Of all the employees at the Travel Air Company during its five-year existence, none were as deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the production line as was William “Bill” Snook, factory manager. A long-time resident of Wichita, Snook had worked at E.M. Laird’s “Swallow” airplane company after World War I, and following his years with Walter Beech at Travel Air, he went to work across town for pioneer aviator Clyde V. Cessna.

Although little is known (at least that can be verified) about production and technical upgrades made to the earliest Travel Air biplanes built between 1925-1927, Bill Snook kept a detailed record of production activity from 1928 until the company fell victim to the Great Depression in 1931 and closed its doors. By that time, however, Travel Air had already lost its true identity in 1929 when it became a subsidiary of the giant Curtiss-Wright aeronautical colossus.

William “Bill” Snook is an important but often overlooked personality in Wichita’s early aviation history. He was highly “air-minded” and began his aviation career building Laird “Swallow” biplanes before joining Walter Beech, Lloyd Stearman, Clyde Cessna and a few Wichita businessmen to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Company late in 1924. Snook also worked for Clyde V. Cessna and the Cessna Aircraft Company. His handwritten notebook is the only known resource for tracking serial numbers and dates of manufacture for hundreds of Travel Air biplanes and monoplanes from 1928-1931, when the factory was closed because of the Great Depression. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


The “Snook Book,” as it is known, contains the best and essentially the only source of reliable information about production of Travel Air airplanes – information that does not always agree with “hearsay history,” nor does it always align itself well with official FAA records residing in Oklahoma City, Okla. What makes Snook’s record-keeping so valuable to Wichita’s history and Travel Air enthusiasts is its brief chronology of each airplane as it was produced, including what types of ships were on the assembly line each day, their original engines, who the customer was and when they took delivery.

According to Snook, when he began his record keeping in February 1928, Travel Air had already built and delivered 223 airplanes, chiefly biplanes along with a smattering of Type 5000 cabin monoplanes (the Type 6000 monoplane was under development and would not make its first flight until April 1928).

From 1925-1931 “Bill” Snook was chiefly responsible for the entire production line process at the Travel Air factory, from the two early facilities in downtown Wichita to the new, modern campus that was built in 1927-1929 on Wichita’s East Central Avenue. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


The first airplanes Snook records in his production ledger include constructor numbers (c/n) 326, 328 and 329 that were being “set-up from storage” and assembled for flight testing. In addition, c/n 345, 346, 348 and 349 had recently been delivered (or “shipped out” as Snook called it) to a Travel Air dealer. An excellent example of Snook’s attention to detail centers on c/n 361, the last of four Type 7000 cabin biplanes built by the company. The first three were constructed in 1926 through 1928, with the final version (c/n 361) entering the production process on March 10, 1928.

Snook’s book is the only known source of reliable information regarding the fourth and final Travel Air Type 7000 built (Constructor Number 361). The first three airplanes built in 1926-1927 were designated Model CH (Wright-Hispano engine) or Model CW (Wright radial engine). The Type 7000 was, in Snook’s notation, a “Cabin mail job” that could carry either four passengers or hundreds of pounds of mail. Known unofficially as “Pegasus,” none of the four airplanes were certified. The final Type 7000 was powered by a Wright Aeronautical static, air-cooled J5C radial engine rated at 200 horsepower. The biplane was priced at $10,000 with standard equipment. (Walter House)


As with its predecessors, the fourth Type 7000 was powered by a Wright Aeronautical nine-cylinder J5 static, air-cooled radial engine rated at 200 hp. The biplane, which had a maximum speed of 107 mph, featured a cabin that could seat up to four people or carry hundreds of pounds of mail. In fact, Snook made a note in his book that the airplane was built as a “cabin mail job” and may have been delivered without any passenger seats installed. Although company engineers completed an extensive stress analysis of the 1928 Type 7000 (copies of which still exist at the Wichita State University Library), no Approved Type Certificate was issued by the Department of Commerce (DOC).

