Page 22 - Volume 13 Number 1
P. 22

 Beechcraft – The Early Days
Weary of “flying a desk,” in 1932 Walter H. Beech dared to put wings on his name and build the finest business airplane money could buy.
by Edward H. Phillips
                       “I’m just a country boy. Go get a picture of me when I first came to Wichita. I’ve made good and I’m not afraid to say so,” Walter Beech told
newspaper reporters in August 1929. At that time, he was president of the Travel Air Company that was known as one of America’s leading manufacturers of private and business airplanes. The company’s success under Walter’s leadership had not gone unnoticed on Wall Street. In March of that year Travel Air had set a record for sales in a single month of $300,000, and by June the factory was producing as many as 25 biplanes and monoplanes per week but could not keep pace with demand.
In the wake of skyrocketing profits that were fueling merger mania within the aviation industry, by the summer of 1929 Travel Air had become a major subsidiary of the giant Curtiss-Wright Corporation based in St. Louis, Missouri. As part of the agreement Walter Beech was appointed president of the Curtiss- Wright Airplane Company and was responsible for all commercial sales. In addition, he was elected a vice president of the parent corporation. At the time of the merger one share of Travel Air stock that was worth $100 in 1925 was now worth $4,000. Almost overnight the merger had made Beech a member of the nation’s exclusive millionaire club.
unrecoverable tailspin. For example, in 1930 airframe manufacturers in the United States built 1,937 new commercial airplanes. In 1931 that number decreased to 1,582 and by 1932 plummeted to about 550. Despite that downward spiral, during 1930-1933 Curtiss-Wright developed a line of small, light airplanes and amphibians such as the CW-1 “Junior” and the CW-3 “Duckling” that was also known as the “Teal.” Selling for less than $1,500, these ships were a tough sell, even for a master salesman such as Walter Beech. When production halted in 1933 only about 270 had been built.
Although there was weak demand for slow, unsophisticated open-cockpit aircraft such as the CW-3, Beech believed there was potential for a fast, four-place airplane with a long cruising range. He reasoned that it would fill a gap between large transports such as the Curtiss T-32 “Condor” and small aircraft such as the CW-3. The concept seemed sound; what he needed was an airplane that met all the requirements. In early 1931 a young engineer at Curtiss-Wright, Theodore “Ted” Wells, had been working on the design of a cabin biplane featuring negative-stagger wings and powered by a static, air-cooled radial engine. Wells had worked at Travel Air and was one of only two engineers who were relocated to St. Louis when the Travel Air campus was closed in 1931. The negative-stagger wing configuration, although unconventional, afforded the pilot excellent visibility from the cockpit. The ship would use conventional
  Only a few months later the stock market crashed
in flames and sales of new airplanes entered an   landing gear housed in large fairings to reduce drag.
 In September 1929 the Travel Air Company boasted five buildings and an excellent flying field. Located on East Central Avenue 5 miles east of downtown Wichita, Kansas, the factory was producing as many as 25 airplanes per week.
(Textron Aviation)

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