The Laird "Super Solution" was designed
and built for the Cleveland Speed Foundation. It was not an
entirely new design as E. M. "Mattie" Laird's racers had
made a fine showing at the 1930 Chicago National Air Races.
This included Speed Holman winning the Thompson race in a
Wasp Jr. powered Laird "Solution", and two other Laird
Speedwings, Cirrus and Chevelair powered respectively.
The LC-DW500 (LC-for Laird Commercial;
D-for series; W-for engine (Wasp); and the 500 for
horsepower) as fitted with complete instrumentation
for cross country and blind
flying, which made it about 200 lbs. heavier than the 1930
Laird Solution (LC-DW300). Because of the -monoxide fume
trouble encountered by Holman in the "Solution", the Super
Solution featured a new fresh air system. This consisted of
two vents placed at the leading edge of the top wing, well
outside the range of engine exhaust, which channelled fresh
air into the cockpit. The streamlining was carried out more
thoroughly with a completely enclosed cockpit consisting of
three members. The upper member was mounted on a track and
moved fore and aft to make contact with the headrest. The
side members were hinged about halfway down the side of the
fuselage with the upper edge forming part of the track on
which the upper member moved.
The landing gear was changed considerably
with the rigid aerodynamic cross member eliminated and a
tension wire substituted at the top of the wheels. Two
Cleveland pneumatic struts were used for each wheel
permitting a maximum shock travel of 4 in. The wheels and
struts were completely streamlined which increased the high
speed performance considerably. The landing gear tread was 4
ft. 5 in. The ship was equipped with 650xlO Aircraft
Products wheels. These wheels. were used during the Bendix
race and also the Thompson race. It had been planned to use
20x4 wheels and smaller wheel pants during the Thompson but
time did not permit the change.
A direct drive engine was used for the
Bendix race and it was planned to install a geared engine
for the Thompson, but again time did not allow this change
to take place. The direct drive engine used a prop of 8 ft.
3 in., while the geared engine used a 9 ft. prop. The engine
turned 2400 rpm with the direct drive as opposed to 1600 rpm
with the geared drive. Later the geared engine proved to be
30 mph faster than the direct drive.
The empty plane weighed 1580 lbs. and
grossed 2482 lbs. fully loaded, giving a wing loading of
27.16 lbs. for every square foot of its 112 sq. ft. of wing.
The span of the upper wing was 21 ft. and 18 ft. for the
lower wing. The length was 19 ft. 6 in. Fuel capacity was
112 gal. and oil capacity 11 gal.
The fuselage of the Super Solution was painted a brilliant
green with the wings and horizontal tail surfaces a bright
yellow. The wheel pants were trimmed in yellow and the
racing number "400" was painted on the sides of the fuselage
and the under surface of the lower wing. Named the "Sky
Buzzard", the plane was a picture of speed in motion and had
a top speed of 265 mph.
The year 1931 marked the first running of
the Bendix Trophy Race. Vincent Bendix offered the trophy to
the winner of the cross-country race from Los Angeles to
Cleveland, with additional prize money for a new
transcontinental record. The race had been run in 1929 and
1930 but under National Air Race Management sponsorship.
On the morning of September 4, 1931,
eight pilots warmed up their powerful racing planes at
Burbank Airport, Los Angeles for the swift dash to
Cleveland. Jimmy Doolittle was first off in his Super
Solution. He hauled the tiny plane into the air after a
short run of 500 ft. and roared through the early morning
darkness of Cajon Pass. A quick stop at Albuquerque and
Kansas City for fuel and he was screaming toward Cleveland.
Landing well ahead of the second place aircraft, he
hurriedly took on fuel and pointed the Sky Buzzard toward
Newark. His wheels touched the ground at Newark 11 hours, 16
minutes and 10 seconds after take-off from Burbank, clipping
1 hour and 8 minutes off of Frank Hawk's record. His average
speed to Cleveland was 223 mph and 217 mph for the 2450 mile
coast to coast flight.
