JIMMY WEDELL (PRONOUNCED
WE-dell) who had only a ninth grade education, couldn't read
a blue print and was denied Army and Navy pilot training,
not only became one of the great race pilots of the country,
but also one of the greatest and most prolific designers and
builders of racing aircraft. During the period 1931 to 1936
the Wedell-Williams race jobs took more than their share of
firsts Second. third and fourth places were also filled by
Jimmy's speed steeds.
Texas City. Texas on March 31, 1900, James Roben Wedell's
father. a bartender on the tough water front) and his mother
died when he and his younger brother, Walter, were infants.
Thus, from the start, the two brothers were on their own.
Jimmy was very interested in gasoline engines and at an
early age started working for an auto mechanic. Later using
a 10 ft. x 10 ft. building, he opened his own garage.
Granted this was not large enough to get the flivvers in.
but the rent was cheap and Jim was able to work on the auto
outside the building.
same period. Walter became a telegraph operator for the
railroad. Despite the difference in jobs. when the two
brothers got together. aviation and flying were the main
topics of conversation. Finally, Jim scraped together enough
money and purchased two old Thomas Morse airplanes. Both
planes were basket cases and needed r rebuilding. But Jim
met the challenge, rebuilt them and then had Francis Rust,
an old barnstormer, give him one hour of flight instruction.
From this point forward Jim and the Thomas Morses were on
Walter to fly and the two barnstormed throughout the Gulf
Coast area. But money was scarce and Walter joined the Navy
as a telegraph operator for a four year hitch. At this
point, Jimmy travelled south into Mexico and became known as
the "Air-Hobo" from Texas. He had lost the sight of one eye
during his youth, the accident occurring during a wild
motorcycle ride, but Jim continued with life just as if he
had the sight of both eyes and was given the name Senior Don
Jaime, El Gatilan De La Noche-Sir James, the Night Hawk. He
was the one living pi lot who could attend a very wild
party, lace a foundation of Mexican beer with Mexican
tequila and then jump into his airplane, fly through the
dark Mexican sky and land on a rutted landing strip of sand,
cactus and mesquite, lighted only by small flares or
When Walter finished his hitch
in the Navy he joined Jimmy in Mexico and using two
airplanes they flew many mysterious midnight missions.
Although many of these were questionable, involving guns,
liquor, contraband, Mexican Generals and revolutions, Jim
and Walter were never in real serious trouble. At least none
that they couldn't fly out of.
that everything the Wedell brothers did had to be
spectacular, so when Walter and Henrietta Filiberto of New
Orleans decided to get married in 1929, and they agreed that
the wedding should take place in the air. They gave it the
full treatment with flower girls spreading the flowers to
the Ryan wedding plane. Jimmy was the pilot and also best
man. The music was furnished by a local radio station so
that all in the New Orleans area could listen.
It was in this wild period that
Jimmy began to get ideas about planes he was flying and what
he might do to improve their performance. He contacted Harry
Palmerson Williams, a wealthy planter and lumberman.
Williams wanted to buy an airplane and Jim had one to sell.
Not only did Jim sell him the airplane but taught him to
fly-and fly well. During this instruction period Jim also
sold himself, and Harry Williams backed his belief in
Wedell's ability with two million dollars, an almost unheard
of sum for those days. This gave Jimmy a chance to achieve
his lifetime ambition, to build an airplane of his own
design, to get the speed and safety he wanted and not have
to stop every few days to barnstorm for gas and hamburger
money. With Harry Williams backing him, the Wedell-Williams
Air Service, Inc. (1928), was organized. Jimmy Wedell was
appointed President and told to go ahead and build his
airplanes by eye, as the untrained musician plays by ear,
but they flew and they were fast. He wanted to build the
fastest, safest fighting and mail planes in the world. At
the same time he wanted them safe enough for the average
pilot to fly at a top speed of 400 mph plus. Work began with
Jimmy drawing some chalk lines on the hanger floor. This
roughed out the size and shape of the first Wedell Williams
Special. From this Walter Wedell, Charles (Frenchy) Fortune,
Eddie Robertson and Jimmy started welding. Periodically, Jim
would cock his head and state, "That looks about right for
length or span," and not until the racer was finished, was
the actual measurement made of the total length or wing
true, to a great degree, with the construction of all the
Wedell-Williams racers. The results of the first project was
a low wing, Hisso-powered racer carrying license number
NR278V. It would be later twice revamped to become the
famous Wedell No. 44.
