Collection Item Summary:
Following his first Thompson Trophy victory in 1934, famed racing pilot Roscoe Turner contracted with the Lawrence W. Brown Aircraft Company to build a new racing aircraft. Designed by Turner and engineered by University of Minnesota professor Howard Barlow, the Turner racer was completed in mid-1936. Following flight tests, Matty Laird extensively redesigned the aircraft and added a larger wing and flaps.
Known as the Laird Turner LTR-14 and later the Turner RT-14, the modified racer placed third in the 1937 Thompson Trophy event at the National Air Races and won the 1938 and 1939 contests. With this aircraft, Turner became the only three-time winner of the Thompson Trophy. In 1939 the aircraft was sponsored by Champion Spark Plugs and therefore carried the name "Miss Champion" on its fuselage.
Collection Item Long Description:
Feeling that his 1934 Thompson Trophy-winning Wedell-Williams was beginning to be outclassed by newer, faster racers, Roscoe Turner in 1936 contracted with the Lawrence W. Brown Aircraft Company of California to build a new racing aircraft. The aircraft, designed by Turner himself and engineered by Professor Howard Barlow of the University of Minnesota, was completed in mid-1936.
When Turner went to California to test fly the aircraft, he decided that it was too heavy for the 22-foot wingspan with its narrow chord. Thus, it was never flown with this small wing but was taken apart and shipped to Chicago. where renowned aircraft designer Matty Laird completely revamped it, using Turner’s own design for a new wing. Turner had the span increased by 3 feet, and wing flaps added to reduce landing speed.
The Turner racer began its career with the 1937 National Air Races. That year it was sponsored by Ring Free Oil and was called Ring Free Meteor. For a while Turner held the lead in the Thompson Race, but on the final lap—blinded by the sun—Turner had to recircle a missed pylon. Two aircraft passed him, and Turner finished third with a speed of 253.802 mph.
Turner and his racer returned to the Nationals in 1938, this time sponsored by the Pump Engineering Service Corporation of Cleveland. with the aircraft bearing the name Pesco Special. Only minor changes had been made, including the addition of wheel pants, and Turner was more than ready for the race before his second Thompson win. Nineteen thirty-eight was the first year that the same aircraft could not enter both the Bendix and the Thompson races, so Turner and the Pesco would have only one shot at a prize. The Thompson Race presented another difficulty to Turner that year. It would be rough going for an aircraft as large as the Pesco, since the thirty-lap course was only 10 miles around, not long enough for the larger aircraft to do their best. This situation would also hold true in 1939.
During most of the race Turner flew second behind Earl Ortman in his Marcoux-Bromberg. Flying a wide race to be sure of making all the pylons, Turner pushed past Ortman on the sixth lap as Ortman’s engine began trailing smoke. Turner went on to take the race at a speed of 283.416 mph—his fastest lap being 293 mph—and thus he became the first two-time winner of the Thompson Race.
Back again in 1939 to attempt a third Thompson win, Turner was sponsored by Champion Spark Plugs. The aircraft, still bearing race number 27, had the Champion insignia on the side and was named Miss Champion.
Slow getting off, and sitting in the number four spot, Turner was again plagued as he cut a pylon on the second lap. After going back to recircle the missed one, he trailed the entire field of seven aircraft. But the superior horsepower of Turner’s Twin Wasp, Sr., began to make itself felt, and pushing past all other aircraft, Turner went on to an unprecedented third win in the Thompson Trophy Race with a speed of 282.5 mph.
With that race Turner announced his retirement. He returned to Indianapolis to operate the Turner Aeronautical Corporation until his death in 1970. His racer hung in a prominent place from the rafters of his main hangar until restored and placed in the Turner Museum, which was erected near his hangar in Indianapolis.
It was Roscoe Turner’s desire that the racer someday be part of the National Aeronautical Collection at the Smithsonian, and with the closing of his museum in late 1972, the plane was gratefully received by the National Air and Space Museum.
National Air and Space Museum
Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
Donated by the Estate of Roscoe Turner
- Wingspan 7.71 m (25 ft. 3.5 in.)
- Length 7.11 m (23 ft. 4 in.)
- Height 3.05 m (10 ft.)
- Weight 1,427 kg (3,300 lb.) empty
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Country of Origin
United States of America