At Newark he refuelled and streaked back
to Cleveland. Time did not permit the changes planned for
the Thompson so the Super Solution ran with the same
configuration as it had in the Bendix. Doolittle was running
second to Bayles in the Gee Bee Z when a loss of power
forced him from the race. Upon investigation it was found
that a piston in the Wasp Jr. had been
After the 1931 races, Jimmy Doolittle and
the Shell Oil Co. decided to have the Laird Super Solution
modified with a retractable landing gear. The modification
was done at Wichita, Kans., and was completed in August of
1932. The plane was completely remodelled with new wings,
new control surfaces, a modified fuselage and retractable
gear. A new semi-bubble canopy which protruded above the top
wing was installed to improve the visibility. The gear
retracted vertically upward into the fuselage where the
wheels were flush with the under skin surface. The fuselage
aft of the canopy was much deeper in order to fair in
properly with the raised canopy. The sides of the cockpit
down to the upper longeron were transparent so that
visibility in all directions was good except where it was
blanked out by the wings
The plane was painted a bright yellow
with red tail surfaces and a red nose cowl. There was a
large Shell insignia on the nose cowl and a larger one on
the vertical tail with the plane's license inside it. The
No. 400 on the plane's sides had a jagged streak of red
lightning slashing through it diagonally. Unfortunately, on
the first test hop August 23, 1932 the gear failed to come
down after being retracted. Jimmy made several attempts to
lower the gear but finally had to belly the ship in. The
landing was good but the aircraft was damaged too badly to
be repaired in time for the National Air Races. Shortly
after this Doolittle was chosen to fly the Gee Bee R-1 at
Parts of the Super Solution and the
Solution appeared in an aircraft in 1937. This ship carried
the license number of the Solution and still sits in a
hangar in Carolina. (Parts of this article were taken from a
story by Mattie Laird that appeared in the October 1931
issue of Aero Digest.)
THE SPORT OF air racing in 1931 was
entering what had come to be called its Golden Age, an age
short in time -it would last only a decade-but an age
intensely long on memory. It was an era noted for its colour
and competition, an era of the individualist when designers
and pilots alike often put all they had, every dream and
every dollar on one airplane.
In this era the little racer served as
proving grounds for many new techniques, its wings carried
the faith of the future, the 50 feet of air space between it
and the pylons became the wind tunnel. The country was in
the depths of a depression. Money was hard to come by and
only the dedication of a few kept
aviation progressing at all.
Prompted by the Laird "Solution's"
triumph in the 1930 Thompson Trophy Race, the Cleveland
Speed Foundation ordered from the Laird Co. a new and faster
"Solution"-a "Super Solution". Thus the Foundation indicated
their support of a bigger and better National Air Race in
1931. Even in mid-depression such an affair should promote a
real financial stimulus.
During a trial speed run in mid-1931 the
ailerons and a good sized piece of right wing tore off Jimmy
Doolittle's freshly rebuilt Travel Air "Mystery S." Jimmy
was saved by parachute but the plane was lost, apparently
because of an overbalance of its new Frise ailerons. He had
hoped to enter the "Mystery" in the National Air Races but
its loss made him available to pilot some other races.
The Speed Foundation immediately secured his services to fly
a new Laird.
Jimmy Doolittle, then just 34 years old,
was already a legend in aviation. His reputation in the
field of high speed, cross-country
and aerobatic flying was world renowned. He had established
an enviable record during his 13 years in the Army Air
Service, earned a Sc.D. degree at M.I.T. in record time, won
the 1925 Schneider Trophy Race and set a world speed record
in the Curtiss R3C-2 floatplane. Resigning from the Air
Service in 1930 as a Major, Doolittle accepted a position
with Shell Oil Co. as director of its aviation department.
He was already a pioneer in blind flying techniques and
precision aerobatics. There was no question the Cleveland
Speed group had picked the best man to represent them at the
controls of their "Super
The "Super Solution" was simply a refined
and more powerful version of the 1930 "Solution". It was the
contention of both Matty Laird and his chief engineer, Raoul
J. Hoffman, that with refinements and added power the same
basic design could be faster than any plane scheduled for
entry in the forthcoming National Air Races. Moreover,
acting on Doolittle's request, they became convinced they
could make it suitable for both the transcontinental Bendix
race and the closed course Thompson Trophy Race. Because of
the entirely different flying demands, few aircraft designs
were ever suitable for both competitions.
Laird's answer was to design the "Super
Solution" to accept two different versions of the same
engine, the Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr., so successful in the
"Solution". They would use a geared Wasp for the full out
power demands of the Thompson race and a direct drive
version for the high altitude and steady power needed in the
Both engines were specially modified
versions of what later became well known as the standard
420/450 hp P & W R-985 Ol the civil model Wasp Jr. S2A which
was then commercially rated at 375 hp. However, for racing
in which engine life was not a principal factor, the popular
Wasps were often over-boosted and used "doped" fuel with a
high lead content. The "Super Solution's" engines differed
from stock by using high compression pistons and doped fuel.
