1931 National Air Races

We have been very kindly sent a copy of the programme for this event by Tom Griffin. It can be downloaded as PDF files here and here.

1931 National Air Races
By Bill Meixner

The1931 National Air Races returned to Cleveland Municipal Airport and arrangements were made to to hold the event here for at least the next five years. This arrangement prompted the building of new permanent wood grandstands and race administration building. Special buildings for Army, Navy and Marine Corps units were also added.  Dates for this year were August 29th through September 7th and Cleveland fans were eager to see the races return. The racecourse was changed to eliminate the racers over flying the grandstands, for safety reasons. The airfield is large enough to permit both commercial flights and air racing.   

1931 Poster

The schedule called for 38 events, with prize money totalling $100,000. New this year, Shell Trophies Speed Dash, Entries to qualify at a speed of no less than 200 miles per hour over a 3-Kilometer Straight-Away course in front of the grandstands. These speed dash qualifiers would also qualify the men for the Thompson Trophy race and the women for the Aerol Trophy Race. The major event and attraction was the Thompson Trophy Race, held here in Cleveland for the first time.

1931 Logo

Cliff Henderson, managing director of the races convinced businessman Vincent Bendix to sponsor a new event. The Bendix Trophy Race------Transcontinental Speed Dash open to men and women. Starting at United Airport, Burbank California to Cleveland Cleveland Municipal Airport, a distance of 2043 miles. Non-stop or refuel, any type aircraft, must arrive Cleveland Airport before 6pm EST same day. With a purse of $15,000 the Bendix was scheduled for opening day of the National Air Races.

Vincent Bendix and Trophy

The original intent of the Thompson Trophy Race was for it to be an International event. None of the European pilots of Countries invited entered the prestigious race. Al Williams trip to Europe was successful in bringing several of Europe's best . Capt. Boleslaw Orlinsky of Poland, Major Ernst Udet of Germany, Commander Mario de Bernardi of Italy, Captain Atcherley of England and Captain Alois Kubita of Chechoslovakia to name a few. While none of them flew in the races all demonstrated their flying skills and their aircraft.

Perhaps the favourite of the air race was Earnst Udet who performed difficult aerobatics with his low-powered "Flamingo" thrilled the crowd by picking up a handkerchief off the grass with his wing tip. Major Ernst Udet a German ace in WW I shot down an an American pilot by the name of Wanamaker, Udet landed next to the crash and offered him a cigarette while waiting for the German Medics to arrive. At the same time Udet cut the tail fabric containing the Pilots number as a prize of war. When Udet arrived at the races he arranged for Wanamaker, now the Mayor of Akron, Ohio to be in the stands. Udet had the fabric of Wanamakers plane framed and presented it to him. It is now on display at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Major Ernst Udet

Udet's "Flamingo"

American and Foreign pilots relax together in front of the stands

The Bendix Trophy Race originated at United Airport, Burbank, California with the finish line at the Cleveland, Ohio grandstands. Only four entries were launched, two of them would later become United States Army Air Corps Generals. (Doolittle & Eaker)

Laird "Super Solution" -  Pilot Jimmy Doolittle - Bendix Trophy winner

A small airplane Company by the name of Granville Bros. Aircraft Co. of Springfield Massachusetts entered a radical new design based on the shape of a water drop , the work of engineer Robert Hall. Given the nickname,  "Gee Bee", at the controls was airline pilot Lowell Bayles, from Atlanta Georgia.

Geebee Model "Z"

Shell 3-Kilometer Speed Dash

           Men's Trophy             Women's Trophy
          Lowell Bayles               Maude Tait

Bendix Trophy Race


        Pilot            Aircraft        Speed
      1 Jimmy  Doolittle Laird Super Solution     223.038
      2 Harold Johnson    Lockheed Orion     198.816
      3 Beeler Blevins    Lockheed Orion     188.992
      4      Ira Eaker    Lockheed Altair     186.070

Thompson Trophy Race

Place       Pilot   Race No        Aircraft   Speed
   1     Lowell Bayles        4    Geebee "Z"    236.239
    2   James Welell       44   Wedell Williams    227.992
   3     Dale Jackson       77    Laird Solution    211.183
    4      Robert Hall       54      Geebee "Y"    201.250
    5       Ira Eaker      NA     Lokheed Altair    196.832
   6    Benny Howard        37     Howard "Pete"    163.573
    7      William Ong      NA   Laird Speedwing    153.049