Seversky Sev S-2

Russian immigrant Alexander F. de Seversky had built a very successful aircraft company. During the 1930s, the one-legged former Czarist Russian aristocrat had a very profound effect on American military aircraft design but he also wanted to showcase his aircraft at the popular National Air Races. After winning the highly prized Air Corps competition with his design that would become the P-35, Seversky came up with the clever idea of sending "near" P-35s to the races and he was not short of buyers.

Frank Fuller had benefited from the fortune accumulated by the Fuller Paint Company and he wanted to go racing. Accordingly, Seversky came up with the SEV-S2 (later, just S-2) which was a very thinly civilianized "sports" model of the P-35. Finished in highly-polished metal and given the restricted civilian registration of NR70Y, the SEV-52 was hurriedly built so that Fuller could compete in the 1937 racing season. Since this was an "out of the box" aircraft, testing was fairly minimal. Minus military equipment, the racer was lighter than the P-35 while a slightly lower canopy had been installed to reduce drag.

Fuller and the Seversky were on hand at Burbank for the start of the cross-country Bcndix event on 3 September 1937. Taking an immediate lead, Fuller had a refuelling stop at Kansas City and then headed for Cleveland - diving across the finish line to win with a record Bendix speed of 258.2-mph. However, he did not land but pressed on to Floyd Bennett Field to break Roscoe Turner's 1934 speed record and set a Bendix time record of 9-hr 35-min. The win was a decisive demonstration of what money could buy. Interestingly, NR70Y was not the only Seversky in the race - Frank Sinclair, a Seversky test pilot, flew SEV4XP R18Y (which had served as the prototype for the P-35) to fourth place at 184.92-mph. Fuller handed the Thompson flying duties over to Ray Moore who placed a disappointing sixth at 238.411-mph in the 20 lap, 200-mi event.

For 1938, Fuller was back and intent on once again winning the Benclix, There had been protests from the "homebuilt" racer contingent and the race committee came up with a new rule that stated an aircraft raced in the Bendix could not be raced in the Thompson. This pretty much left the Bendix for factory production aircraft and the Thompson for the scratch-built racers. The P&W Twin Wasp in the Seversky had been tipped to 1200-hp from 1000-hp but Fuller had competition for the 2043-mi race in the form of Jacqueline Cochran who was also flying a Seversky - SEV-AP-7 NX1384. Try as he might, Fuller and Race 77 (changed from the previous Race 23) finished second at 238.6-mph while Cochran, who went high and flew between 16,000- and 22,000-ft, took first at an impressive 249.8-mph.

Ruminating on his second place finish, Fuller finely groomed the Seversky for 1939 - including a beautiful new metallic blue paint scheme (Fuller Paint, of course!). The racers took off from Burbank early on the morning of 2 September and Fuller climbed through the marine layer and went high with the throttle all the way forward - it paid off and he flashed across the finish line in Cleveland at 282.1-mph, nearly 40-mph faster than Jackie's 1938 winning speed. He then continued on to Bendix, New Jersey, to set a Burbank-to-Bendix record of 273.1-mph. This was, of course, the last year for the classic Cleveland event. War had been declared in Europe and the global situation was dramatically changing.

Seversky was in plenty of trouble at his Long Island factory. With a great deal of secrecy, Seversky had sold 20 SEV-2PA-B3 two-place fighters to Japan in 1939. When discovered, the contract and Seversky's role became extremely unpopular with the military and public alike. Seversky was booted from the controlling position of his company which was then reorganized as the Republic Aviation Corporation.