Wittman Special 20 "Buster"

Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

The aircraft that enjoyed what was perhaps the longest and most sucessful career in air racing history was Steve Wittman's Chief Oshkosh, known in the post-World War II era as Buster. From 1931 until its retirement in 1954, this midget racer set records and took numerous trophies in class races and free-for-alls.

Although Wittman was plagued with several problems in this, his first homebuilt racer, he placed high each year in major races in Los Angeles, Cleveland, Miami, and Chicago. In 1937, Chief Oshkosh set a new world's record for its class over a 100-kilometer course at Detroit with a speed of 383.30 kilometers per hour (238.22 miles per hour).

Collection Item Long Description:

The aircraft that enjoyed what was perhaps the longest, and one of the most successful careers in air racing history was Steve Wittman’s Chief Oshkosh, known in the post-World War II era as Buster. From 1931 until its retirement in 1954, this midget racer set records and took numerous trophies in class races and free-for-alls; including two wins in the Goodyear Trophy Races.

The Chief Oshkosh was Wittman’s first homebuilt racer. It was a Cirrus-powered midwing monoplane with a tripod landing gear; its wheels were too tiny to permit brakes. Wittman used his own design for the 19-foot-span wings. The aircraft was entirely red and had an Indian head with ‘Chief Oshkosh" painted on the nose.

During the 1931 National Air Races Chief Oshkosh developed wing flutter and was entered only in the 400-cubic-inch class race, in which it took third with a speed of 150.27 mph. Wittman had modified Chief Oshkosh by the time of the 1932 Nationals. He had replaced the American Cirrus with a 349-cubic-inch Cirrus Hermes. The cowl and canopy had been painted silver, with the fuselage still red. That year Wittman beat Ben Howard’s Pete in one race and also took a second, a fourth, a sixth, and a seventh in other races. Later in 1932 he won the Glenn Curtiss Trophy in Miami with a speed of 166.9 mph.

1933 proved to be an excellent year for Wittman and the Chief. Early in that year he placed third in the Miami races and got two thirds, one fourth, and two fifths at the International Air Races in Chicago. At the 1933 Nationals he took first in the 350-cubic-inch class with a speed of 159.8 mph. That win, along with two seconds and two thirds in the 375-cubic-inch events, was enough for first place overall.

Still bothered by wing-tip flutter, Wittman decided to decrease the size of the wings. By the time the Chief was ready for the 1934 Nationals, its span was down to 16 feet and its area to 42 square feet. That year the aircraft picked up two third places, two fourths, and two fifths with a top speed of 186.60 mph.

Competition was stiffer in 1935, and Wittman souped up the Chief’s Cirrus to the limit. He managed two thirds and two fifths at the Nationals and one second and two thirds in Miami. His best speed was 202.22 mph.

The Cirrus was replaced in 1936 by a Menasco CS-4 363-cubic-inch engine. The tripod landing gear was replaced by a multiple leaf type with spring steel struts, and the wing span was cut to 13 feet. During the Nationals that year, however, the Chief ran into trouble. Wittman developed engine problems as he was holding down second place in the Shell 375-cubic-inch race. He misjudged on his forced landing and slammed into the top of a parked Northrop A-17. Neither Wittman nor the Chief was badly injured, but they were out of the races for 1936.

Wittman and the Chief returned in 1937 with more modifications to the aircraft. The multiple leaf landing gear had been replaced by a single leaf type, and the cockpit had been altered to give greater visibility. The aircraft took three firsts, placed second in the Greve Trophy Race, and set a new world’s record for its class over a 100-kilometer course at Detroit with a speed of 238.22 mph.

In 1938 Wittman crash-landed the Chief at the Oakland, California, races. The aircraft was not raced again until 1947, when it was revamped, fitted with new wings, and renamed Buster.

Nineteen forty-seven was also the year of the first of the three Goodyear Trophy Races for midget planes with 190-cubic-inch engine displacement, fixed props and landing gears, and 500-pound empty weights. Bill Brennand, a jockey-sized protégé of Wittman, piloted the red and yellow Buster to victory with an average speed of 165.9 mph.

In the 1948 Goodyear Race, Brennand and the Buster could manage only fourth place with a speed of 167.063 mph. Nineteen forty-nine, however, proved to be a different story. With Brennand at the controls, the Buster again won the Goodyear Trophy with a speed of 177.3 mph, took second in the Continental Motors Race in Miami (for aircraft with Continental C-85 engines), fourth at San Diego, third at Newhall, California, and fourth at Ontario, California.

Continuing to pilot the Buster in the early 1950s, Brennand finished fifth in the 1950 Continental Race at Miami, first at White Plains, New York, first at Chattanooga, and second in the 1950 Rebat Trophy Race at Reading, Pennsylvania. Bob Porter took over flying the aircraft in 1951.

He and the Buster took a third and a fourth at Chattanooga, second in the 1951 Rebat Race, and fourth in the 1952 Continental Race at Detroit.

Porter flew the Buster to third place in the aircraft’s last race at Dansville, New York, on July 4, 1954. The racer was retired after this race and is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Aeronautical Collection.