Beechcraft Staggerwing THE BACKSTORY

Beechcraft Staggerwing The Backstory


Walter Hershel Beech. Brilliant sales engineer for Curtiss Wright, accomplished charter pilot—at age 50, an underused innovator and weary veteran of too many business trips. In 1931, he unveiled his vision for a bi-plane that gave travelling executives an experience of speed, comfort, and flat-out luxury. Curtiss Wright said “great idea”, but given the economy, this is a fool-child, not a brain-child. Beech left the company, engaged with engineer Ted Wells, and partnered with his wife Olive Ann to set up the Beech Aircraft Corporation. Beech was known for getting the last word; after a slow start, the company thrived, producing more than 750 Staggerwings and 7,400 other notable aircraft.

First flight for the Model 17: 1932. Price: $14,000-$17,000. Sticker shock during the Great Depression, but sales did come in. And Beech was tireless about improving the plane. The D17S combined brains and beauty—for example, the staggered wings gave the pilot maximum visibility, helped make the plane virtually stall-proof, and delivered the “Look.” The rich interior, the bold tri-color schemes, the consummate, hand-tailored craftsmanship reflected in every plane–irresistible to those with wallet share. Without going into the details of model variants and technical specifications, just know that performance was remarkable. Equipped with a 450 HP Pratt & Whitney radial engine, retractable landing gear, and a lightweight, streamlined construction, the Staggerwing could climb 1600 feet per minute and reach speeds of 212 mph. Though that might seem slight compared to fighters like our Impatient Virgin the plane worked like a dream with the wind, agile enough to achieve a host of speed records and racing wins during the 1930s.