History of Beechcraft Aircraft. Beechcraft is an iconic brand in the general aviation world. With such a stunning fleet of planes that have been in production for nearly a century, let’s dive into the history of Beechcraft Corporation and the importance of their contributions to the industry.
History of Beechcraft Aircraft
The Early Years of Walter Beech
Born in the hills of Tennessee in the late 1800s, Walter Beech dropped out of school after fifth grade and began flying at the young age of 14. Even though he had rudimentary formal education, Beech was a highly intelligent, well-read adolescent. By the time he was 20, he left Tennessee for a job as a car mechanic and chauffeur in Minneapolis, MN. It was here that his interest in aviation officially started. In 1914, he went in on a beat-up Curtiss biplane and repaired it to make it airworthy again. Over the course of several years, he used the biplane to learn to fly while simultaneously finding success in the automobile service industry.
After constructing and successfully flying a homemade glider, Beech signed up for the United States Army Air Corps at the start of World War I. Given the rank of Sergeant, he served his time at a base in Waco, Texas as an airplane mechanic supervisor. His team was designated to Curtiss and de Havilland biplanes that were used as military trainers. By 1921 at the age of 30, Beech planted his roots in Wichita, alongside other aviation greats like Clyde Cessna (who would soon become his partner). He spent his post-war years barnstorming with the Swallow Airplane Corporation. In addition to being a pilot, he was the company’s salesman, designer and eventual general manager.
The Air Travel Manufacturing Company
Just a few years later in 1924, Beech was able to pull a semi-retired Clyde Cessna back into the world of aviation, and along with former co-worker Lloyd Stearman, the three formed the short-lived but successful Travel Air Manufacturing Company. They eventually merged with Curtiss-Wright and the newly assembled board assigned Beech as Vice President. For five years, Travel Air was one of the top airplane producers in the world leading up to the Great Depression. Walter Beech proved himself a more than competent leader within the company, who’s experience up to that point had paid off in dividends. Unfortunately, with the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, the future aviation tycoon was nearly wiped out.
The founding of Beech Aircraft Company was a risky move in 1932. Although the government had finally stepped in to provide some assistance to struggling businesses, the airline industry already experienced massive losses. Against all odds, Beech split from Curtiss-Wright to form his own manufacturing plant. With himself as president, his wife as secretary, and lead engineer Ted Wells, they occupied a small corner of an empty Cessna factory and started producing their first aircraft, the Model 17 Staggerwing, a negative-stagger biplane. Reaching speeds over 200 mph, Staggerwings were sold in large quantities to both the Air Force and an emerging private enterprise market. An upgraded Model 18 arrived at the end of the decade and offered a twin-engine alternative. After the U.S. entered World War II, Beech Aircraft found themselves overloaded with military contracts. Throughout the effort, they built over 7,000 aircraft for various Allied forces. They won a series of awards for their work with the U.S. Army-Navy, including a prestigious “E” Award, which went to the top war contracting firms in the county.
Following the war, Beechcraft replaced Staggerwing Model 18s with the plane that made them famous – the Bonanza. To this day, the single-engine Bonanza is the longest-produced airplane ever, in production since 1947. The popularity of their flagship airplane would last, but Walter Beech would not – he passed away in 1950, dying suddenly from a heart attack. With this, Beech’s wife, Olive Ann took over as president and saw a wide string of successes, overseeing the release of widely popular and acclaimed aircraft, King Air and Super King Air, along with the Baron and revised Model 18s. She would run the company until Beech Aircraft was sold to Raytheon in 1980. Along with Piper and Cessna, Beechcraft was one of the “Big Three” in the field of general aviation manufacturing throughout much of the 20th century.
1980s to the Beechcraft of Today
Although no longer family-owned and operated, Beechcraft thrived for decades under the leadership of Raytheon. When they also acquired Hawker from British Aerospace, they merged to form the Raytheon Aircraft Company in 1994. Less than a decade later, the Hawker-Beechcraft brands reemerged to general acclaim within the small plane market, and quickly gained interest from investors like Goldman Sachs. The firm purchased Hawker-Beechcraft in 2006 and were only slightly affected by the Great Recession of 2007. By 2012, Hawker unfortunately went bankrupt. Less than a year later, Beechcraft Corporation emerged, putting sharp focus on King Air, Bonanza and Baron airplanes. With recovery efforts in place and a rising stock, Beechcraft became valuable enough to attract interest from the parent company of Cessna, Textron. In December of 2013, Beechcraft Corporation officially became part of Textron for the sum of $1.4 billion, and the company still owns them today.
Are you interested in renting a Beechcraft airplane?
Reach out to Inflight Pilot Training to learn more about our fleet of Beechcraft airplanes in Minneapolis. Try the easy-to-fly Beechcraft Bonanza for an exhilarating experience. We also have a range of other fun planes that are fun to fly, from companies like Piper, Mooney, Cirrus, Cessna and more – learn more about our general aircraft rental.