Through the history of aviation, pilots have worn many types of helmets. Exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum range from Paul Studenski's 1912 era leather flying helmet, to Apollo Soucek's furry helmet, to Mike Melvill's SpaceShipOne helmet. Today, however, in honor of Super Bowl 50, we will remember Robert "Bob" Eucker's football helmet.
Not to be confused with baseball's Bob Uecker, pilot Bob Eucker won the Sohio Handicap Trophy Race in the 1948 National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. This particular race was sponsored by the Standard Oil Company (Ohio) and was open to P-38, P-51, and P-63 aircraft only. The race was not a typical air race. A handicap was determined for each aircraft from speeds calculated during qualifying trials. The slowest plane was given a head start and then, one by one, the next slowest aircraft would take off. The first aircraft across the finish line was declared the winner. The rules did cover the possibility of pilots trying to cheat the event by flying a low qualifying time—if a winner's average speeds were found to be in excess of their qualifying speeds, the plane would automatically be disqualified.
A Cleveland local, Eucker's P-63 was sponsored by Hosler Aircraft. He started in the middle of the pack, with a 137.5 second handicap, but finished the race with an elapsed time of 19:40.44 minutes and an average speed of 515.34 kph (320.220 mph). He won the $3,150 prize in style, sporting a football helmet borrowed from his local high school football team. While Eucker's helmet is not a part of the Museum's collections, the National Air and Space Museum Archives does have photos in the National Air Races Negatives Collection (Acc. No. XXXX-0555)! While we probably wouldn't recommend wearing a football helmet for your aviation exploits, you are free to wear one on your couch as you watch the Super Bowl! Enjoy the game.