The International Air Races

By SM Sgt. Wilbur Tackaberry

 

The International Air Races and featured Pulitzer Trophy Race were held at St. Louis on October 4-5-6, 1923. This event was the instrument through which the St. Louis Aeronautics Corporation hoped to force its way into aeronautic prominence, obtain an Air Terminal for the city and gain recognition for St. Louis as "The Aerial Crossroads of America".

Along with the original 183 races, from which Robertson Aviation and the National Guard Air Unit operated, the corporation acquired an additional 316 acres which it improved with the erection of hangars, administration buildings, fencing and land clearance at a cost of some $235,000, most of which had been donated by interested businesses and citizens.

Although the program highlighted the racing events, spectators would be able to see the Barling Bomber, a 20 ton giant Army triplane, the "Shenandoah", then the world’s largest dirigible, parachute jumpers, stunt flyers and host of related activities. A squadron of De Haviland Combat Planes arrived from Kelly Field, Texas. The Marine Corps flight from Santo Domingo, in Central America to St. Louis marked the longest flight of any aircraft coming to the races.

On the day of the Pulitzer Race, the crowd was estimated at 140,000 and 24,000 automobiles. Mayor Henry W. Kiel had officially proclaimed the day a holiday.

Lt. Alford J. Williams of the U.S. Navy, flying a tiny Curtiss Navy Racer, won the Pulitzer by establishing a new world speed record of 243.67 MPH over a triangular course of 200 kilometers. His record was to remain unbroken for many years. Lt H. J. Brow of the Army Air Service placed second averaging 241.78 MPH. The Marine Corps entry, Lt. L. H. Sanderson, in a Wright Fighter, flew an average 230.06 MPH to take third place.

In an interview after the race Lt. Brow stated, "Handling the controls in ordinary flying is done subconsciously, with no more mental effort required in maintaining one’s balance on a bicycle, but, in a racer—well, just a careless touch and you shoot off on a tangent 100 feet or more. That’s where the strain comes in. Once aboard, each nerve and muscle does double duty. You must multiply the thrills of routine flying 100-fold before you’ll have any idea of speed flying."

On October 10, 1923, Mr. Rolla Wells, a former St. Louis Mayor who was working for United Railways of St. Louis, suggested that the people of St. Louis take over the present air field, add additional territory and make the field and adjacent land and buildings a huge community center, with a commercial air terminal as a nucleus.

At the same time Glen L. Curtis, who designed the Curtiss Racing Planes, discussed speed with Post Dispatch reporters and said, "It would be no trouble at all to make an airplane that could travel fast enough to burn itself up in friction with the air. A speed of 500 MPH or more would do this. The real problem, he said, is to design a plane of the highest speed capacity that will permit a pilot to maneuver his ship and land with it." The Curtiss Racing Planes of that time had an average speed of 250 MPH.

The International Air Races of 1923 were a tribute to the untiring efforts of Major Albert Bond Lambert, the Robertson brothers and members of the Aeronautical Society. It heralded a new era of aviation technology in which aircraft designers sought new methods of airframe and engine design and construction to safely accommodate the element of "speed" but most important, for the citizens of St. Louis, it marked the setting apart of the race facilities as a proposed

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