On a cold December day in 1928, famous Hollywood star Wallace Beery walked into Olive Ann Mellor’s office, flashed his famous grin and plunked down a wad of greenbacks to pay for his custom-built Travel Air monoplane.

Ms. Mellor was stunned, not only by the sudden presence of an esteemed Hollywood star in her humble office, but even more so by the roll of thousand dollar bills resting on her desk. “There’s the balance I owe for my airplane, ten thousand bucks, paid in full,” bellowed Beery as he looked down upon Ms. Mellor with a smile. “I’m Wallace Beery, glad to meet you.” Quickly recovering her composure, Olive Ann returned the compliment, hastily made out a receipt and handed it to Beery. He smiled again, bid Ms. Mellor good day and disappeared through the doorway into the factory. Seizing what she knew was a once in a lifetime moment, she picked up the wad of bills and allowed the other three young ladies in the office to hold $10,000 in their hands, to see it, feel it and smell it if only for a brief moment.  Olive Ann knew none of them were ever likely to enjoy that experience again.1

Wallace Beery was in Wichita, Kansas, to take delivery of his special Type A6000A cabin monoplane. Completed only a few days before his arrival, company test pilot Clarence Clark had put his personal stamp of approval on its performance and declared it ready for delivery. Beery had been a successful actor in Hollywood since 1913 and starred in many silent films such as “Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk.” During the late 1920s he made the transition from silent movies to “talkies” and in 1931 was awarded an Oscar for his performance in “The Champ.”

At a price of $20,000, Beery’s Travel Air Type A6000A was among the most expensive cabin monoplanes built by the company. The wingspan was increased slightly to hold more fuel for the thirsty Pratt & Whitney R-985 static, air-cooled radial engine that was rated at more than 400 horsepower. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


By the time Beery ordered his custom-built Travel Air in 1928, he had been flying for about four years and had owned an early production Travel Air type BW biplane. His financial success at the box office allowed him to freely indulge his aeronautical desires and he eventually chose the bullish Type A6000A as his next aerial mount. Although the Travel Air Company did not “invent” the cabin monoplane, Walter Beech was among the first to foresee the growth of business aviation and the need for a modern airplane designed specifically to meet the unique requirements of that market. These included a spacious cabin capable of accommodating up to six occupants, the ability to mount office equipment such as a desk, typewriter and dictation machine, and above all, lend itself to customization.

Beery was an accomplished pilot and owned a number of airplanes during his career as an actor in Hollywood, including a Travel Air Model 4000 biplane. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


In 1927 Beech had orchestrated an extensive market survey of Travel Air clientele and found that a majority would gladly trade their open cockpit biplanes for an enclosed cabin monoplane. As a result of the survey company engineers created the Type 6000 that flew for the first time in April 1928. It later formed the basis for larger, more powerful versions such as the Type 6000B and the A6000A. Engineers Herb Rawdon, Walter Burnham, Cecil Barlow and Howard Bacchus redesigned the airframe to accept engines up to 300 hp. In addition, the forward cabin width was increased four inches and length increased by five inches; the throttle quadrant was relocated to the center of the instrument panel and the crank mechanism for the windows was improved.

Beery (left) and Walter Beech posed with the actor’s custom-built monoplane on the day it was delivered in December 1928. The nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial engine was equipped with extended dual exhaust stacks that routed fumes away from the cabin. (Textron Aviation)


The 6000B was powered by a nine-cylinder Wright J6-9 static, air-cooled radial engine rated at 300 hp while the larger A6000A boasted a massive, 425-hp Pratt & Whitney radial powerplant. Although built in much smaller numbers than the dominant 6000B, the A6000A offered customers more power and utility than was available with the standard airplane.2

When the company received Beery’s order for an A6000A it specified a list of custom appointments worth $1,000. These included eats upholstered in velour, a specially-built divan installed in the cabin so Beery could nap on long flights, a folding card table was built and installed and the actor paid an additional $195 for the optional lavatory in the aft cabin (it was another upgrade that would prove useful on cross-country trips). Hot/cold running water flowed to the sink by gravity from a tank installed above the lavatory. A small, wall-mounted cabinet and a non-flushing toilet completed the interior of the space, which was attractively tiled in white enamel.3

