Page 26 - Volume 11 Number 3
P. 26

Walter’s Wooden Wonder
By 1940, all-metal airframes had become state-of-the-art, but the Beechcraft Model 26 was the first all-wood Beechcraft – an advanced trainer built specifically to transition pilots to multi-engine airplanes.
by Edward H. Phillips
World War II. It remains the bloodiest, most brutal and savage global conflict in human history. Although the war ended almost 72 years ago, its impact on the world is still being felt today. In the wake of the Pearl Harbor debacle in December 1941, by 1945 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) had become a worldwide network of men, airplanes, supply lines, communication routes and airfields.1 It was a striking force of unequaled destructive power. According to official U.S. Army records, during the conflict the Army Air Forces flew more than 700,000 combat sorties, dropped more than 600,000 tons of bombs and fired more than 75 million rounds of ammunition at the enemy. Equally impressive was the growth of personnel from only 21,000 in 1938 to more than 2.3 million at the end of 1943.
In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the production of 50,000 aircraft, and by 1941 production facilities capable of manufacturing the armaments of war in the United States had grown 400 percent from pre- 1940 levels. A majority of that increase stemmed from providing the British with tanks, aircraft and artillery through Lend-Lease agreements, but those programs also expedited production capacity that paved the way for explosive expansion after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Wichita, Kansas, and more specifically the Beech Aircraft Corporation, was a major source providing the U.S. Army Air Corps (and the U.S. Navy) with the airplanes it needed to train pilots, navigators,
bombardiers and aerial gunners. Most of the airplanes built were military versions of the venerable Beechcraft Model C18S, which the company began supplying to the military as early as 1939.
In 1941, however, the Army Air Corps needed an advanced trainer to teach single-engine pilots how to fly and manage systems of multi-engine bombers and transports (such as the Boeing B-17 and Douglas C-47). When the Army Air Corps contacted Walter Beech about building a twin-engine trainer suited to that important task, he turned the request over to chief engineer Theodore “Ted” Wells and his staff. After studying exactly what the Air Corps wanted, discussions centered on whether the Model 25 (as it was initially designated) should be fabricated from metal or aviation-grade woods. Although aluminum alloy was not exceptionally scarce at that time, Walter Beech and Ted Wells believed it was prudent to anticipate a shortage of the metal as America continued to move toward a war-based economy. It would prove to be a providential decision.
The Model 26 prototype was photographed in
May 1941 before its first flight. Most the airframe
was of wood construction. Aluminum alloy was used to build the cockpit and forward fuselage, engine nacelles and cowlings, and some of the main landing gear components. During its first flight the airplane crashed and the U.S. Army Air Corps pilot was killed. A second prototype was already under construction and made its first flight in July. (WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES, SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES)
MARCH 2017

   24   25   26   27   28