Laird was willing to risk engine failure and short engine
life, but in return both of the engines developed well over
In fact, the direct drive Wasp delivered
510 hp at 2400 rpm driving an 8 ft. 2 in. propeller, while
the 3:2 geared engine, swinging a 9 ft. propeller, could
develop up to 560 hp (according to Doolittle's later report.
P & W rated it at 525 hp). The geared engine also ran much
cooler than the direct drive model.
Work began on the "Super Solution" July
8, 1931. Construction went forward with a minimum of delay
since most of the major components were identical to the
previous year's "Solution" racer. Since the air races were
scheduled two months later ~ over the Labour Day holidays
the first weekend of September, the "Super Solution" did not
undergo the 21 days crash program as had the "Solution".
Within six weeks, on August 22, the green
and yellow racer was rolled out for flight tests. She looked
like an entirely different plane, yet her wings, tubular
fuselage framework, engine mount,
and tail surfaces were all identical to the "Solution's".
Doolittle, writing later, remarked
that he made the first flight "from the old Aero Club Field,
south of the Chicago Municipal Airport. Laird felt or hoped
that the high speed would be around 300 mph." The P & W
geared Wasp Jr. had been installed for the first flight, its
big 9 ft. Hamilton-Standard
adjustable propeller set at 37 degrees pitch at the 42 inch
station. Doolittle continued, "The airplane ran about a mile
and a half before it could be pulled into the air and then
flew about two miles more before it picked up sufficient
speed to come under complete control. In succeeding flights
the propeller pitch was reduced 5" and the take-off was
satisfactory though the engine over-revved
somewhat. Clearly a case where the
controllable-pitch propeller would have solved everything.'
There did not seem to be any appreciable torque resulting
from the large propeller and geared engine except an
acceleration torque when the throttle was moved quickly."
Both Jimmy Doolittle and Matty Laird made
several test flights over the next few days. The plane
proved stable longitudinally and laterally but extremely
unstable directionally. This directional hunting increased
with speed and Doolittle reported it was barely manageable
at speeds in excess of 200 mph. Raoul Hoffman pinned the
cause on too much "fin area" forward of the c.g., the
culprits being the longer NACA cowl used on the geared
engine, the large wheel pants, and the fairing fillets used
between the landing gear struts. After removing the wheel
pants and strut fairings she flew beautifully -but the
now caused unwanted drag. To correct the problem the fin and
rudder were increased in height about 9 inches, and the
wheel pants reinstalled.
Writing in Racing Ramblings,
Doolittle commented, "Although the pilot sat on 50 Ibs. of
lead shot the airplane was so stable longitudinally that it
was difficult to get the tail down in landing and the plane
landed fast." In later tests with the direct drive engine
and the 8 ft. 2 in. propeller the plane weighed about 75
lbs. less and the landing speed
was nearly 5 mph slower.
The LC-DW 500, (LC-Laird Commercial,
D-series, Wasp engines, and 500 horsepower) was fitted with
complete blind flying instruments. Doolittle, of course, was
an old hand at blind flying and would use this experience in
the Bendix race.
Vincent Bendix, pioneer in the aviation
and automotive industries, inventor of international
prominence, and President of the Bendix Aviation Corp.,
sponsored the Bendix Trophy Race with a view to encouraging
transcontinental air travel. The race was an open
competition from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, Ohio,
and stimulated developments in all-weather flying,
communications, and navigation. There had been
transcontinental air races in 1929 and 1930 under
sponsorship of the National Air Race Association, but these
were mere sporting events offering little or no prize money.
