EAA’s Travel Air E-4000 is currently being restored, and the
mechanics working on the airplane found something truly incredible when they
uncovered its wings as part of the restoration: inscriptions on the original
ailerons that date back to the Travel Air factory in 1929.
The aircraft was purchased by Robert F. Shank on July 30, 1929.
Just a few weeks earlier, the bare ailerons were signed by an anonymous
employee of the company — on July 13 and 14, 1929, to be exact. Under the date,
there are two more lines of text: J6, and what looks like the number symbol followed
Longtime Travel Air volunteer pilot Fred Stadler, EAA 37882,
believes the top line is the date the ailerons were finished, the second line
refers to the airplane’s original engine, but only has a good guess as to the
third line’s significance.
“I’m almost certain the initial engine that was on the airplane
was a Wright J-6-5 engine,” Fred said. “So J6 was the designation of it. And
the last number, the 421, I really don’t know what that is. That was not the
serial number of the airplane, which I think was 1224, so that’s why I assume
it was some kind of production lot number or something like that.”
Fred said finding the inscriptions was thought-provoking for
several reasons, including one sad one: The incoming Great Depression would put
an end to Travel Air production just a few months later. The company’s work
ethic can’t be blamed for that, however, as Fred said the dates inscribed on
the ailerons actually fell on a weekend in 1929.
“We looked them up; they were a Saturday and a Sunday,” Fred said. “And so clearly the company was cranking out at full board. The work was beautiful; it looked like furniture, practically. They were raw ailerons on a Saturday and a Sunday, and a couple of weeks later the airplane had already been covered and completed and flight tested and delivered to the customer. So it gives you a little bit of a sense of how hectic the pace was back then.”
It’s easy to look up the year an airplane like EAA’s Travel Air was built, but seeing writing from before its first flight is still a powerful experience. Little did those workers know then that their work would survive far past the company they worked for, and be used nearly a century later to introduce young people to aviation through the magical experience of a Young Eagles flight.