Help via Ko-Fi


Colonel Roscoe Turner

The fastest man in the world! No one has ever approached this flyer's achievements in speed.


ON September 5, 1939, Roscoe Turner whipped his silver bullet Turner-Laird Special through the 300 mile Thompson trophy race to win that event for the third time, the only man who has won the grueling grind more than once. Then he announced his retirement for air speed racing, closing a ten-year career that easily established him as the world's No. 1 speed flyer.

Turner was trained by the army air corps in 1917, a twenty-three-year-old kid. Since then he has always been in the air. He operated an airline along the southern Atlantic Seaboard for a time, and for another period was a one man airline himself between Los Angeles and Winslow, Arizona. In 1928 he failed in an attempt to break the endurance record, but the bug of competition had bitten him.

The first of his long series of record breaking performances came in 1930, when he flew from New York to Glendale, California, in 18 hours and 43 minutes, beating the transcontinental mark set up the year before by Frank Hawks. A few weeks later he demonstrated the feasibility of a daylight transcontinental passenger service by taking three passengers from Glendale to New York in a little less than 20 hours.

By arriving in New York an hour too late, Turner disqualified himself for the $10,000 prize offered for a west-east nonstop flight, but he went on to set a new border-to-border record by screaming down from Vancouver to Agua Caliente at the terrific speed of 150 mph.

In 1932 he got together with Jimmy Wedell and built three special racing jobs, stubby low-winged monoplanes capable of 300 mph. Then the records really began to topple, although the west-east transcontinental record continued to ride high as a Turner jinx.

On the first leg of an attempted round trip record, in November, 1932, he blew out a tire and damaged his landing gear at Columbus, Ohio. After repairs he went on to New York, turned around, and streaked across the continent in 12Jú hours, beating the old record by more than two hours. Then he smashed the round trip time between Los Angeles and San Francisco by maintaining an average of 275 mph.

In the summer of 1933 storms and trouble balked four efforts to set a hew west-east record, but he broke bis own west-east record by winning the cross country dash of the National Air Races with a time of 11 hours and 30 minutes, an average from coast to coast of 212 mph. Then he won the 100 mile Thompson Trophy race by streaking around the ten mile closed course at an average of 241 mph, and the straightaway race at a speed of 281 mph. However, it was not to be all sweetness and light. During the race he skipped one pylon to avoid a collision with Jimmy Wedell. Although he made it up by circling the pylon a second time on the next lap, he was disqualified.

In September, 1933, he broke the jinx that had balked his attempts at a west-east record, and flew from Los Angeles to New York in 10 hours, 5J4 minutes, breaking the previous record held by Jimmy Haizlip.

In 1934, Turner had his first Thompson Trophy win that stood up, averaging 253 mph. Then he entered the London-Melbourne race, and his troubles began. On July 10 he was barred as a competitor by some technicality; three days later he was reinstated.

With Clyde Pangborn as a partner he selected a Boeing 247-D, a low wing twin motored transport plane. While waiting for the ship, he dashed east again, breaking his former record by several minutes. Then he returned to the coast, and flew the Boeing east for shipment abroad.

In France he had his headaches with officialdom. ey refused to let him ,imcrate the airplane arid op for London until Turner and Pangborn raised 00,000 francs, but finally the United States lines arranged a satisfactory bond.

The race was a steady series of bad breaks for e Americans. They were, like the leading Dutch entry, flying a stock model American transport in competition with special racing jobs entered by the British. A British ship won hands down, but it was neck and neck between the Dutch and Americans. Motor trouble all the way across Australia cut Turner's speed, and a broken oil line delayed him enough at Darwin, Charleville, and Bourke to permit the Dutch team to take second place. By the rules this gave them first place in the handicap, while Turner and Pangborn placed second in the speed event.

The jinx hung on. In 1935, with a 1 minute 32 second lead and less than a lap to go, a supercharger blade let go, and wrecked the motor. It caught fire, but Turner rode the ship and barely managed to land it safely on the field. To sympathetic friends he remarked.

"I don't think it was hard luck. I think it's good luck every time you can walk away from airplanes like that."

The race was won by Harold Neuman, with an average 30 miles slower than Turner's best previous record.

He was also jinxed in the Bendix race that year; refueling difficulties in Albuquerque grounded him for the extra minutes that lost the race.

Things went the same way in 1936. This time he crashed because of a broken throttle, again in New Mexico. It was Turner's first crash in nineteen years of flying, and he felt lucky to walk away with no more damage than two broken ribs.

In 1937 be got his famous No. 29, a stubby midwing monoplane powered with a twin-row, 14 cylinder Wasp, capable of 1,400 hp. Its wingspread is only 24 feet; its length, 31 feet. It has hit speeds as high as 375 mph.

But the jinx hung on. He was forced out of the Bendix race when a gasoline tank exploded, but got the. ship repaired in time for the Thompson Trophy Race. Flying at a steady 345 mph to make an average of around 280 while sweeping in great circles around the pylons, he was leading in the final lap, but thought he missed a pylon. Remembering 1933, he circled it again, and dropped back to third place. Lady Luck changed her mind in 1933. With everything clicking perfectly, Turner slowly increased his speed from the first lap average of 224 mph. and lapped the entire field, just diving past second place Earl Ortman as he crossed the finish line. Then he went on to fly a second lap for luck, put the ship on its tail, and climbed 5,000 feet in sheer exuberance. That was the first time in history that the Thompson Trophy, the world's No. 1 air contest, had been won for a second lime by the same man. The new record was 283 mph.

In 1939 he did it again, averaging 2S2 miles an hour, and lapping the field just as easily as the year before. It was getting monotonous; perhaps that is why Turner has retired to give somebody else a chance to win.