December of 1929, rebuilding and revamping began on number
44. It was to be entered in the January 1930 Miami Air
Races, so time was short and the midnight oil burned freely.
As race time approached, it became more evident that the
project would not meet the deadline, still work continued.
Then late in January (too late for the race), the bullet
nosed 180 hp V-8 Hisso-powered racer emerged from the
hangar. A tightly cowled V-type engine gave the racer the
appearance of the Verville R-3 Speedster of 1924. Its
landing gear assembly was set-up for a full speed fairing,
from the bottom of the wings to just below the wheel axle.
Small pants covered the wheels only and the remainder of the
assembly was not faired. The wing span measured 30', length
24'8": the paint job was scarlet and silver and she
unofficially timed at 210 mph.
year 1930, Wedell-Williams produced three racing aircraft.
First the No. 44 NR-278V already mentioned, another model 44
which would become famous as No. 92-NR-536V tin fact during
1930 these two racers participated in several match r aces)
and a Cirrus powered job ~ NR-10337) to be entered in the
1930 American Cirrus Derby. They all had something in
common. Each took approximately 90 days to build and each
was painted scarlet and silver; all parts were scarlet
except the wings and horizontal tail surfaces which were
silver. Their race numbers were 90, 91 (44), and 92.
job was dubbed "WeWill, Jr." and was powered by an inverted
four cylinder super-charged hi-drive Cirrus engine rated at
110 hp at 2100 rpm. Wing area of the racer was 120 square
feet, gross weight 1440 pounds and top speed estimated at
170 mph. A small, streamlined red spinner covered the prop
hub while the landing gear and wheels that had been set up
for full speed fairings remained uncovered. Time had not
permitted the construction of the streamlined fairings. "WeWill,
Jr." was licensed NR-10337 and drew race number 17 for the
5,541 mile, 16 leg cross country race. Twenty-five thousand
dollars was the prize money that "WeWill, Jr." would be
vying for. The race started in Detroit, east and then south
through Texas, across the southern U.S. to California and
back to the northern route to Detroit. A tough go for both
pilots and planes as every type of terrain and flying
condition would be encountered.
first legs of the race, Jimmy fought and exchanged first
spot with Lee Gelbach in the "Little Rocket," and Lowell
Bayles in the "Gee Bee". However, as the race continued it
appeared that the Wedell was faster but the "Little Rocket"
more dependable. Arriving in Los Angeles and still fighting
for first, Jim decided the Cirrus needed a bit of repair He
flew "WeWill, Jr." to the Lockheed factory for the engine
work, plus installation of wheel fairings, the type that
later appeared on Northrop airplanes~. This work was
accomplished during the night and Jim and the racer were at
the starting line the following morning. He fired the Cirrus
up, checked her power and blasted off into the dawn. But not
for long. At 100 feet the Cirrus froze and the prop stopped
dead. With no altitude to play with, Jim crash landed
straight ahead shearing off the new landing gear and
damaging both wings. This eliminated "WeWill, Jr." from any
thoughts of first spot in the Derby, but work began
immediately to salvage what could be from the race.
Twenty-four hours later, and with no sleep, Jim took to the
air, ( less wheel fairings and with repaired wings', in
pursuit of the leaders.
throttle - all the way to the firewall - the throttle
position Jim maintained during the balance of the Derby), "WeWill,
Jr." went, but the lost time was too great and Wedell
finished eighth, and collected $1,600.00 in prize money.
