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Held over May 4, 5 and 6, the Society of Air Racing Historians held their 17th Annual Air Racing Symposium at the Cleveland Airport Radisson hotel. Approximately 100 members of the Society converged near the site of the Cleveland National Air Races. The three day event provided air racing fans, enthusiasts and historians the opportunity to hear a number of different speakers discussing a wide range of topics. A separate room was set up to provide attendees the opportunity to see several photo collections, memorabilia, models and artwork.
Friday began with an informal "bull session," as the members like to say. Members gathered and spent the afternoon registering for the event and talking with each other. Notable personalities included Ed Maloney of the Chino Planes of Fame Air Museum, Bill Turner of Repeat Aircraft, and biplane race pilot Don Fairbanks.
Saturday dawned clear and cool in Cleveland, a stark contrast to the rainy weather of previous years. Society members met at 0900 and settled in for the scheduled lectures. Harry Thompson got the ball rolling with some background on the Dormoy Bathtub, an early racer that ran in air races for low powered aircraft. After a brief introduction, Thompson took the audience through his experience of building and flying a replica of the Bathtub. Since the aircraft is a small wood and fabric design that looked like it had zero stability, it was interesting to hear his thoughts and ideas on how the aircraft was built and its flying qualities.
World renown aerobatic performer and competitor Clint McHenry took the podium to recount his relationship with Matty Laird, creator of the Laird Solution. Although McHenry is well known as an aerobatic pilot, but he also spent a full airline career at Eastern Airlines before that company was run aground. His insights to Laird and his racer were captive and informative.
Aaron King brought Denny Sherman and Bob Porter to the podium to moderate a discussion from the two former Formula One race pilots. Sherman, well known for his aircraft sales business in Florida, raced Formula 1's in the late 1950's. Porter raced them in the '50's and 60's and won the championship at Reno in 1964. Porter also raced Steve Wittman's Buster, now in the Smithsonian's collection.
Kevin Grantham, co-author of the Griffon Mustang racer book, gave a talk on the post-war Cleveland jet races, showing many of the photographs that he has amassed over the years. Having spoken with several of the pilots that took part of these races, it was interesting to hear how these staged "races" got a little more competitive than certain commanding officers had ordered... Watch for a book on the Cleveland races from Kevin in the future.
Much of the emphasis at the symposium centers on the pre-WWII era of the Cleveland Air Races. Many of the Society members were young men clinging onto various fences, light poles and high points around the pylons in those days. Today, they are our only surviving links to that time; and they are only too happy to share their vivid memories of those halcyon days. Their stories were recalled with excitement, bright eyes and various maneuvers flown with their hands.
During the day, Richard Becker made a quick appearance. Becker, along with his team leader Cook Cleland, dominated the Thompson Trophy races with their F2G Super Corsairs in 1947, '48 and '49. Becker, flying the blue and white number 74, finished second to Cleland in the 1949 event. Becker took time to recall several anecdotes for gathered groups of people, as well as sign autographs. Unfortunately, the anticipated foursome of F2G pilots failed to materialize. Cook Cleland, Ron Puckett, Richard Becker and Bob Odegaard were scheduled to attend the symposium, but Cleland and Puckett were unable to make it. Odegaard, restorer and current custodian of Cleland's Race 57 F2G was on hand to update us on the progress being made on the static restoration of the Race 74 Super Corsair.
The Society held a dinner and silent auction
Saturday night. Many air racing items were donated and auctioned to cover the
operating costs of the symposium. Items ranged from artwork, photographs and
Merlin rods to hand-made air racer ornaments and books.
After dinner was served, the evening's speaker - Norma Granville, daughter of Zanford Granville, gave a funny and enlightening talk on her father and uncles. For those that aren't able to connect the names; the Granville brothers were the creators of many advanced machines, one of which was the Gee Bee line of racer and sport aircraft. Granville was able to meet the audience and sign books related to the family's story and the Gee Bee.
Overall, the symposium gave members an opportunity to pass along and share their memories, photos and memorabilia about all eras of air racing. Next year's symposium will be held in early May. For anybody interested in learning more about all forms of air racing, please contact the Herman Schaub at the Society of Air Racing Historians:
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