Staggerwing Beech

With any luck (substitute “weather” for “luck” and it makes sense), next week I will fly HFF’s restored Staggerwing from Rare Aircraft in the greater Minneapolis area, to Paine Field. What follows is a brief history of the aircraft.

At the height of the Depression, the Beechcraft Aircraft Company of Wichita, Kansas gambled by designing a high-speed, comfortable business airplane. The first Model 17 flew in November 1932. It was popularly known as the “Staggerwing” because the upper wing staggered behind the lower wing (a negative stagger). This unique configuration gave the pilot good visibility while minimizing the tendency to stall. The construction of the airframe was unique as well. The fabric-covered fuselage was faired over wood formers and stringers over a welded, steel tube frame. Each Staggerwing was built by hand and could carry up to five passengers in a cabin trimmed in leather, mohair and wool. You could purchase a new Staggerwing in 1933 for $14,000 to $17,000. Only 18 Model 17s were sold in 1933. When production ended in 1949, 781 Model 17s graced the skies.

During the production life of the Model 17, it was powered by radial engines ranging from 225 to 710 horsepower. In its first year, a Model 17 won the 1933 Texaco Trophy Race. Two years later Captain H.L. Farquar flew a Model B17R around the world from New York to London. Aviatrixes Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes won the 1936 Bendix Trophy Race in a Model C17R, which was the first time a woman won this race. In 1939, aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran flew a Staggerwing to an altitude record of over 30,000 feet. Cochran later established, with Hap Arnold, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (the WASPs).

Our Staggerwing comes with a rich pedigree. In 1944, the Navy took delivery and assigned N35JM to the Sandpoint Naval Air Station in Seattle for service as a reconnaissance aircraft. Prior to its acquisition by Historic Flight Foundation, the Beechcraft Heritage Museum featured N35JM at its Tullahoma, Tennessee facility. Rare Aircraft Ltd. of Faribault, Minnesota completed a comprehensive restoration in October 2010. It is presented in its post-war civilian livery.

John Sessions