1930, "WeWill, Jr." appeared at the Chicago National Air
Races. Race number 90 replaced No. 17 and small pants
covered only the wheels. During these events Jimmy placed
third in the 350 cu. in. free-for-all ( 140.08 mph) and
fifth in the 450 cu. in. free-for-all ( 132.24 mph).
did not appear again until 1932, and then with a very new
look. Completely rebuilt to vie for lower power class race
money, "WeWill, Jr." had its wings clipped about eight
inches and its fuselage shortened by four inches. A new
streamlined landing gear with wheel pants, a closer cowled
engine, and a new propeller spinner all helped the "WeWill,
Jr." look like a new airplane. Even a new license number of
NR60Y was acquired with a new designation of Model 22 (1/z
size 44) was assigned to its design. However, for one reason
or another the now two tone blue (dark and light), racer did
not appear at the 1932 National Air Races, but did appear at
smaller races in the south including New Orleans and Baton
1933, NR60Y appeared with another change. A six cylinder 489
cu. in. Menasco power plant replaced the Cirrus. Test
flights were made on April 21, 1933 and the ship was readied
for the National Air Races which were to be held during
July. The racer retained the two tone blue paint job, but
race number 54 replaced 22. Again disaster struck, and again
in Los Angeles during the Nationals. A fire on the ground
eliminated NR60Y from the 1933 Nationals. All the fabric was
burned from the fuselage and the racer was then pushed into
the corner of the hangar and its Menasco engine was removed.
After the 1933 event the engine was shipped back to
Patterson and the balance of the aircraft remained in Los
Angeles where it was purchased by Dave Elmendorf.
model 22 had been built and the Menasco from NR60Y was
placed in this frame. The second model 22 differed from the
original in the shape of the fuselage and empennage. Wings
and cowl were definitely Wedell, but the aft section had
been built by Delgado Trade School of New Orleans and
resembled their racers of later years-in fact the empennage
and fuselage were almost identical with the "Delgado Maid"
and "Flash". Jimmy loaded the airframe and engine on a truck
and took off for the International Air Races in Chicago.
Arriving at Chicago, Jim assembled the plane and completed
the installation of the Menasco from NR60Y. This work was
completed the starting day of the races,1 September,1933,
and a 15 minute test hop was the only flying Jim had time
for. Model 22-No.2 was licensed NR64Y and earned race number
22 on its flanks. Air Race blanks show that the ship was
entered with race number 54, this would indicate that Jim
planned to race NR60Y at these races and the fire in Los
Angeles necessitated the change of airplanes.
participated in only one event. Jim pulled out after the
first lap as the engine was not functioning well enough to
continue this event or enter any subsequent races. There was
no time for engine repair as Jim also had the Model 44 at
the races, so 64Y was pushed to the corner of the hangar
until the International Air Races were completed. After the
race the little racer was disassembled and trucked back to
Patterson, Louisiana. Later Jim made one more attempt with
it. He reassembled the racer and on 25 February, 1934 flew a
20 minute test hop. Performance of the airplane was not
acceptable so the Menasco engine was removed, and the
remainder of the racer was donated to Louisiana State
not appear again until 1935, this time wearing its original
race number 22 and a red and silver paint job. Dave
Elmendorf had purchased the ship and was the pilot during
the National Air Races. He placed seventh in the Greve
Trophy Race and fourth in one of the Greve preliminary heats
with a speed of 176.016 mph. This was the last record in
NR60Y's race history.
Now back to
the other two racers Wedell built in 1930. First, NR-278V
(Race No. 91) mentioned earlier. Jimmy entered this racer in
the 1930 Los Angeles to Chicago cross country race and was
leading until the Hisso broke an oil line forcing him to
land in Texas. Wedell finished the trip to Chicago by
commercial-transportation, arriving just in time to fly "WeWill
Jr." in the first event. Later he returned to Texas,
repaired the oil line and engine and flew No. 91 back to
Patterson, Louisiana for revamping.
the 1931 version of NR-278V would later become the famous
No. 44. A full remodelling job resulted in a 23' fuselage,
26' wing span and a Pratt and Whitney replacing the Hisso.