The Bendix suddenly made it lucrative with a purse of
$17,750 plus a gold replica of the Bendix Trophy, second,
$3,750 with a silver trophy replica, third, $2,500 with a
bronze replica, fourth, $1,500 and fifth, $750. An
additional $2,500 would go to the pilot who on the same day
completed the flight from Cleveland eastward to Newark to
establish a true transcontinental speed
It was no surprise when eight entries
showed up for the running of the first Bendix race on September
4, 1931. Flood lights rimmed the ramp and hangar area at
Burbank's Union Air Terminal as the racers were groomed to
start. Of the eight racers, six were Lockheed's
(three Altairs, two Orions, and one Vega); the remaining two
were custom built. One was a modified Travel Air "Mystery
Ship," NR614K, which had won the 1929 Thompson Cup Race and
the other was Laird's "Super Solution". The 193 0 "Solution"
was also entered but a landing mishap en-route
to the west coast prevented it from making the starting
deadline. The contrast between the large Lockheeds, slower
but capable of making the distance non-stop and which had
dominated the earlier two cross-country
races, against the two special speedsters which were just a
bit more than flying engine but must refuel along the way,
led to vociferous pros and cons as to which would get to
It seemed as though a million stars were
sparkling with excitement in the unusually clear night sky
at the drama about to unfold below. Departure
was timed so that arrival at Cleveland would occur at the
climax of afternoon activities, and as race time approached
the tempo of action increased. Large numbers of spectators
began to line runway 15, and by 1:00 a.m. all pilots were in
their planes with last-minute weather conditions, navigation
procedures and flight plans double-checked. Tension ran
high-the Bendix was big business. It shared national
headlines with Sir Hubert Wilkins, who was probing under
Arctic ice packs with his submarine-the Nautilus.
It was time. Lou Reichers swung his
Altair onto the runway, eased the throttle forward and at
1:20 a.m. PST, Larry Therkelsen, official NAA starter,
dropped the flag. Fifteen minutes later Walter Hunter
responded to the starting flag and eased his 600 hp special
Travel Air "Mystery Ship" into the star-studded sky. Harold
Johnson bounded down the runway just three minutes later,
lifting his new Continental Airlines Orion aloft, followed
within five minutes by Asa Chandler's Orion which was
piloted by Beeler Blevens. Doolittle would be next. The rest
of the contestants would follow within
the next twenty minutes.
Jimmy snapped the cockpit shut, checked
the latches, pored over the glowing instruments, tightened
the seat belt and pulled out to the starting position. The
big engine cowl hid his view of the runway; "she was a blind
airplane all right but I got used to it" was Doolittle's
comment. The starter's flag raised as the Wasp beat out a
symphony of power. At 1:40 a.m. PST (4:40 EST) the flag
dropped and Jim pushed the throttle to the firewall. The
"Super Solution" was airborne in less than 500 feet.
Doolittle climbed at a fast rate,
skimming the mountains to the east and heading for a brief
levelling off at 5,000 feet to check engine temperature
gauges. He soon spotted the tail light of Blevens' heavily
laden Orion slowly climbing at full throttle. The "Super
Solution" zipped past, prompting Blevens to relate later, in
his slow Southern drawl, that he figured he was flying
backwards or was about to stall out when he saw Jimmy pass.
Now Doolittle pointed the Wasp for 11,000 feet and better
Setting a course of 075 degrees, he
trimmed the racer, streaked over the Mojave desert and
headed straight for Albuquerque, New Mexico. Flagstaff,
Arizona passed below and the Laird was dipped into a long
whistling shallow dive, planning to arrive at pattern
altitude simultaneously with reaching his first fuel stop.
Some of the six non-stop starters
would no doubt be up at 15 or 16,000 feet taking advantage
of the thinner air and stronger tail winds. Every degree of
error in navigation, every change of altitude meant minutes
to each contestant. For Doolittle, every mile at top speed
counted and refueling stops had to be fast.
Albuquerque appeared in the distance and
Jim increased his dive. Over the field he peeled into a
short pattern and in just 3 hrs. 2 min. after take-off the
Laird's wheels touched the ground. He had averaged 228 mph
on the first 674-mile leg. Doolittle slid out of the
cockpit, wiped his hands on his clean white knickers,
swallowed a glass of milk, and slipped back into the pit as
the fuel caps were secured. Refreshed and with a full load
of fuel the ''Super Solution'' was
again nosed toward Cleveland. Dawn was just breaking as
Jimmy leveled off at 10.000 feet and sped toward mid western
prairies and Kansas City, his next stop
Unknown to Doolittle at the time, he had
gained a commanding lead, since the Lockheeds, still with
heavy fuel loads didn't have their
running shoes on as yet. Wait Hunter had landed his $15.000
modified Travel Air at Winslow, Arizona, fighting mechanical
problems plus a painful ear block caused by a bad head cold.