Travel Air offered a variety of interior seating configurations including the large divan that Beery had installed along with the optional toilet located at the back of the cabin (the sink is visible through the open door). Hot and cold running water were supplied from a tank, and the toilet flushed directly to atmosphere. (Textron Aviation)


The upgrades made to Beery’s airplane did not end with the cabin. Rawdon and his engineering team had to make major modifications to the basic Type 6000B airframe to ensure it could handle the big Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine. The forward fuselage section and engine mount area were reinforced with stronger tubing of increased wall thickness, a new engine mount was designed and the landing gear strengthened to cope with the airplane’s higher gross weight.4

Wing area was increased 60 square feet for a total area of 340 compared to 282 square feet for the Type 6000B, and the wings were reinforced with steel tubing to handle the increased area and higher wing loading. The increased area allowed for an additional 80 gallons of fuel bringing total capacity to 130 gallons—a necessity since the thirsty R-985 gulped more than 30 gallons of fuel per hour at a cruise power setting. When the final bill was tallied Wallace Beery owed Travel Air a whopping $20,000—a staggering sum in 1928. It was the most expensive airplane the company built in its brief, five-year existence.

Typical cockpit of a Model A6000A featured dual Deperdussin-type control wheels with throttle, mixture and spark controls grouped together in a quadrant mounted on the instrument panel. Note cranks for cabin windows and large magnetic compass installed left of the control wheel. (Textron Aviation)


After flying with company pilot “Pete” Hill to become familiar with the monoplane, Beery and his employee George Maves took off from Travel Air Field on December 18 enroute to Los Angeles, California. Maves, who reportedly learned to fly under the able tutelage of famous aviator Art Goebel, had been hired by Beery chiefly to serve as a mechanic to maintain the A6000A and keep it ready for flight.5

Beery was pleased with his new ship and flew it regularly during the next 15 months, including a number of long cross-country flights for which the airplane was well suited. For example, according to the Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register in Tucson, Arizona, Beery landed the airplane at the Tucson airfield on March 14, 1929. He was carrying a full load of passengers from Los Angeles enroute to El Paso, Texas.

In March 1930 the airplane was being flown by Maves when it crashed and was destroyed by impact and a post-crash fire in the vicinity of San Gabriel, California. Beery told reporters that Maves did not have permission to fly the ship, which was based at United Airport in Burbank, California. Beery had recently flown the Travel Air for five hours and knew of no mechanical problems with the airplane. Maves, his wife Cynthia and a pilot named Lynn Hayes, were killed. According to local news reports dated March 25, 1930, witnesses told Department of Commerce officials that the monoplane “approached Valley Boulevard from the south” at a low altitude of about 300-600 feet before it began a turn to the left. Instead of rolling out of the bank the ship “fell off” and then “plunged, nose down,” to the ground.

The newspapers reported that Beery was “much affected” when he learned of the accident. He said he had employed Maves “at various periods” totaling about 18 months as a mechanic and “had flown many hours with him.” The accident, however, did not deter Beery from continuing to fly. He remained an active pilot until 1941 when America entered World War Two.


  1. This story was related to the author by one of those young ladies who, 60 years after the event, still remembered the sight, feel and smell of big money as if it were yesterday.
  2. After Travel Air was acquired by the Curtiss-Wright in 1929 these designations were changed to Type 6B and Type A6A, respectively.
  3. Although cramped for the average adult, the lavatory was functional and proved to be a popular option with customers.
  4. The Type 6000B had a maximum gross weight of 4,230 pounds compared to 5,250 pounds for the Type A6000A.
  5. According to Internet sources, Maves had been a member of the popular “Thirteen Black Cats” aerial stunt team before accepting employment with Beery. He eventually took a job flying for Pickwick Airways but later resumed his employment by Beery and accompanied him to Wichita to accept the A6000A.