Exceptionally clean lines extended throughout the entire
aircraft. A streamlined NACA cowl -so small that faired
bulges were needed to allow room for the cylinder arms
-housed the 550 hp Wasp Jr. Pratt and Whitney engine. Pants
covered the wheels, and the gear itself consisted of two
narrow, well faired struts.
had a great love for guns, maybe his Mexican experience
developed it, nevertheless, he was an expert marksman and
this is where the Model 44 and 22 originated. On the side of
the Model 44 was painted a pistol, with a printed legend:
"Hot as a 44 and Twice as Fast".
with this pattern, race No. 44 was added to the wings and
fuselage, a number the ship would retain throughout its
entire race career. Thirty hand rubbed coats of red and gold
dope gave the racer a finish that reflected like a mirror
and looked elbow deep.
This was the
year Wedell racers started to click. Trailing Lowell Bayles
in the "Gee Bee," Jimmy and No. 44 finished second in the
Thompson Trophy Race with a speed of 227.99 mph. He also
placed second in the free-for all at 221.0 mph and third in
the 1000 cu. in. event, with a sour engine, at 167.106 mph.
After the 1931 Nationals Jimmy did some engine tuning on the
ship and turned a speed of 255 mph. He also set a cross
country record (Three Flags Race) that started at Ottawa,
Canada, went on to Washington, D.C., and thence to Mexico
City. Jimmy and No. 44 started out at dawn, streaked to
Washington, D. C., refueled and took to the air for
Patterson, Louisiana. A quick stop at Patterson for fuel,
then into the sunset and Mexico City, all in 11 hours and 59
minutes. This was quite a feat for this era and in doing so
Jimmy broke the 12 hours 36 minute record set by Jimmy
Doolittle and his Laird "Super Solution".
winter months of 1931-1932, Wedell and his crew were busy
building and rebuilding racers. He completely revamped No.
44 and in the process shortened the fuselage another two
feet. The supercharged Wasp Jr. was retained but a smooth
cowl replaced the 1931 bulge. This would indicate that
Wedell went to a larger cowl. Perhaps the smaller cowl had
given some cooling problems. A new high gloss red and black
paint job that would remain on the racer for the balance of
its career, reflected the many hours of sanding and
the remodelling of No. 44, the previously mentioned No. 92
was undergoing revamping. No. 92 would also be a Model 44
with outward appearance very similar to NR-278V. However,
the landing gear legs extended from the wings in almost a
straight line while No. 44 angled out a bit. In addition to
these two, a third racer was being constructed for Roscoe
Turner. This, too, was about identical to No.44, except
internally. Extra bracing had been placed in the wing and
fuselage area, causing the wings to flex less than in the
other racers. Licensed NR-54Y, it had a very short career as
it crashed on the third test flight.
taken the racer aloft for the test, to check its performance
at altitude and all had appeared normal. Then came the
ultimate test, a flight virtually at ground level with
wide-open throttle. He would try for 300 mph, starting in a
shallow dive then levelling off to streak across the field.
low he seemed barely to clear the tops of the standing sugar
cane in the fields adjacent to the airport Jimmy-seated on
some 30 pounds of iron to make up for the difference between
his weight and Col. Turner's- came roaring toward the
airport. Just as he reached the edge of the airport, a wing
flutter developed causing a main wing flying wire to snap.
At this point the left wing seemed to explode and collapsed.
Jimmy literally rode the engine to a safe altitude at which
point he bailed out just as the racer disintegrated. His
parachute opened and he landed safely minus one shoe that
never was found.
remainder of the plane crashed nearby, leaving only a cupful
of jewelled bearings from the instrument panel as salvage
material. Reason for the crash was the rigidity of the wings
causing the left one to snap off instead of flexing.
Company had sponsored the building of this racer for Turner,
so construction of another ship started immediately. This
was completed in time for the National Air Races and 1932
proved to be a banner year for the three big Wedell-Williams
racers. They chalked up two firsts, five seconds, three
thirds and two fourths. These included a first, second and
third in the Bendix Race, a second, third and fourth in both
the Thompson Trophy Race and the Shell Speed Dashes. Yes,
Jimmy had his racers really cleaned up.
own No. 44 Wedell placed second in the Bendix (232 mph),
Thompson (242.50 mph), Shell Speed Dashes (277.06) and 1000
cubic-inch event 202.74 mph).