Snook had teams of inspectors responsible for oversight of manufacturing operations such as the welding of fuselages that required highly skilled craftsmen to fabricate the welded joints correctly. The fuselage illustrated is for a Travel Air Type 2000 open-cockpit biplane. Based on Snook’s notebook, it is safe to claim that Travel Air built at least 1,500 (+- 100) airplanes from 1925-1931. Official production records for those years may be stored in the archives of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, but numerous efforts to locate those records during the past 40 years have not been successful, and places further emphasis on the importance of Mr. Snook’s daily notations for historical purposes. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


Another example of the book’s historical value is c/n 380 and 381, which Snook noted were equipped with Siemens-Halske radial engines rated at 125 hp. Travel Air conducted flight tests of the engine late in 1927 and only two airplanes are known to have been built with this powerplant. The first may have been c/n 380, registered with the DOC as “3791” and designated as a Travel Air Type 9000. Although generally known as a reliable engine, the Siemens-Halske was expensive and proved to be less popular than the Warner “Scarab” and later Wright J6-7 “Whirlwind” engines. As of 2020, no Type 9000 is known to exist. If anyone has documentary evidence or DOC confirmation that their ship was (or is) a Type 9000, please contact me at edwardhphillips@yahoo.com.

Important information regarding the build dates and Constructor Numbers of the three Travel Air Type “R” monoplanes is another example of Snook’s care to note details about unique airplanes built by the company. The first Type “R” built (R-2001 registered R614K) was photographed soon after completion outside of Buildings “D” and “B.” The Type “R” won the prestigious Free-For-All event at the 1929 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, at an average speed of more than 194 mph. In 1931 the airplane was badly damaged in a crash. An excellent reproduction of R-2001 is on static display at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


Here are a few more examples of interesting notes jotted down by Snook as 1928 progressed. In March he noted that c/n 401 “Went to Gerbracht with J-5 engine.” Gerbracht was a Travel Air sales agent but the actual customer is unknown. Later that week he wrote that c/n 395 was shipped “without engine,” while another notation verifies that the first Type 6000 cabin monoplane was c/n 230, registered as “X4765” (it led a turbulent life and later was destroyed by fire).

Two pages from Snook’s notebook written in March 1928 clearly show why his notations are so important to achieve a better understanding of the Travel Air Company’s production history. For example, on the left page at the bottom is the word “Mono” and “230” – identifying the prototype cabin monoplane (Constructor Number 230) that was completed at the end of March and test-flown in April 1928 by company chief pilot, Clarence E. Clark. It was up to William Snook to keep this complicated production line rolling along without interruption and proved to be full-time job requiring constant diligence to keep all those airplanes on track for assembly, test-flights and delivery. The opposite page at the top indicates that Constructor Number 361, the fourth and final Type 7000, was a “cabin mail” design and was “ready for wings” to be installed. Other notes refer to names of Travel Air dealers and distributors such as D.C. Warren in California, and when airplanes had been shipped to dealers, such as “Shipped to Chesapeake Air” at the top of the right page. The notebook is an irreplaceable historical document of the utmost importance pertaining to a unique slice of aviation history in the “Air Capital of the World” and must be preserved for future generations of aviation historians and enthusiasts. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


In April 1928 Snook noted that c/n 427 and 428 were powered by Hispano-Suiza upright, V-8 engines and sold into Mexico, while c/n 146, probably built in 1926 and still operating in the Boston, Mass., area, was back at the factory for “repairs.” There are also a number of mystery notations throughout the book that are as yet unexplained, such as the mention of three ships, c/n 464, 465 and 466, that were reportedly equipped with the Siemens-Halske engine, but there is no known evidence to support that claim in FAA records. Another Type 9000 (c/n 421), however, is noted by Snook in June 1928.

The oldest Travel Air recorded in the book is c/n 144, which probably belonged to businessman “Skipper” Howe (Howell?) of Wichita. It was the first airplane equipped with the new Wright J-4 radial engine that transformed the Model “A” into the Type BW that evolved into the Type 4000. Howe (Howell) took delivery of the ship in 1926.

There are many more historically important notes in the “Snook Book,” but space does not allow me to include them all here (perhaps more can be featured in a future article). I am glad to share what information is available if it will assist someone in tracking down the recorded origins of their airplane.