Three hours, six minutes and 765 miles
later Doolittle greased the ''Super Solution" onto Kansas
City's airport. He only had time to stand in the cockpit and
stretch-refueling was completed and Jim was off again in ten
By now the sun was high and hot, the air
was choppy, and thick cumulus were building. Early afternoon
thunder storms appeared, and soon it was apparent a vicious
squall line stood like a stone wall guarding Cleveland. To
go around or over the storms was impossible, so Jimmy was
forced to go on instruments and bore straight through.
With his eyes glued to the needle-ball
and airspeed, and a glance at the engine instruments, he
barrelled into the fire-filled sky. Some of the other pilots
were using the new aural null radio direction finder, a bit
primitive and subject to static, it effectively forced
time-consuming detours around the storms. After
a half hour of wild bouncing Jim thankfully noticed the
pounding rain was tapering off, and the "Super Solution"
suddenly broke into clear sunshine. Dead ahead was the big
red and white chequered home pylon
with the name Bendix emblazoned on
it. Doolittle had sliced through the black turbulence with
less than 2 degrees error in navigation.
As he taxied the mud covered ship to the
line, Jim spotted his wife, Jo, and their two children, Jim
Jr. and John. Jo was waving a lunch she had prepared but
Jimmy had already clambered onto the cockpit edge, grabbed a
hose and begun assisting in refuelling with more Shell
gasoline. He had decided to continue to Newark and attempt
the full transcontinental route. The public address system
was blaring his name, asking him to come to the speaker's
stand, but Jim's winning smile and those characteristic
movements of eagerness meant only one thing-he was impatient
to be OFF. With knickers now thoroughly oil soaked, Jim
slipped back into the pit, fired up the Wasp and threw
sheets of muddy water as his salute to the Cleveland crowd.
Once again the "Super Solution" was
airborne and soon was flashing over the infamous Hell
Stretch of Allegheny Mountains where the lives of many
pioneer airmail pilots were lost. The air was extremely
turbulent but Jim had complete faith in the Laird/Wasp
combination. Still uncertain if he had won the Bendix, he
streaked into Nebraska at 3:51 p.m. His elapsed time from
Burbank was 11 hrs. 16 min. 10 sec., his average speed 217
mph, beating the 2,882 mile transcontinental record set by
rank Hawks in his "Mystery Ship" earlier the same year by
one hour, eight minutes.
Newsmen and jubilant spectators met the
plane as it rolled to a stop. Jimmy was quickly informed
that he had indeed won the Bendix and had also set a new
transcontinental record-and, incidentally, nice to know, he
was $1O,OOO richer. After spending 30 minutes with the press
he climbed back into the trusty "Super Solution" and headed
back to Cleveland where he was greeted with a big kiss fiom
his wife, and that beautiful prize money. Doolittle then
relaxed in the Company's Bellanca executive plane while
Jimmy Haizlip flew him to a Victory party in St. Louis. The
"Super Solution" was left with Laird and P & W maintenance
men to be readied for the Thompson race.
It was impossible to continue the Bendix,
but patch repairs were made in time for him to fly into
Cleveland in time to make a try at the Thompson. But even
more bad luck dogged him. During speed trials prior to the
Thompson a fuel line broke and the plane burst into flames.
Walt bailed out at treetop level, spent six months in the
hospital suffering from severe
burns, but lives today to relate those wild experiences from
the left-hand seat of a Boeing 707.
Doolittle returned to Cleveland and
prepared for the closed-course Thompson
Trophy Race. The race was established in 1930 by Charles
Edwin Thompson of Thompson Products, Inc. of Cleveland and
Detroit, manufacturers of aeronautical equipment, their most
important being sodium cooled valves. It was an
international free-for-all for men pilots only and engines
of unlimited cubic inch displacement.
More than 6O,000 spectators would stand enchanted as the
world's fastest, most powerful racers dashed 10 times around
the Thompson's 10 mile course. In 1931 time trials preceded
the big event. The qualification course was a straight path
in front of the grandstands with each hopeful flying two
speed dashes in each direction. This would give the pilots a
chance to check out their planes and by requiring at least
175 mph to qualify, would help insure keeping them in a pack
during the main race.
The small group of trained personnel
assigned to the "Super Solution" were busy removing the
direct drive Wasp Jr. and fitting the geared engine, shipped
from Laird's Chicago plant, onto the plane's mount. On
Doolittle's first test run the big engine, slinging its nine
gave the plane about eight miles per hour more speed, but
she had a strong tendency to roll to the left. She was
hurriedly rigged right wing heavy, and Doolittle notified
the timers he was ready to make his qualification runs. He
took the green and yellow bullet up and flew a couple of
laps around the pylons indicating 240 mph on part throttle.