Wedell was back at the Nationals with his fast No. 44. He
had replaced the fabric around the cockpit area with
aluminium as he felt that the fabric in this area was a
source of drag. He lost no time letting the other race
pilots know that he was after the money.
off season Jimmy made the engine and cowl installation more
flexible and it required only six hours to change front the
Wasp Jr. to the Wasp Sr. Then, on the 24th of June 1934,
Jimmy Wedell was killed in an air crash. The crash occurred
while flying his Moth aircraft and giving Frank Sneering a
student pilot from Mobile, Alabama, instructions. The
aviation society had lost a great member of their team, one
who had given much of himself and still had so much more to
offer. He took to the grave with him many advancements and
designs but many others that he introduced into aviation
live on. He established many records that are not listed
herein and placed his name in racing history where it lives
Davis (1929 winner of the Thompson Cup Race was picked as
pilot for the famous No. 44 during the 1934 Nationals. The
engine change was used at the Nationals, so the racers No.
44 and No. 45) appeared both with a bulge cowl and smooth
cowl. Davis pushed the black and red Wasp Jr. powered racer
to first spot in the Bendix, beating out Wedell's last
design, No. 45. His speed for the Bendix was 216.24 mph. He
also won the first spot in the 1000 cubic-inch race with a
speed of 220.95 mph and turned in a speed of 246 mph in the
Shell Speed Dash. The Wasp Jr. was then replaced by the Wasp
Sr. out of No. 45) and the smooth cowl was replaced by the
bulge cowl also out of 45.
engine, Davis flew over the Shell course at 306.216 mph. One
lap was turned at a speed of 325 mph. This speed picked up
the first spot in the 1934 Shell Speed Dashes. Turner placed
second and Johnny Worthen placed third and fourth flying the
Wedell 45 and 92. Before the Thompson, Davis complained
about the shortness of the course and also not being
familiar with the position of the pylons. He almost withdrew
from the race. In fact, he was supposed to have flown this
ship in the 1932 Thompson but his wife talked him out of it.
However, this time she consented to let him fly the race but
refused to watch it. Doug and the black and red piece of
dynamite were first off the ground and he poured on the coal
to increase his lead. Going into the eighth lap he was
leading the pack with a speed of 253 mph and still pouring
it on. On the next pylon, not wanting to be disqualified by
cutting too short, he pulled the No. 44 into a very tight
turn to re circle. The little ship loaded to the extreme
with "G's" shuddered and went into a high speed stall,
snapped into a spin and plunged to the ground. Davis was
killed instantly. Again, another great in aviation was lost
but not before he contributed much to the thing he loved
Of the three
original racers built by Jimmy Wedell in 1930, the one not
covered as yet is NR-536V or No. 92. Nicknamed "WeWinc," No.
92 had been built as a two place sport plane with the
possibility of developing it into a fast mail plane. It also
was a low wing job with the same type of wheel pants that
were originally fitted to the Cirrus and No. 44. Powerplant
for the 1930 version of "WeWinc" was a Townsend ring cowled
225 hp Wright J6-7 765 cu. in.) engine. Its wing span was
30', length 22' and it carried the Wedell red and silver
paint job. During the Nationals the front pit was covered,
and full (Northrup type) skirts covered the entire landing
gear assembly. With 92 as a racer number and Errett Williams
the pilot "WeWinc" placed second in the 1000 cu. in. event
(159.07 mph ), second in the 800 cu. in. (161.73 mph) and
sneaked in fourth in an additional 1000 cu. in. race (150.75
mph). Speeds for the winners of these events were 162.62 and
162.43 mph, indicating that Errett was always in contention.
"WeWinc" was entered in the Thompson Trophy Race but was
forced out by engine trouble on the eighth lap.
Orleans" was back at the Nationals in 1933, with no changes
except the pilot and a slight change in paint design. Jimmy
Hazilip had retired from the race game, so Lee Gehlbach, who
flew the "Gee Bee" R-2 in the '32 races and the Commadaire
"Little Rocket" to victory in the 1930 Cirrus Derby, took
over the controls of No. 92. During the Bendix, Lee was
running short of fuel. He was east of Indianapolis but felt
he could make it. Then with the airport in sight, the
Pratt-Whitney quit and Lee started a glide to the field.
