years ago? "Yes, I would! I've flown my 'coupe
since I retired from TWA in 1966 and I feel good about it.
It took me a little while to get back in the groove, but I
think I could take 'Mulligan' or any airplane resembling it
and fly it. Anybody who's flown a Howard DGA-15 would be
qualified to fly 'Mulligan', if he doesn't get carried away
with the idea that it's a hotrod and gets all worked up
about it. The airplane was just wonderful, and all you'd
have to do is be a pilot, to fly it.