The Travel Air company was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1925 by three men who would become some of the most famous names in aviation. They were Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman, and all would go on to found their own aircraft companies, two of which are still in business today. Their main product was a biplane that could carry three people, a pilot and two passengers. Powered by engines from 90 to 235 horsepower these aircraft were used for a variety of purposes including charter, flight instruction, business travel, and even plain old joy rides and barnstorming.
"Miss Marianna" rolled out of the Travel Air factory on December 28, 1928 as a Model 3000 with a 150 hp water cooled V-8 Hispano-Suiza engine, and was delivered that day to her new owner, J. L. Parker of Kansas City, Missouri. The CAA had assigned registration number 9079, preceded by the letter "C" meaning it could be used for commercial purposes. Later the standard American identifier letter "N" was added so that the airplane could be used for interstate commerce. Parker must've been fairly high in the company to afford an airplane that cost $4,140 when the average annual household income was around $2,000.
Within a year Parker took C9079 back to the factory and had them convert it to a more advanced 5 cylinder Wright radial engine of 165 horsepower, making it a Model E-4000.
J. L.'s grandson, Larry Shank, is a pilot today, and he was gracious enough to provide some old family photos of his grandfather with "Miss Marianna" (unfortunately nobody knows who Marianna was!), as well as letting us borrow J. L.'s pilot logbook, which shows that he flew C9079 on trips as distant as Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Denver.
Another friend, Pete Colomello, has uncovered some old newspaper articles mentioning Parker and his travels in "Miss Marianna", and even an appearance at an airshow.
In 1932 the airplane was sold to a buyer in Michigan, and in 1935 it went to Harold Tschantz of Indiana, who kept it until 1939. We have been in touch with the Tschantz family, and were able to give some of them rides in '9079 in the summer of 2019. One of the neat things that Harold did with the airplane was to take part in National Air Mail Week in May, 1938. This was a promotional event sponsored by the US Post Office where local pilots were sworn in as Postal employees and flew the mail from their local airport to one of the normal Air Mail hubs. So '9079 is a genuine Air Mail airplane.
Then the Travel AIr went to Louisiana before ending up in Texas during World War 2. Here it worked as a crop duster, which is probably why it survived when so many of its contemporaries were scrapped. In the late 1940s the Wright engine was replaced with a 220 horsepower Continental 7-cylinder radial, a World War 2 engine known for its strength and reliability. It still has that type of engine on it today. It continued crop dusting in Texas until the 1950s, when it was probably replaced by more modern purpose-built types, and was put into storage.
In 1965 it was sold to Wayne Delp in upstate New York, and over some years he restored it back to its former glory, and flew it around the Eastern US to various airshows and events. When Wayne died in 1999 his son Tom inherited C9079, and in 2018 we purchased the airplane from Tom. It hadn't flown in about 10 years, and needed an engine overhaul and some other work, so we disassembled it and trucked it back to Virginia. Finally, in March of 2019 it took to the skies again, and is now ready to go back to work, showing a new generation the thrill of open cockpit flying.
This is not Miss Marianna, but it is a Travel Air Model 3000 and shows what our airplane would've looked like when it left the factory in December, 1928. This is actually the well known Number 32 that flew in the 1926 Ford Air Tour, and still survives today in the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum in St. Louis, MO.
This is a fantastic hand colorized photo of Miss Marianna when J. L. Parker owned it. Close examination shows that the original factory colors were black fuselage with orange wing and horizontal tail surfaces. The airplane will be returned to these colors the next time it's rebuilt.
A man and his airplane. J. L. Parker with Miss Marianna, probably in 1929, as by 1930 the aircraft records show that the N was added to the registration number to make it NC9079.
I believe that that's Parker on the left, with unknown friend, standing in front of Miss Marianna, location unknown also.
Parker's ID card and license from 1934
Above, a page from the logbook, showing a trip to Athens, Georgia in 1930, and below, an article in the Atlanta Constitution from December 28, 1930 about the trip
An advertisement from July 1930 for an air meet in Oklahoma listing J. L. Parker as one of the featured Famous Bird-Men appearing.
A scan of the original bill of sale for Travel Air C9079, signed by Walter Beech himself, and by Olive Mellor, who would go on to marry Beech, and eventually become CEO of the Beech Aircraft Company. Sale price Fortyone hundred Forty + no/100 dollars.
Harold Tschantz about to fly the Air Mail in 1938. No numbers are visible on the airplane, but it is a Travel Air, and we are quite certain that it's our C9079. Courtesy of the Whitley County Historical Museum
Below are a series of photos of NC9079 when Harold Tschantz owned it, photos courtesy of the Tschantz family. Note that the stripe on the side of the fuselage is different from when it was new, when J.L. Parker had it in Kansas City. Despite only being 7 years old in the photos below it seems that at least the fuselage had already had its fabric covering replaced. In those days, when cotton was used instead of dacron that we use now, aircraft fabric had a short life, and being recovered in the space of 7 years is entirely plausible.