Laird/Turner Meteor

In 1936, Col. Roscoe Turner, an old timer in the race game, felt the need of a new racing mount. Colonel Turner, Nevada National Guard, had been a famous name in race history since 1924. Along with his robin's egg blue uniform, whipcord breeches, military cap, gold wings with RT in bold letters, he also had Gilmore his pet lion.

replica aircraft

Gilmore accompanied Roscoe on most of his cross country record breaking flights and his name, along with the flashy uniform, became synonymous with Colonel Turner. Roscoe had set many records with his Lockheed Vega, Air Express, and Wedell Williams but the Wedell was getting outclassed and in 1936 Turner contracted with Lawrence W. Brown Aircraft Company to build him a new racing aircraft. The racer was designed by Turner himself and engineered by Howard Barlow of the University of Minnesota. The ship *as built at the Brown factory in California and completed in mid-year 1936. It was a full cantilever mid-wing monoplane, fixed gear and powered by a Twin Wasp Sr., 1830 cu. in. 1000 hp engine. The wing span of the original racer was approximately 22 ft. and quite narrow in chord. The fuselage was constructed of chrome-moly tubing with spruce and fabric fairing.

The two solid wing spars were of 14 ply laminated spruce, ribs were reinforced plywood and the leading edge metal covered. The fuselage was covered with metal from the engine cow] to the cockpit and from this point rearward Irish linen was used for covering. There was also a strip along the bottom of the fuselage that was metal covered to protect this portion from flying stones during take-off and landings. The rudder faired smoothly into the tail cone of the fuselage, giving an uninterrupted airflow line.

The stabilizers were constructed of wood and the elevators and rudder were steel tubing. All were fabric covered. The paint job was a silver gray, license number R263Y and race number 29. The wheels were un-spatted but were thin and equipped with full side caps. Turner flew out to California to test the aircraft but after looking it over decided it was too heavy for the narrow wing. The racer was never flown with the narrow wing but was taken apart and shipped to the Laird factory at Chicago. Turner then redesigned the wing and Matty Laird rebuilt the racer in his factory.

During the redesigning Turner had approximately 13/2 M. added to each wing, the chord width increased, and the engine set back 6 in. The final specifications of the Turner Racer were: wing span 25 ft., length 23 ft. 4 in., height 10 ft., wing area 95 sq. ft. empty weight 3300 lbs., gross weight 4923 lbs., wing loading 51.8 lbs. and a power loading of 4.92 lbs. It carried 215 gallons of fuel and had an oil capacity of 15 gallons. Manually controlled wing flaps decreased the landing speed.

The speedster was sponsored in 1937 by Ring Free Oil and arrived at the Nationals wearing the name "Ring Free Meteor", a star, and race number 29 on its flanks. The name Laird in a diamond appeared on the vertical stabilizer.

Roscoe and the "Meteor" got off to a bad start as he was forced out of the Bendix when a welding explosion ruptured the oil tank of the racer. However, he was very fortunate that the speedster was not completely destroyed. Then en route to the races he flew through a hail storm, causing considerable damage to the leading edge of the wing. He repaired the damage and entered the Thompson Trophy Race and was running second behind Steve Wittman and his D-12 "Bonzo". Wittman developed trouble on the 17th lap and Turner slid into the lead.

He held the lead until the final lap and on one of the final pylons, blinded by the sun, felt that he had cut the pylon so he returned and re-circled it. At this point he was passed by Earl Ortman in the Keith Rider R-3 and Rudy Kling in the sleek Folkerts SK-3. Turner and the "Meteor" finished third in the Thompson with a speed of 253.802 mph.


Roscoe roared into the 1938 National Air Races with his silver Meteor and a determination to win the Thompson Trophy. During the early part of the year he had experienced problems in cooling and lubrication but these bugs had been worked out and the Wasp was full of vitamins. Only minor changes had been made on the racer itself. One was the wheel pants covering the gear. The racer's new sponsor was the Pump Engineering Service Corporation of Cleveland. The name "Ring Free" had been removed and "Pesco Special" replaced it. Many stories have been circulated about some of the pilots planning to box Turner and the "Pesco" so he could not win the race and that his answer was, "I'll chew their fuselage apart with this big fan of mine and then bail out". However, none of these stories have ever been proven true.

The ships lined up for-the Thompson and as the flag dropped the "Pesco Special" sprang forward as the big Wasp screamed under full throttle. At 100 mph the racer appeared alive, aware of her controls, and at 125 mph Turner lifted her into the  air.

On the first lap the "Pesco Special" was running second behind Earl Ortman in the R-3. The Twin Wasp Sr. SBG-177 that had been built and delivered in 1936 was rated at 1000 hp at 2600 rpms and a maximum manifold pressure at takeoff of 40.3 in. HG. Turner was turning the Wasp slightly over the 2600 rpm mark and pulling 47 in. HG. (6.7 in. over maximum). He held this all during the 300 mile grind, consuming 185 gallons of fuel (under 2 miles to the gallon) and with no damage to the engine. Pulling this power and flying a wide race so as not to cut a pylon, Roscoe streaked ahead of Ortman and went on to win the Thompson with a speed of 283.416 mph, turning one lap at 293 mph. With this win he became the only two time winner of the Thompson Trophy Race.

Turner and his powerful Racer was back in 1939. No changes had been made in the ship,  except the sponsor. Champion Spark Plugs now sponsored.

The speedster and their insignia appeared on the fuselage and the racer was now known as the "Miss Champion". Turner considered Ortman and Wittman top competitors for the Thompson Race but figured Ortman was too young and would not plan all the angles for the long race, so Wittman would be the man to beat. Roscoe was slow getting off the ground in the start of the Thompson and was setting in fourth spot. Then it happened again, on the second lap he cut a pylon and had to go back and re-circle it. He now trailed the entire field but he pushed the hay to all the extra horses in the nose, streaking by the other racers one at a time, and pulled into the lead. He went on to win with a speed of 282.5 mph and became the first and only two and three time winner of the Thompson Trophy Race.

After the race Colonel Turner stated that he and the "Miss Champion" were retiring from the race game. Today the racer can be seen hanging in the Roscoe Turner hangar at Indianapolis.