While most 14-year-old kids played stickball in the streets in the early 1900’s, Tennessee farm boy Walter Herschel Beech designed and built his own glider. Mother Beech was dismayed to discover that some of the materials he used included her brand new bedsheets. And the flight off their rooftop was unsuccessful to boot. However, his passion for aircraft and flying never abated. Ten years later he and a friend found and rebuilt a Curtis biplane. Walter made his first solo flight in the Curtis July 11, 1914.
Around that same time Walter moved to Minneapolis to work for a company making the newfangled automobile. They sent him to Europe to sell their cars. Three years later World War I began and Beech signed up for the Army Signal Corp that included the burgeoning US aviation military. He was stationed at Kelly Field in Rich Field, Texas as an aircraft mechanic. There he met another aircraft tinkerer, Eddie Stinson, who went on to start his own aircraft manufacturing company. Notably, North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum is proud to be rebuilding one of his masterpieces, the Stinson Junior SM-8A. Here is a video of the restoration in progress, filmed in May of this year for our quarterly newsletter.
After the war Beech worked for various aircraft manufacturing companies while also becoming a superb pilot, or barnstormer as they were known then, winning air race after air race. Walter eventually decided to create his own company, the Beech Aircraft Company, with his wife Olive Ann in 1932. Their company built many of the most iconic aircraft in history.
The Beechcraft AT-7 or “Twin Beech” as it was called was used as a trainer in WWII. More than 90% of all US Army Air Forces bombardiers and navigators trained on this craft.
The Beech Staggerwing is another in the Beech Aircraft Co.’s stable of planes. Aptly named because of the unusual negative stagger wing configuration where the upper wing is staggered behind the lower. It was voted one of the most beautiful airplanes ever manufactured.
Probably the best known Beech aircraft is the six-seater, single engine Beechcraft Bonanza which began production in 1947. It is also the best selling private aircraft in history with over 17,000 sold and counting. Production of the plane with the unique V-tail continues today.
On November 29, 1950 Walter H. Beech suffered a fatal heart attack and a premier aviation innovator, designer and manufacturer glided into the history books.
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