B3 Travel Air Co

How Wichita Kansas became "the Air Capital" (3)

The Laird Company is doing very well at the end of the war in comparison to the other companies in the country. Jake Moellendick takes the lead and does not always ask Laird's opinion to reorganize the company. It turns out to be capricious and demanding, but his temperament of driving has led the Laird Airplane Company to become efficient and especially the first to sell commercial aircraft by making comfortable gains.

Walter Beech, unemployed and looking for a job arrives in Wichita in 1921. Jake decides to hire him as a test pilot on a day when Laird was absent from the Laird Airplane Company. However, with test flights not giving him enough activity, W. Beech also helped the mechanics work on the Curtiss OX-5 engines installed on the Swallow.

Walter also conducts demonstration flights for customers and takes the aircraft to events to sell the Laird Swallow. He participates in many aircraft races that are becoming more and more popular. It easily demonstrates the superiority of the 'Swallow' over its rivals of the First World War and gains several trophies. His sense of show and his commercial sales skills further strengthens the success of the Swallow for the Laird.

The irascible side of Jake did not fail to create tensions within the group despite the good success of the company. The first to be thanked will be Billy Burke and then Laird's good friend, Georges Weaver. He will return to Ohio in the east of the country to create his own company, the Weaver Airplane COmpany (WACO) with another stunt driver Charley Meyers. The WACO will know its hours of glory by manufacturing reliable aircraft and performing until the shadow of the company of Jake Moellendick.

Quickly Laird himself had enough of his partner's difficult mood and went back to Chicago with the name of his company.

Thus in Wichita the new company took the name of "Swallow Airplane Company" with Walter Beech as General Manager and Sales Manager and Lloyd Stearman as Chief Engineer. The latter had already very well understood himself with Laird as a draftsman and had already climbed many steps in the old company. Lloyd further improved the lines of the 'Swallow' and in 1924 the New Swallow had gained in speed and was being sold even better than before.


The Beech-Stearman Tandem was working perfectly. On the advice of Walter Burnham, the New Swallow experienced another advance: the first fully airlined aircraft engine in the United States. This new aircraft was evolving the standards of aeronautics. The new Swallow sold twice as fast as the first Laird Swallow.

Already at that time, the competition was permanent between all the manufacturers of aircraft. Stearman and Beech wanted to make their machine evolve even further by adopting a steel tube structure rather than staying with a wooden frame less resistant and less solid over time. Moellendick was negative about this last idea. Stearman and Beech decided to fabricate a metal frame in their spare time to demonstrate the benefits. Disgruntled Jake Moellendick once again squashed anger and threw an ultimatum to his two closest collaborators asking them to stop any study on these new structures or leave the company. That was the end of their collaboration.


Stearman, Beech and their factory manager Bill Snook then left the facetious Jake Moellendick. In 1925, these three companions launch the Travel Air Manufacturing Company with among others the association of Clyde Vernon Cessna very well known to all for his skills of Pilot adventurer for almost ten years.

Their first idea, of course, is to develop their metal structure for the fuselage. The wise engineer Lloyd Stearman is in charge of improving the performance and capabilities of the New Swallow. The first 'Travel Air Model A' aircraft that came out of the company was a more comfortable, fast biplane and capable of carrying even more cargo. Walter's many victories in aerial races made the necessary publicity for the company. Wealthy businessmen looking for new sensations could be trained by the acrobatic feats of the Travel Aircraft's Star Driver. The Model B and Versions 2000 (right) and 3000 brought some innovations.

The success of the Travel Air Company was largely due to a female figure who managed to impose a certain line of conduct within the company. Olive Ann Mellor from Kansas and a business school graduate had been recruited by Walter Beech to take care of the administration. She took care of the accounts and expenses with rigor in society. But it also made it clear to its employers who took excessive risks to amaze customers during demonstration flights, that the aviation industry had become a very competitive and therefore fragile environment. Olive Ann has managed to stay on course at the Travel Air. Walter and Olive Ann married in February 1930. She became the first woman to receive the National Aeronautic Association's Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy.

Travel Air was able to manufacture robust, reliable and efficient aircraft from its inception thanks to the good understanding of all, the exceptional skills of many enthusiasts and the experiences previously acquired by its creators. Sales were realized quickly and many Mail and Cargo companies were purchasing Travel Air aircraft (Model 4000 on the right). Aviation was no longer in its infancy, but there was still much to be done. Lloyd, Clyde and Walter did not lack the ideas to make their machines evolve. Everyone would finally find his own way ...