Pilot Eyes

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Most of this information comes from the biographical dossier for pilot Beech, CB-091100-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available here. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.

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Beech, and navigator Brice Goldborough, were winners of the second annual Ford Reliability Tour in 1926. Please direct your browser to this link, and refer to chapter 2 of the Forden reference, for descriptions of that Tour, and of Beech's aircraft. See summary below, right, of Beech's success during this Tour.

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Juptner, Joseph. 1962-1981. U.S. Civil Aircraft. Volumes 1-9. Aero Publishers, Inc. Fallbrook, CA.

Thanks to Brian Dalton, owner of Travel Air NC4834, for help with this page.

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The thumbnail images on this page are used with permission from the archives of the San Diego Aerospace Museum.  Each thumbnail has a database number, which you can use to contact the Museum if you would like to have a full-sized, higher quality image sent directly to you.  See the Museum’s archives listings online to understand the scope of their holdings, and the procedures for acquiring prints. 

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WALTER HERSCHEL BEECH

His Airplane Manufacturing Company is Still in Business

Walter H. Beech

Walter Herschel Beech was founder, president and board chairman of the Beech Aircraft Company. He was born on January 30, 1891 in Pulaski, TN.

Beech landed at Tucson, arriving from Alamagordo, NM, on the morning of September 8, 1928. He carried Owen Harned as passenger in Travel Air NC4765. They stayed 10 minutes and then were on their way west again to Los Angeles. Interestingly, Harned landed at Tucson as a pilot on October 1, 1928, flying the same airplane, but without Beech. Even more interesting, I received an email from a site visitor in Texas saying, "The pilot was my grandfather, Owen Gilbert Harned. He was a salesman of airplanes." More to come on that.

His career in aviation followed a logical path. He learned to fly in 1914, was trained in the military and was an Army pilot, flight instructor and engineer during WWI. In 1920, he returned to civilian life as a barnstormer.

In 1923, he took a job with the Swallow Airplane Corp. as designer and pilot. He became general manager. He went out on his own in 1925 as president and general manager of his own company, Travel Air. He not only manufactured them, but he also flew his airplanes successfully in competition (1926 Ford Reliability Tour, for example). This link provides an excellent history of the Travel Air company, including lots of images from the 1920s and 30s.

Image, below, from Juptner (reference, left side bar). This is the airplane Beech and Harned flew to Tucson.

NX4765 Travel Air 6000
NX4765
 
W. Beech, Date Unknown

Interestingly, this airplane can be seen on the ground in an aerial photograph shot by R.T. Gerow over the Fresno Airport. See the link for details of this detective work.

The Travel Air company boomed, and in 1929 was the largest producer of commercial mono- and biplanes. Beech also had a prominent hand in producing the low-wing "Mystery Ship" racer, which became the star of the 1929 National Air Races when it beat the best of the military aircraft with an attained speed of 194.9 MPH. It was the first time a civilian plane defeated a military pursuit in open speed competition. Undated image, right, from the San Diego Aerospace Museum (left sidebar).

The Mystery Ship introduced the N.A.C.A. engine cowling and wheel pants to commercial aviation. In 1930, Frank Hawks flew a Mystery Ship owned by The Texas Company to over 200 new speed records. The common mantra later became, "It takes a Beechcraft to beat a Beechcraft."

Beech married Olive Ann Mellor in 1930. In April 1932 the Beech Aircraft Company was started. Olive Ann Beech co-founded the Company with her husband. She was Secretary-Treasurer for the firm beginning in 1932, then became a director in 1936. When Walter became ill in 1940, she assumed control of the company, but she was not named president until his death ten years later.

The first Beechcraft airplane flew in November 1932. In 1934 Beech began production of the Model 17 Staggerwing. Below, is an image of an advertising brochure cover for the later Model G17S Staggerwing (Hudgin Family Collection).

B17S Brochure Cover

This beautiful biplane, with its lower wing "staggered" ahead of the upper wing, not only gave the airplane its striking good looks, but it also provided a margin of safety in the stall, as diagrammed in the following image (Hudgin Family Collection).

Stagger Explained

In 1937 the company introduced the twin Beech (Model 18 Transport), as a contender in the executive and feeder airline transport field. . In 1938, company sales exceeded $1 million for the first time.

With WWII, Beech turned his attention to military versions of his airplanes. They were as successful as his civil aircraft. By V-J Day, Beech had delivered more than 7,400 military aircraft and won five Army-Navy "E" awards for production efficiency. His factory area in mid-1943 was over 1,000,000 square feet, he employed 15,000 people and grossed $150,000,000 per year. The factory facility was immaculate. A sign read, "If you spit on the floor at home, go home to spit. We want to keep this place clean."

After WWII, the major news from Beechcraft was the introduction of the Model 35 Beech Bonanza with a unique "V-Tail." More recently, the tail design has had its problems in these older aircraft, and an airworthiness directive has been issued by the government to strengthen its structure. From the Bonanza line came the T-34 Mentor trainer for the Air Force, which the Navy also adopted, and which has also had its share of structural problems with the wings.

Beech died November 29, 1950 in Wichita, KS at age 59 (heart attack). At the time of his death, he had been active (an understatement) in aviation for over 30 years.

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1926 Ford Reliability Tour

1926 Ford Air Tour Winners

The photo, right, shows Walter Beech in the front cockpit of the Travel Air BW that he flew to victory in the 1926 Ford Air Tour. The airplane had a Wright J-4 Whirlwind 200 HP engine. Its model designation, "BW" signified this ("B"= Model B; "W"= Wright engine).

His navigator, Brice Goldsborough (rear cockpit), was the President of Pioneer Instruments (note "PI" logo on the side of the airplane). The aircraft, especially built by Travel Air for the 2nd Ford Reliability Tour, was manufactured in 1926. It was co-sponsored through the Tour by Pioneer, and, according to the link above, left, it was loaded "with every instrument known to aerial navigation."

For example, a drift measurement device (to measure the effects of crosswinds) is visible on the left side of the rear cockpit. You can also see the wind-driven power vane for the Pioneer Earth Inductor Compass on the mast on top of the fuselage behind Goldsborough's head. The rear instrument board contained "modern" vertical readout gauges, while the front panel contained more standard, round gauges.

Regarding the Earth Inductor Compass, it was considered at the time to be the most advanced navigational aid available. Charles Lindbergh used one in the Spirit of St. Louis a year later in May 1927. In April of 1929, the price of the compass installed in a Travel Air was $750. A regular compass cost $50.

The Tour of 1926 began in Detroit and visited 14 cities in middle and southwestern states. Twenty-five aircraft began the Tour and 19 finished. Beech's average speed over the Tour route was 124.1 MPH and he and Goldsborough earned $2,500 for the win.

Beech credited their success in the 1926 Tour to navigator Goldsborough and the "fancy instruments". Refer to the Forden link cited in the left column for the source of this image, a map of the 1926 Tour (Forden chapter 2) and for more information on all the Tours, 1925-1931.

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Dossier 2.1.44

UPLOADED: 03/06/06 REVISED: 03/15/06, 11/19/06, 02/04/09, 02/13/09

 
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