Jim Wedell

James Wedell


Jim Wedell had long term finacial backing from Louisiana millionaire Harry Williams and because of this backing he had access to the to the finest engineers and resources of anyone in the prewar air racing period.And yet he was known to have layed out his designs with chalk marks on the hangar floor.

He was a seat-of-the-pants designer,engineer and builder.If blueprints were involved they usually came after the aircraft was completed!Jim Wedell's model 44 was one of a series of three nearly identical planes built in the 1930-1932 period to race in the Big U.S. pylon and long distance events. He refered to them all as Model 44's, in keeping with his deep interest in handguns.There were only minor differences in cowling, bracing,instrumentation and so on.The second plane, No.92 was retaineded by the Wedel-Williams Corporation and flown by various pilots.

The third aircraft was built for Roscoe Turner and funded by Gilmore Oil Company.It was at the International Air Races in Chicago during September 1933 that Jimmie Wedell became the first pilot officially to break 300 miles per hour. Flying the "44" with the powerful Pratt and Whitney 1344 engine, he set the new world speed record of 305.33 miles per hour.

Jimmie also won the Frank Phillips Trophy Race, with Gelbach again finishing second.In addition to the overall world speed record, he broke records flying between New Orleans and several cities while transporting Times-Picayune photographs of Tulane University football games. After the Georgia game in 1931, Jimmie flew from Atlanta to New Orleans in one hour and fifty-seven minutes. After the Georgia Tech game in 1933 he flew through two thunderstorms and still managed to return from Atlanta in 1 hour and 41 minutes, improving his own record.

Showing a more serious side, Wedell gained a reputation as a "mercy flier" after he conducted several aerial searches for persons lost in the swamps and on lakes. He made national news when he flew through fog and heavy crosswinds to rush a West Columbia, Texas, baby, Sue Trammel, to Baltimoreís Johns Hopkins Hospital for a brain operation.On June 24, 1934, aviation suffered a crushing blow when Jimmie Wedell died in a plane crash. At the time of his death, Wedell was recognized as the speed king of the world, aviationís most successful designer of racing planes, and the holder of more records than any other flyer.

Syndicated columnist Will Rogers added, "Who knows but what aviation might not be permanently set back 100 miles an hour through the loss of this fellow, with the knowledge that was buried with him?" History has incorrectly blamed the accident on a student pilot, Frank Seeringer, of Mobile, Alabama, who supposedly froze at the controls of the DeHavilland Gypsy Moth. It appears that Jimmie was at the controls when the crash occurred in Patterson, probably due to structural failure. Jimmie was buried in West Columbia, Texas, following services held in New Orleans.

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