Glide angle is not very good on racing aircraft and Lee
ended up one mile short, in a corn field. Damage was slight
and with minor repairs and fuel, the race was continued on
to Los Angeles, but not in time to place. Later Gehlbach
flew the ship to second place in the Thompson 224.95 mph),
second in the 1000 cu. in. race at 192.93 mph) and slipped
to third in the Shell Dash (251.93). Mae Hazilip again tried
her luck and skill in the woman's race. This time she won
with a speed of 168.22 mph.
Wedell- Williams race pilots appeared in 1934. Walter
Williams Jimmy's brother) and John Worthen (an associate of
the Wedell-Williams Air Service, Inc.) divided their pilot
time between No. 92 and No. 45. Walter really hated racing
but after the death of Jim, figured he should attempt to
take over where Jim had left off. He had idolized Jim and
his racing. After Jim's death, Walter became more and more
against flying but continued in the manner he felt Jim would
have wanted. Walter flew No. 92 to second place in the 1000
cu. in. event, (219.50 mph). Walter placed third in the
Thompson (208.38) and fourth in the Shell Dash `248.91 mph)
with the same racer.
Old No. 92
did not appear in the 1935 or '36 National Air Races. In
1936 this ship was bought by Jack Wright of Utica, New York.
Wright made no changes on the racer except to paint the name
"Utican" on the cowl. He picked Art Davis as the pilot for
the ship and entered it in the 1937 National Air Races.
Unfortunately, Davis nosed the racer over on the way to the
starting point of the Bendix and was unable to get the ship
repaired in time for the balance of the '37 races.
the New York State Aviation School reconditioned the ship
for the races. The paint job was all white and a new
constant-speed propeller was fitted to the nose. A new
cockpit and windshield also changed the looks of old No. 92.
But trouble again hit and the "Utican" and Lee Gehlbach, who
once again sat in the cockpit, was forced out of the Bendix.
old racer that had participated in the Nationals since 1930
was bought by Woody Edmondson ~famous Monocoupe stunt pilot)
but the coming of World War II stopped any modifications
planned for the racer and during these war years she became
the victim of salvage and supplied tubing and parts to keep
other aircraft flying.
Turner's "Gilmore Special" was the third Model 44 present at
the 1932 races. This was NR61Y the second built for Turner
after his first NR54Y crashed during tests. Painted a
beautiful bronze gold and trimmed in red with the Gilmore
Lion and race number 121 displayed on the side of the
fuselage, the racer presented a picture of speed for its
Gilmore Oil Company sponsor. Colonel Turner placed third in
the Bendix (226 mph), Thompson 233 mph) and Shell Dash
(266.67 mph) each time following No. 44 across the finish
line. Later the same year Turner lost his sponsor but being
quite a promoter he acquired movie stars Miriam Hopkins,
Bebe Daniels, Constance Bennett, and Carol Lombard as
with third spots, Turner showed up at the 1933 Nationals
with a new Wasp Sr. engine in his racer. As mentioned, the
Gilmore people no longer sponsored the ship, but the Gilmore
paint job still decorated the wings while the fuselage had a
new paint job and on the side in bold letters was painted
"20th Century Pictures-The Bowery". A new race number 2,
replaced 121 and the engine cowl for the Wasp Sr. was
burnished metal. The 1933 races netted Turner some firsts
but also threw him a curve when he was disqualified from
winning the Thompson for cutting a pylon. He did circle the
pylon, but not on the same lap as the rules called for. He
had led the Thompson with a speed of 241.03 mph but when
disqualified the first spot went to Jimmy Wedell with a
speed of 237.05 mph. Roscoe, however, did pick up a first in
the Bendix (214.78 mph) and a first in the Shell Dashes at
years 1932 and 1933, Turner set many inter-city and coast to
coast records selling aviation and giving his sponsors a
real show for their money. Late in 1933, Chicago played host
to the International Air Races and Roscoe again settled for
second behind Wedell. Jim had exchanged his Wasp Jr. for a
Wasp Sr. and outran Turner by 15 miles an hour. Turner's
speed for the Shell Dash was 289.9 mph and Jim's 305.33 mph.
