Of all the employees who worked at the Travel Air Manufacturing Company during 1925-1931, none were as deeply involved in the day-to-day management of production line activities as was factory manager William “Bill” Snook.
A long-time resident of Wichita, Snook had worked at E.M. Laird’s infant airplane company after World War I, and following his years working with Walter H. Beech at Travel Air, he went to work across town for pioneer aviator Clyde Vernon Cessna.
Although official production records pertaining to the earliest biplanes built by Travel Air during 1925-1927 have been lost to history, Bill Snook kept a personal, detailed daily record of airplane manufacturing in a small notebook. That important book, which remains in the possession of the Snook family, is the only known source of airframe serial numbers from 1928 until the company fell victim to the Great Depression in 1931.
Known unofficially as the “Snook Book,” its pages contain a wealth of information concerning the fabrication, assembly and delivery of Travel Air ships during the company’s heyday. The information, however, does not always agree with “hearsay history” and “myths” nor does it align itself well with official (but scanty) FAA records housed in Oklahoma City. What makes Snook’s record keeping so important to Wichita’s legacy is its brief chronology of each airplane as it was produced, including what types of airplanes were on the assembly lines each day, their original engine type, who the customer was, when they took delivery, and the method of shipment to the company’s dealer and distributor network.
Snook began writing in his notebook in February 1928. He noted that by that time Travel Air had built and sold 223 airplanes since early 1925. The first airplanes recorded include constructor numbers (c/n, or serial numbers) 326, 328 and 329 that were being “set up from storage” and assembled for flight testing by chief pilot Clarence Clark. In addition, Snook noted that c/n 345, 346, 348 and 349 had recently been delivered or “shipped out” to a Travel Air dealer/distributor.
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. He wrote that the first three had been constructed in 1926-1927, with the final airframe entering production on March 10, 1928. The fourth Type 7000 was powered by a Wright Aeronautical nine-cylinder, static, air-cooled J5 radial engine rated at 200 horsepower. The ship’s cabin could accommodate four passengers or hundreds of pounds of mail and equipment. Snook noted that c/n 361 had been built specifically as a “cabin mail job” and may have been delivered without any passenger seats. Company engineers did complete a stress analysis investigation of the Type 7000 (a copy of which is housed in the Special Collections Department at Wichita State University), Travel Air did not seek an Approved Type Certificate from the Department of Commerce.
Another example of the book’s historical value centers on c/n 380 and 381. Snook wrote that these two biplanes were equipped with the German-built Siemens-Halske radial engine rated 125 horsepower. Clarence Clark conducted the test flights of the engine late in 1927, but only these two ships, designated Type 9000, are known to have been built with that powerplant.
A few other interesting notes scribbled down in the book include shipment of c/n 401 (less engine) to Alaska; the sale of Type 3000 biplanes c/n 427 and 428, powered by Wright Hispano-Suiza V-8 engines, that were shipped to Mexico. The oldest Travel Air recorded in Snook’s ledger is c/n 144 that was sold in 1926 to businessman “Skipper” Howell (or Howe?). The biplane was powered by the then-new and expensive Wright J4 radial engine and may have been the first Type BW built.
Wichitans should be thankful to have the “Snook Book” because it sheds light not only the success of Travel Air, but of the “Peerless Princess of the Prairie” and its aviation industry.