As the year 1924 faded into history, the city of Wichita, Kansas, could boast of only one business producing aircraft – the Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company. That changed in December when Walter H. Beech and Lloyd C. Stearman quit working at Swallow and joined forces with Clyde V. Cessna and local businessmen Walter P. Innes, Jr., and Charles G. Yankey to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Company.
Walter, Lloyd and Clyde contributed cash to help establish the business, but Cessna contributed far more funding than Beech or Stearman and loaned Travel Air a significant amount of woodworking equipment. In January 1925 the infant organization set up shop in a tiny workspace in the Kansas Planing Mill Company’s building located at 471 West First Street, behind the Broadview Hotel and adjacent to the Arkansas River.
About 15 employees were soon busy welding steel tubing and building wood wings for Travel Air’s first aircraft – the Model “A” biplane. The two-place, open-cockpit airplane first flew in March 1925 and orders for the new ship began to pile up on the desk of the company’s secretary and office manager, Miss Olive Ann Mellor.
Initially, plans called for building the Model “A” in lots of 10 airplanes with plans to eventually commence production of a five-place, closed-cabin ship designed to carry four passengers or a few hundred of pounds of cargo. The first Model “A” was sold to to O.E. Scott who plunked down $3,500 for the ship.
Travel Air’s management team included Innes as president, Cessna as vice president, Stearman was chief engineer, Walter Beech served as chief pilot and William “Bill” Snook was factory manager. The company’s slogan, “Our policy is a better airplane for the same price,” later gave way to simply, “Large or small, we lead them all.”
In the January 26, 1925 issue of “AVIATION” magazine, Travel Air was announced to the world. It described Beech as a “pilot in the Wichita area” and labeled Stearman as a “well known aeronautical engineer.” As for Clyde, he was referred to (most appropriately) as a “pioneer flier of Rago, Kansas.”
At the end of 1925 the company had built and sold at least 19 airplanes and had orders in hand for many more. In less than one year of existence Travel Air had established itself as one of the leading commercial airframe manufacturers in America.