The only change Roscoe had made in his ship was the removing
of the "20th Century Pictures" and replacing it with "Ring
Free Special". The racer was entered in the International
Races with race number 17, but it is doubtful if that number
was ever painted on it.
trimming he had taken from No. 44, Turner removed the Wasp
Sr. 1344 cu. in. engine and replaced it with a 1690 cu. in.
1000 hp Hornet engine. A smooth cowl was used at first but
later, because of the large frontal area, changed to a
tighter fitting smaller cowl with fairing bumps for the
rocker arms. The racer sported a new race number 57 for
Roscoe's latest sponsor, the H. J. Heinz Company and their
57 varieties of canned foods. Turner won the Thompson Trophy
Race with a speed of 248.13 mph. Davis had been leading at
the time of his crash with a speed of 253 mph. Turner
followed Davis in the Shell Speed Dash with speeds of
306.215 mph and 295.47 mph for the first and second places.
a few minor changes on the racer before the 1935 National
Air Races. He had gone to the largest possible engine, so
could do nothing more in that line. He was no longer
sponsored by the Heinz Co. Number 57 was no longer in a red
disc (Heinz Trade Mark), but merely painted as a normal race
number: In the Bendix of 1935 Turner was beaten out by Benny
Howard and his "Mr. Mulligan". The time difference being a
mere 23.5 seconds.
in the lead during the race and going away when his engine
faltered and smoke filled the cockpit; a trail of thick
black smoke belched from under the cowl and streamed behind
the gold racer. Roscoe limbed for altitude, the item he
would need for a bailout or to pick a piece of real estate
to set the hot little racer on. He could only hope it wasn't
on fire and that it might not blow at any minute. He did get
enough altitude to nurse the racer over the airport fence,
but only by inches. Immediately after crossing the fence she
fell out from under him and bounced in for a very hard
landing, but his aircraft was saved. Once again fate had
dealt him a losing hand in the Thompson race. Investigation
revealed that the engine had thrown a supercharger blade
causing loss of oil and an engine seizure.
It was hard
luck again in 1936 as Roscoe encountered engine stoppage
while over very rough terrain in New Mexico. He was enroute
to New York, the starting point of the Bendix when the
engine faltered. With no desirable place to land, Roscoe
picked the smoothest of the undesirable. Hitting down very
hard and in deep ruts, the ship now wearing race No. 67, dug
its landing gear into the earth, the prop and engine hit the
ground and the fuselage broke in two just aft of the
cockpit. Roscoe was unhurt but the plane was beyond quick
repair and Turner was forced to observe the National Air
Races as a spectator. He shipped the racer to Matty Laird in
Chicago for rebuilding and it came out looking no different
than old No. 57, except the fuselage was shortened a few
inches. Roscoe had picked up a new sponsor and the ship was
now known as "Ring Free Comet". A bright comet and race No.
25 was added to the sides of the gold fuselage. Other than
these, the racer appeared unchanged. Joe Mackey was now the
pilot as Roscoe had moved into his new Turner Laird Brown
Racer. Mackey didn't have much better luck than Roscoe had
in 1935 and 1936. He was forced out of the Bendix and after
qualifying second highest in the Thompson time trials with a
speed of 247.03 mph he was forced out on the 17th lap.
In 1938, the
"Ring Free Comet" was rolled out of the hangar for the
races. It had been stored all year and received nothing more
than a rubdown before the races. Joe Mackey again flew the
racer. This time he placed fifth in the Thompson with a
speed of 249.63 mph.
1939 was a
duplication of 1938. Old "Comet" was rolled out for the
National Air Races, dusted off and fired up. Mackey pushed
No. 25 to sixth spot in~ the Thompson Trophy Race, the only
event entered, with a speed of 232.93 mph. This was the
racer's seventh season and the ship was getting outclassed.
