Travel Air E-4000, NC390M First Flight



First Flight

We made the first flight on my Travel Air, NC390M, s/n 1310 on a Wednesday December 13, 2006 after a very long (too long) restoration. TARA member Gene Rambo did me the honors of performing the test flight and oh what an exciting time for me that was. After a 10 minute flight he was back with a perfect wheel landing and we checked for oil and fuel leaks... with everything OK he was off for another 15 minute flight. There were a few issues that needed to be worked on but it flys and was back in the hangar all in one piece.... wow!! The next day we had low clouds so after changing the tachometer and making a few adjustments Gene flew it to the nearby airport of Hollister, CA (5 miles away) to full up the gas (we don't have gas at Frazier Lake) while I drove over. On the way back Gene was have a good time with the airplane and waited to land until I got there. I of course I was a little jealous and wanted to fly but was a bit nervous. Gene asked me if I was ready to fly her and after a little hesitation I was in the cockpit and lined up on the runway. Up to this point I had never flown a biplane solo before, although I had recently gotten some Stearman dual and an endorsement. After sitting there for almost a minute it was time to face my inner ghost.... I yelled out "now Jerry don't screw this up" and I poured the coal to it and I was flying. Wow I was flying!! After some gentle and steep turns, some slow flight and some deep breaths I made a pass of the runway and was ready to land. I made a circle approach at 65mph and the visibility was better then I expected. I three pointer her and I was down... OK I did make about three landing on that one but it wasn't too bad... I did it! The Travel Air now has about 4 1/2 hours on her of which I have 3 1/2 hours and 15 landings under my belt. I'm now in the tune-up phase working on items that were over looked. I hope to get to a few fly-in's this summer to show her off.... see you there!

About the Aircraft

This Travel Air, NC390M, s/n 1310 was built as an E-4000 with a 165hp Wright J6-5 engine in September 1929 but over the years has had several different engines installed. After about 6 months a Curtiss Challenger engine of 170hp was installed making it a C-4000 and the aircraft was sold to the Curtiss Wright Flying Service, a nation wide flying service, in 1930 based in Alameda, CA. After about two years the aircraft was sold and then owned by a number of individuals for business and pleasure. One individual, Mike Manasser, in 1936 used the Travel Air fora "HoneyMoon Express" service to take couples to Reno (from the northern California area) to get married. I have been told by family members of former owners that this aircraft has been under ever bridge in the California central valley. In 1940 the aircraft was sold to a cropduster named Red Jenson located in the Sacramento area and he installed a Wright J-5 engine... he listed it as a D-4000. In 1941 a 300hp Lycoming was installed and the designation was changed to a L-4000. It is unclear from my files how long this Travel Air remained active with Red Jenson but most likely it was used up until the late 1950's. In1981 it was sold at the Jenson Estate sale to Jack Thurman and in 1982 I brought it from him. At this point the aircraft consisted of a good fuselage (no landing gear), tail surfaces and a wood turttle back. Included were a collection of five wing panels... four A wing panels and one E wing panel, all needing serious work. That's how I started. The Travel Air is currently configured as a E-4000 but with a 235hp Wright J6-7 engine installed.

I'll have more on the restoration in a later issue but for now that's my story and I'm sticking to it!