Page 28 - Volume 13 Number 1
P. 28

   In 1934 NC499N was sold to
the Ethyl Corporation for about $12,000 – a lot of money during
the Great Depression. A number
of modifications were made to
the airplane to meet the buyer’s requirements, including a full- swiveling tailwheel and moving the Wright radial engine forward 3 inches. (Textron Aviation)
 Type “R” racer of 1929 and could haul a good payload over a long distance at high speed. Yet, he said, the Beechcraft could be flown by average pilots thanks to its demonstrated landing speed of only 60 mph. Always keen to gain good publicity, Walter invited the public to the municipal airport for their first look at Ted Wells’ creation. More than 1,500 people attended and watched
as Hill made a series of flights with passengers, diving at full throttle with the Wright radial screaming at the top of its lungs as he flashed past the crowds. They loved it ... and so did Walter Beech.
He knew his airplane company had a machine that was in a class by itself. No other fixed-gear, 4-5-place cabin biplane could approach, let alone match, its performance and comfort. The bullish Beechcraft was an excellent design. All it needed was a sale to prove its commercial viability. An old friend from Oklahoma would soon place his trust and his money in the Model 17R. Why would anyone risk their hard-earned cash in the Great Depression on an unproven airplane built by a struggling startup company? Because of one man and his reputation – Walter H. Beech. KA
1 It is easy for today’s pilots to forget that in 1932 any commercial airplane that landed at 60 mph was considered “a hot ship.” Biplanes of the era, as well as many monoplanes, landed at a gentle speed of about 35-40 mph (without the aid of wing flaps). Landing at low speed was an asset because many pilots operated from unimproved, short, sod fields.
2 In1932theCessnaAircraftCompanyboardofdirectorshadlocked Clyde Cessna out of his own factory. Undaunted, he and his son Eldon started the C.V. Cessna Aircraft Company specializing in custom- built air racing monoplanes. They built those ships in Walter Beech’s closed Travel Air facility. Beech may have sought space in the Travel Air factory to build the first Beechcraft, but Curtiss-Wright apparently refused to cooperate, so he turned to the Cessna company for help.
3 Wassall was a graduate engineer who had been a shop foreman at Curtiss-Wright in St. Louis. He lacked experience in designing aircraft, but Wells was glad to have his assistance.
Ed Phillips, now retired and living in the South, has researched and written eight books on the unique and rich aviation history that belongs to Wichita, Kan. His writings have focused on the evolution of the airplanes, companies and people that have made Wichita the “Air Capital of the World” for more than 80 years.
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