|Is the guy on the right Mattie Laird? Let me know if you |
recognize either of these two!
There's no mistaking the plane behind them, though...it is Jimmy Doolittle's Laird Super Solution racer. With this plane, Doolittle won the 1931 Bendix Trophy.
In 1930, E. M. "Mattie" Laird designed a plane he called the Solution, which won that year's Thompson Trophy race. He had also designed two Speedwings which showed well at the '30 Cleveland Nationals.
By then, though, Walter Beech's Travel Air Model R Mystery Ships were smoking the competition, so the Cleveland Speed Foundation commissioned Mattie to come up with something that woud present serious competition to the Mystery Ships. Built over a six-week period in July and August 1931 (first flight was Aug. 22), the LC-DW500 Super Solution (which also became known as the "Sky Buzzard") was tested and then turned over to Doolittle. The plan was to fly the Bendix race from Los Angeles to Cleveland it would use a direct-drive Wasp Jr. engine, and then undergo a quick modification to installed a geared version for the closed-course Thompson race, which was more of a sprint affair.
On September 4, 1931, Doolittle bagged the Bendix race with a total elapsed time of 9:10:21 (average speed of 223 mph), but almost as soon as the race recordkeepers had recorded his time, he took off for Newark, hunting for Frank Hawks' Mystery Ship transcontinental speed record, which he beat by 1 hour, 8 minutes (total time from Burbank to Newark was 11:16:10, with an average speed of 217 mph). He almost immediately turned around and flew back to Cleveland to get ready for the 100-mile Thompson race.
With the geared engine now installed, Doolittle flew the first time trial at an astounding 260 mph (minimum to qualify was 175 mph), but at full throttle, the engine nearly tore the plane apart. In its stock condition, the Wasp Jr. was rated at 375 hp, but with the geared prop case, "doped" fuel and other modifications, this version was putting out well over 500 hp. Doolittle found his wings beginning to warp and he experienced the onset of aileron reversal at top speeds. It was decided to switch back to the "cruise" engine, with the hope that it was "tamer" and would cause less stress on the airframe. In that configuration, his second heat race turned in a speed of 272 mph. On race day, though Doolittle jumped into the lead, he couldn't say there. The engine began to falter, and with temps hitting redline, Doolittle made a precautionary landing during the seventh lap; the Granville Brother's Gee Bee Z racer went on to win.
After the race - and after an engine overhaul at Pratt - Doolittle set one more distance speed record, from Ottowa Canada to Washington DC to Mexico City. In 1932, Shell Oil began sponsoring Doolittle, and he commissioned a series of modifications to the plane, including installation of retractable landing gear (this mod pegs the date of our photo at sometime in 1931). The performance failed to live up to expectations, and on the first test flight, the gear failed to extended. Doolittle made a respectable belly-landing, but the plane was too badly damaged to be ready in time for the race, so he jumped ship to fly the Gee Bee R-1, winning the 1932 Thompson.
The Super Solution was then put into storage and canabalized until what remained was donated to the Smithsonian in 1948, where it was stored until 1974. The remains were then obtained by members of the EAA with the intent of restoring the aircraft. However, it quickly became aparent that the parts were too badly damaged, so the EAA volunteers decided instead to build a replica, which was unveiled at organization's Oshkosh museum in 1981. It can be seen at this link. A much more detailed writeup on the aircraft can be found here.
But again, who are the two men in our photo? I'm fairly sure that the one on the right is Mattie Laird. The only photo online that I could find of him (here, at find-a-grave.com) shows some resemblence (especially in the ears). Let me know if you have any ideas!