Harry Crosby designed the all-metal CR-4 racer while recuperating from serious back injuries sustained in the crash of its predecessor, the CR-3. The CR-4 incorporated butt joints, flush riveting, and stressed skin construction, and was designed to carry a 420-hp Ranger V-12 engine. When plans for procuring that engine fell through, Crosby used the Menasco Super Buccaneer from the CR-3.
The airplane first flew in April 1938, but, dogged by engine and gear problems, it didn’t race until 1939. At the 1939 Greve Trophy race, part of the National Air Races, Crosby was awarded third place despite being flagged down in the 13th lap. He took fourth in the Thompson that year, with an average speed of 244.522 mph. After the race, Crosby and his crew kept the plane in Cleveland to be filmed for the movie Tailspin before trailering it back to California. There the CR-4 spent a few days in a sound stage for engine noise recording and cockpit close-ups for the film.
Before being stored in Crosby’s shop in Burbank, the plane was unofficially clocked at 386 mph, a speed that would have made it faster than Howard Hughes’ H-1 racer, the last privately built airplane to hold the world speed record. Crosby went on to work for Northrop as a test pilot, and was ultimately killed testing the XP-79B flying wing fighter in 1945.
Shortly after the end of World War II, an Air Force pilot named Harry Austell purchased the CR-4 from Crosby’s widow. He intended to restore and race the plane, but Austell apparently never completed that restoration, and the CR-4 itself disappeared. That is until Morton Lester, following up a tip from a friend, discovered the airplane’s fuselage on a farm outside Norlina, North Carolina. Searching through the farm’s outbuildings didn’t turn up anything, until Lester looked inside a disused school bus parked in the woods. There he found the airplane’s wing panels, landing gear doors, flaps, and other smaller pieces.
Lester started restoring the airplane and then donated it to the EAA Aviation Museum. EAA staff completed the restoration.