THE HISTORY OF THE 1947 THOMPSON TROPHY WINNER # 74
BuNo 88463 F2G-2
When the National Air Races resumed at Cleveland in 1946, Cook Cleland a local ex-Navy
WW II hero
entered a surplus FG-1 Corsair. The Corsair was no match for the Bell P-39, North American P-51s
and finished a disappointing sixth place. After the race Admiral Halsey asked Cook what it would take
to win the Thompson Trophy, the reply was "an F2G Sir". Within days, an F2G was declared surplus
and Cook was on his way home with it, and there would be several others to follow. Dick Becker,
a fellow Navy test pilot would join Cooks racing team. Two more F2Gs would follow for a three
plane racing team with Becker as the second pilot and Tony Janazzo as third. Everything possible
was done to reduce weight and drag. The sub-rudder was removed and the flaps were secured
in the up position.
(Wes Hansen collection)
#74 at Cleveland 1947
The airplane was painted a medium blue with white leading edges, a white
stripe and a blue/white checkerboard cowl. Race number 74 was also painted in white.
Pratt & Whitney R-4360
The brute power of the F2Gs, with their P&W-R4360 engines would take
to the winners cirCle in #74 and Dick Becker to second place in # 94. The joy of victory
however, was overshadowed by the fatal crash of teammate Tony Janazzo flying #84.
Being towed to the start line
Cleland about to pass Becker
(Oil painting by David W. White)
(Del Bryan collection)
Cook, the happy winner of the 1947 Thompson
The 1948 Thompson Trophy Race looked very promising for the Cleland and Becker team.
This year, Cleland would fly #94 and Becker #74. The Shell Oil Co. had developed a new
aviation fuel called triptane and made it available to Cleland for his Corsairs. Hopes for a
back-to-back victory for the team faded when engine backfires dislodged the air intake scoop
on # 74 in the third lap and on # 94 in the forth lap, causing both to drop out of the race.
(Bill Meixner collection)
#74 Dislodged air scoop 1948
In 1949, things again looked very promising with the addition of a third F2G flown by
Ben McKillen, and the team was again looking for a 1-2-3 victory. Again fate intervened,
when Becker qualified at an excellent speed only to have his gear reduction box strip its
gears at the end of his qualifying lap. Fortunately Becker was directly over the airport
when the gear box failed and with his test pilot skills he was able to dead-stick the heavy
bird on to the runway.
#74 out after qualifying
With no way of replacing it before the race, it would be up to Cleland and McKillen
to bring the Corsairs back to the winners cirCle. The threat of the two highly modified
Mustangs was eliminated when Anson Johnsons landing gear failed to retract causing
him to withdraw and Bill Odoms crashed fatally on the second lap.
Cleland came in first, winning the Thompson Trophy for the second time. Ron Puckett,
was second in another F2G, and Ben McKillen, took third place for a F2G Clean sweep
When the National Air Races were postponed in early 1950, and later canceled
because of the war in Korea, the future of #74 looked grim. Cleland, a member of
the Naval Air Reserve volunteered for duty in Korea where he became a hero again.
What do you do with no less than three racing Corsairs and no races? Cleland sold
the grounded #74 to local collector Walter Soplata.
Soplata collection mid-80s
With a passion for saving warbirds from the scrap pile, Soplata disassembled
#74 at Cleveland Airport and transported it to his property east of Cleveland.
Without buildings to house his collection, Soplata provide the cover he could and
oiled the metal parts to the best of his ability. Forty-some years later Soplata
sold #74 to the Crawford Museum. With plans for a new museum building to be
completed by the end of 2002, the Crawford put #74 into storage.
# 74 coming out of storage # 74 Wings
Bob Odegaard in North Dakota was chosen for the restoration. # 74 was put on
display at the Cleveland National Air Show during the Labor Day weekend of 1999.
# 74 attracted attention at Air Show
The racer was totally disassembled and restoration of the center
section was started.
"Wings and center section are blasted and corrosion free.
Progress report by member David Virant of Willowick OH who
visited with Bob Odegaard at his shop and provided these photos
of center section as a progress report.
Work by Bob and sons has progressed and #74 is going to the paint booth
Starting to look good
Shortly after completion Odegaard flew No 74 at Reno 2011
Photo courtesy of Larry Perkins
On Sept. 07, 2012, Robert Odegaard tragically died when the restored F2G Corsair crashed while practicing for a local air show.
Please send comments to Bill Meixner
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Updated Monday, February 18, 2013