Then he headed down the home stretch past the grandstand and
over the qualification course. He rocked the wings as a
signal for the ground timer indicating this was a timed run,
but the roll was so slight that Jimmy was uncertain if the
timer had noticed it. The Thompson course was an irregular
pentagon and Jim came down the stretch, flipped around the
first and second pylons but at the third, where the angle
was sharper, the left wing would not come up. He found
himself unable to recover until he had made a complete roll.
As he fought the controls he barrelled to the right,
attempting to get back on course. Then he had trouble
getting out of the right bank. By this time, Jim reflected,
the timer must think he was horsing around. At No. 4 pylon
Jim banked left but again the bank increased-suddenly the
controls reversed and Jim throttled back to regain control.
The speed during the run had been clocked at 260 mph.
Doolittle landed the plane to have the
rigging checked, but nothing appeared to be seriously wrong.
Jim took her up again and made another attempt at the three
kilometre straight-away Thompson qualification course. On
the first pass the plane rolled to the left until almost out
of control. Jim chopped the throttle and she smoothed out.
Apparently the roll instability got much worse at faster
speeds. So, for his second pass, Jim decided to experiment
by entering the course with the right wing down about 30°.
The racer had now accelerated, and as the one kilometre
marker flashed she was rolling against the stick, her wings
already level. By two kilometres the left wing was down some
30 degrees and depressing rapidly. Again Jim was forced to
throttle back, unable to make even one satisfactory pass
across the course.
It was now apparent that something was
progressively loosening up. The wings were warping in
flight, and rough air encountered on one of the speed runs
made the rigging so flabby that Jim could actually watch a
lateral wiggle along the upper wing trailing edge. He
commented later, "The racer was extremely tempermental
to rig. Here was an airplane that could be rigged in flight.
The difficulty was that it wouldn't hold its rig.
"In this airplane," he continues, "the
main wing truss was incomplete. The auxiliary wing truss had
depended upon a fitting around the center of the continuous
rear spar in the upper wing to take unevenly distributed
wing loads. A careful inspection showed that the spar had
crushed at this point and the bolt holes had elongated. As a
temporary expedient an eighth-inch thick piece of sheet
steel was driven between the fitting and the spar to take up
the play. This corrected the trouble temporarily, but after
a few hours flying it again appeared due to further crushing
of the spar."
The Thompson race was scheduled the next
day leaving no time to modify the wings, make new fittings
or devise new rigging. The geared engine could not be used
because its dynamics induced wing warping and aileron
reversal as the speed approached 250 mph. Jimmy felt certain
he could handle the Super Solution. with the direct drive
Wasp, although now it might respond "sloppily," as he put
it. The engines were changed overnight and the morning of
race day was spent re-rigging the plane.
With the plane again serviceable, a test
flight was made to check the Wasp Jr. engine and accomplish
the qualifying runs for the Thompson. The only real
competition seemed to be coming from Lowell Bayles who
clocked a pre-race time trial of 267.242 mph in his radical
new Gee Bee Z racer. Doolittle took the "Super Solution"
over the qualification course and turned in an average of
255.354 mph, while his fastest lap was a blazing 272 mph.
There was no doubt it would be a tight race. Doolittle
landed, satisfied he could at least put up a scrapping good
fight. Almost at once it was race time. The "Super Solution"
had been rigged right wing heavy to aid left bank
recoveries, and with hope overiding misgivings, it was
rolled to the starting line.
The starters flag was raised-held five
seconds-and dropped. The little racers were off. Doolittle
jumped into a commanding lead and
streaked for the scattering pylon. He flipped the Laird
around the first marker, shaving the pylon with a mere five
feet to spare, and charged well out in front as the first
lap passed into history. Already the strain was beginning to
show on the over-revved direct-drive engine. Jim alone knew
this as temperatures- began to climb and gauges went into
the red. By the second lap, everyone knew, as smoke belched
from the exhaust stacks and trailed off the rudder. With
each succeeding lap the Wasp became sicker. Bayles had taken
the lead in the third lap, but Jim was determined and grimly
hung on until the seventh lap when he finally had to pull
out of the race before his engine failed completely. Bayles
went on to win the Thompson that year in the Gee Bee,
averaging 236.24 mph. Doolittle, despite his ailing engine,
had averaged a remarkable 228 mph. Investigation disclosed
the Wasp had blown or scuffed a piston.
