Wedell-Williams Model 44 Racer

Wedell-Williams Model 44, a Golden Age Racer

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 US 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.The empty weight of the model 44 was 1500 pounds with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior engine installed. Each aircraft held approximately 180 galons of fuel,14 gallons of oil, a wing span of 26 ft. 2 in., length of 23 ft. 4 in. and a total wing area of 108 sq. ft.The engine made up nearly half the weight of a completed aircraft.Later Roscoe Turner installed a Hornet engine on his aircraft increasing the weight to almost 2000 lbs.Jim Wedell won the 1933 Thompson Trophy, but was killed in 1934 in a comercial aircraft accident.Roscoe Turner won the 1934 Thompson Trophy in his No. 57 version of the Model 44. Although Jim Wedell had no technical training, his Model 44 aircraft was one of the most successful early radial engine pylon racers.

Tragedy struck again in July 1935, when Walter Wedell and a passenger were killed in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana-Mississippi border under mysterious circumstances. He was piloting a chartered Brewster Aristocrat that crashed into the Mississippi Sound at least twenty miles off course and flying in a direction opposite from that called for in the flight plan. Rescue crews found the passenger in the pilotís seat at the controls, indicating that Walter Wedell was not at the controls at the time of the crash. Less than a year later, on May 19, 1936, after a shopping tour with Marguerite Williams, Harry and the companyís chief pilot, John Worthen, flew to Baton Rouge for a conference with Governor Richard Leche. After dinner at the executive mansion, Worthen and Williams took off for Patterson. Immediately after takeoff, the Beech Staggerwing crashed from a cause never determined, killing both men instantly. Harry Williamsís remains were cremated and a portion of his ashes were spread over the Patterson Airport. In a matter of twenty-three months, the Wedell-Williams Air Service had lost its two founders, Jimmieís brother Walter Wedell, and chief pilot John Worthen. Less than one year later, Marguerite Williams sold the company's assets, including a stable of transport planes worth about one-half million dollars, to Eastern Air Lines for a paltry $175,000. Eastern's owner, the famous Eddie Rickenbacker, held more than a dozen face-to-face meetings with Marguerite Williams to negotiate the sale. In addition to the planes, what Captain Rickenbacker coveted most was the mail route from New Orleans to Houston, giving Eastern its first presence in Texas.

Span: 26 ft. 2 in.
Length: 23 ft. 4 in.
Weight: 1510lbs. with P&W Wasp Junior. 2000 lbs with P&W Hornet installed
Engine: Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior or Hornet.

Maximum speed: 304.98 mph.(Highest recorded speed)

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Written & Edited by Darrell Graves

© 1997