The war years, perhaps, hastened the retirement of No. 25
and it now sits in the Thompson Museum at Cleveland, Ohio.
design prior to his death was the Model 45, NR62Y. This ship
was built in 1933 and tested by Jim in June. Differing from
the other Wedell Williams racers, No. 45 had full cantilever
wings and a retractable landing gear. Its design was bought
by the Army Air Service (design only) and designated the
XP-34. Model 45 was powered with the Wasp Sr. out of No. 44
and the two engines were interchangeable. Her paint job was
red with a black cowl and gear panels, and as expected, she
carried race No. 45 on her fuselage and wings. First
unveiled in February, 1934 at the Pan American Air Races,
New Orleans, with Jimmy Wedell at the controls, she turned a
speed of 264.703 mph. Wedell's untimely death prevented him
from getting the bugs worked out of the Model 45. However at
the 1934 National Air Races, John Worthen flew the ship to
second place in the Bendix race. He averaged 203.13 miles an
hour and could have taken first had he not overshot
Cleveland and landed at Erie. In the Shell Speed Dashes,
Worthen turned 302.36 mph with the Wasp Sr. and 292.14 with
the Wasp Jr. After the crash of No. 44, it was decided not
to fly back to Patterson with the Wasp Jr. engine and it was
shipped back and later donated to Louisiana State
had designed and was in the process of building a long
distance racer for the MacRobertson Race, London, England,
to Melbourne, Australia. This project ended with Wedell's
death. A year later, his brother, Walter, died in
an-unexplained air crash, also Harry Williams and Red
Worthen. So ended the wonderful years of the Wedell-Williams
Air Service and its racing airplane.
years Wedell-Williams chalked up many victories in smaller
races not contained herein. Their records were most
impressive. At the Nationals alone, 1931 to 1935, they
finished the Thompson with two firsts, three seconds and two
thirds; the Bendix with three firsts, three seconds and one
third; the Shell Dashes with three firsts, five seconds and
two thirds. They did this using less horsepower than their
"Gilmore - Red
In 1932, Roscoe
Turner, with the financial backing of the Gilmore Oil
Company, commissioned the Wedell Williams Air Service
Corporation to construct a racing airplane. The airplane was
to be the third in a series of almost identical ships known
as the Wedell Williams Model 44s. The first version of
Turner's Wedell broke apart in mid-air during a test flight,
but the airplane's designer and test pilot, Jimmy Wedell,
was able to bail out. The second version was strengthened
and delivered to Turner during the summer of 1932.
Turner with his Wedell-Williams "Gilmore - Red Lion" racer
at the 1932 Cleveland National Air Races.
colourful red and cream paint scheme, Turner flew his Wedell
to third place in both the 1932 Bendix and Thompson trophy
races. In 1933, Turner purchased the airplane from the
Gilmore Oil Company and replaced its 550 hp Pratt & Whitney
Wasp Jr. engine with a more powerful 800 hp Pratt & Whitney
Wasp Sr. The new engine won him the Bendix trophy in 1933,
but he was disqualified from winning the Thompson Trophy
Race because he flew inside one of the race pylons. Still
not satisfied with the power of his Wedell, Turner once
again upgraded his engine to a 1000 hp Pratt & Whitney
Hornet and went on to win the 1934 Thompson Trophy Race.
Turner in the Wedell finished a close second in the Bendix
race but mechanical problems forced him out of that year's
Thompson Trophy Race. Turner's bad luck continued when he
crash landed on his way to the start of the 1937 Bendix
race. The Wedell was rebuilt by Matty Laird at his Chicago
factory in only ninety days. But by the time it was ready to
race again, Turner had already taken delivery of a new more
powerful racer, the LTR-14. The job of flying the Wedell in
the 1937-39 National Air Races was then given to Joe Mackey,
a long time associate of Roscoe Turner. Mackey was never
able to finish better than fifth place with the Wedell.
1939 National Air Races, the now obsolete racer was stored
in a Cleveland Airport Hanger. In 1947, Frederick Crawford
acquired the former champion for the Thompson Products Auto
Album and Aviation Museum in exchange for paying off
Turner's substantial back storage bills.
aircraft on display was restored to its appearance at the
1939 National Air Races.
Wedell Williams Model 44
1020 hp Pratt & Whitney 1690 Hornet
Maximum speed 295.47 mph
2492 lb. empty; 3892 lb. gross
Span 26 ft. 2 in.; Length 21 ft. 3 in.