Recalling this difficulty, Jimmy related,
"The fuel used in the (Bendix ) was straight run gasoline
containing three ccs of tetraethyl
lead per gallon and having a knock rating
of 87 octane. For full throttle operation (Thompson Race' 89
octane gasoline containing five cc of lead was used. With
the 89 octane fuel there was no detonation and head temperatures
were steady at about 520" F'." The fuel mixtures were
carefully compounded and analyzed by Shell Oil experts and
had previously been used in the Wasp engines by Doolittle
during earlier tests. He had confidence the high octane
fuels would not harm the engine if specific time limits were
not violated during full throttle operations. Everything was
running smoothly until the one piston was damaged, possibly
by a speck of foreign matter. Temperatures began to rise
thereafter. The direct-drive Wasp Jr. had done her duty for
the Bendix, but the gruelling pressure of the Thompson was
the breaking point.
In September 1931 Jimmy Doolittle, with
yet another long-distance speed record in mind, flew the
"Super Solution" to the Pratt & Whitney plant at Hartford,
Connecticut to have its engine majored. On September 18 the
racer was rolled into the P & W experimental hangar, and
within three days a comprehensive report was released.
This indicated the racer weighed 1752
lbs. empty, 2585 lbs. gross, and
its direct-drive Wasp Jr. engine
was number X-27, which the shop people had originally called
the "Yellow Jacket", to continue the series of P & W
nicknames, based on stinging insects. As applied to
Doolittle's engine, however, the name was unofficial. It was
later given officially to an experimental 20-cylinder water-cooled
engine which was never produced.
Shortly after the overhaul Doolittle took
the "Super Solution" to Ottawa, Canada, the jumping off
place for a three capital speed record, including Ottawa
(Canada), Washington ~ U.S.A.) and Mexico City ( Mexico). At
about 5 a.m. on October 20, 1931, Jim lifted the stubby
little biplane aloft for its first non-stop leg to
Washington, D.C. After refuelling
there he made a dash for Birmingham, Alabama. The pattern of
operation was similar to the successful Bendix race, with
Jimmy never on the ground more than 10 minutes at any of the
stops. From Birmingham he bored to Corpus Christi, Texas,
and after a total of 12 hrs. 36 min. he landed at Valbuena
Field near Mexico City. The Doolittle/"Super-Solution"
pair had established an inter-city record that challenged
speed flyers for several years thereafter.
The "Super Solution" proved itself a
good, all-around fast airplane suitable for both
closed-course pylon races as well as long distance speed
flights. Its drawback was poor pilot visibility. Jimmy
Doolittle summed it up: "Had we been able to use the
cooler-running; geared engine; had the wing trussing been
complete or the centre cabane fitting more secure so the
wings wouldn't warp; had we known as much then as we know
now, none of these difficulties would have arisen-but that
In the summer of 1932 Doolittle and Shell
Oil Co. officials decided to correct these deficiencies, and
Doolittle suggested several considerable modifications.
These included a longer, sharper nose cowl to aid engine
cooling, engine adjustment to "throw" more oil, installation
of an air-cooled oil tank, redesign of the wing trussing,
raising the pilot seat 10 inches for visibility over the top
wing, and installation of a sliding canopy and door so the
pilot could stick his head and shoulders out as an aid in
landing. Doolittle also believed that gas capacity should be
increased, a controllable pitch propeller employed, the c.g.
moved aft to correct excessive longitudinal stability,
cockpit ventilation improved, and a retractable landing gear
fitted to increase speed.
These modifications were discussed with
the Laird Company but their bid for the work was too high.
Doolittle took the job to the Christopher Bros. in Wichita,
Kansas who completed all the changes he had stipulated by
mid August. Doolittle made the
first flight in the completely redesigned "Super Solution"
at Wichita on August 24, 1932. "It seemed that we had
corrected all the faults in the original design," he
remarked, "until time came to land. The landing gear, in
ground tests, dropped all the way out, then spread and
locked into place. In actual flight the air loads and
rotation of the slipstream spread the gear before it had
dropped out locked it in an intermediate position and it was
necessary to make the first landing on the bottom of the
fuselage." The gear fault was corrected by using a rubber
shock cord which held the wheels together until the
telescoping struts were fully extended.