Beechcraft Model 17
|Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing|
|1943 Beech D.17S Staggerwing|
|Manufacturer||Beech Aircraft Corporation|
|Designed by||T. A. Wells|
|Primary users||Private sector|
United States Army Air Forces
|Unit cost||US$14,000-17,000 (1933)|
The Beechcraft Staggerwing is a biplane with an atypical backward stagger (the lower wing is farther forward than the upper wing).
At the height of the Great Depression, aircraft executive Walter H. Beech and airplane designer T. A. "Ted" Wells joined forces to collaborate on a project many considered foolhardy — a large, powerful, and fast biplane built specifically for the business executive. The Beech Model 17, popularly known as the "Staggerwing" was first flown on November 4, 1932, setting the standard for private passenger airplanes for many years to come. It was considered, during its time, to be the premier executive aircraft flying, much as the Gulfstream executive jets are considered in contemporary times.
The Model 17's unusual wing configuration—the upper wing inversely staggered behind the lower—and unique shape resulted in a design that maximized the pilot's visibility while minimizing the aircraft's tendency to stall. The fabric-covered fuselage was faired with wood formers and stringers placed over a welded, steel tube frame. The construction of the plane was complex and took many manhours to complete. The Staggerwing's retractable conventional landing gear, uncommon at that time, combined with streamlining, lightweight, and its use of powerful radial engines helped it perform significantly better than other biplane designs.
In the mid-1930s, Beech embarked upon a major redesign of the aircraft, to be known officially as the Model D17 Staggerwing. The D17 featured a lengthened fuselage that improved the aircraft's landing characteristics by increasing the leverage generated by the elevator. Ailerons were relocated on the upper wings, eliminating any interference with the air flow over the flaps. Braking was improved by the introduction of a foot-operated brake that was synchronized with the rudder pedals. All of these modifications enhanced the Staggerwing's performance, which would soon be put to the test under wartime conditions.
Sales started slowly at first; the first Staggerwings' high price tag (between US$14,000 and US$17,000, depending on the size of the engine) scared off potential buyers in an already depressed market for civil aircraft. Only 18 Model 17s were sold during 1933, the first year of production, but sales steadily increased. Each Staggerwing was custom-built by hand. The luxurious cabin, trimmed in leather and mohair, could hold up to five passengers. Eventually, the Staggerwing captured a substantial share of the passenger aircraft market. By the start of World War II, more than 424 Model 17s had been sold.
The Staggerwing's speed also made it the darling of the air racers of the 1930s. An early version of Model 17 won the 1933 Texaco Trophy Race. In 1935, a British diplomat, Capt. H.L. Farquhar, successfully flew around the world in a Model B17R, traveling 21,332 miles (34,331 kilometers) from New York to London, by way of Siberia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and back across Europe.
Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes won the 1936 Bendix trophy in a Model C17R Staggerwing. Thaden also won the Harmon Trophy for her achievement. Jackie Cochran set a women's speed record of 203.9 mph, established an altitude record of over 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), and finished third in the 1937 Bendix Trophy Race, all while flying a special Model D17W Staggerwing. The aircraft made an impressive showing in the 1938 Bendix race as well.
World War II
As World War II loomed on the horizon, a number of Model B17L were pressed into service by the forces of the Second Spanish Republic as bombers during the Spanish Civil War. China ordered a number of Staggerwings to use as ambulance planes in its fight against Imperial Japan. Finland had one B17L as a liaison aircraft between 1940-1945. On October 2, 1941, Beech shipped a special camouflaged D17S to Prince Bernhard of Lippe, who was in exile in London after the Germany invasion of The Netherlands. He used it for refugee work in and around London.
The Beech UC-43 Traveler was a slightly modified version of the Staggerwing. In late 1938, three Model D17S were purchased for evaluation by the United States Army Air Corps for possible use as a light liaison aircraft. These were designated YC-43. After a short flight test program, the YC-43s were sent to Europe to serve as liaison aircraft with the air attachés in London, Paris and Rome.
Early in World War II, the need for a compact executive-type transport or courier aircraft became apparent and in 1942 the United States Army Air Forces ordered the first of 270 Model 17s for service within the United States and overseas as the UC-43. These differed only in minor details from the commercial model. To meet urgent wartime needs, the government also purchased or leased (impressed) additional "Staggerwings" from private owners including 118 more for the Army Air Force plus others for the United States Navy. In Navy service the planes were designated as GB-1 and GB-2. The British Royal Air Force also received 106 "Traveller Mk. I" (the name is correct with the anglicized double "l") through the Lend-Lease arrangement to fill its own critical need for light personnel transports.
The production UC-43 differed in minor details from the service test YC-43. Two distinguishing external features of the UC-43 are the circular ADF antenna mounted between the main landing gear and landing lights near the lower wingtips. They were all powered by the 450 horsepower (336 kilowatt) Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine.
After the war's end, Beech immediately converted its manufacturing capabilities back to the production of civil aircraft with one final version of the Staggerwing, the Model G17S. 16 aircraft were built and sold at a price of US$29,000 apiece. One D17S was sold to Finland from Norway in 1949 and it was used for Finnish Air Force between 1950-1958. The lightweight V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza, a high-powered four-passenger luxury aircraft, soon replaced the venerable Staggerwing in the Beech product line, at about one-third the price. The Bonanza was a much smaller aircraft with much less horsepower, but carried four people with almost exactly the same speed as the Staggerwing. The final Staggerwing was sold in 1948; it left the factory in 1949, the last of 785 aircraft.
In March of 2003, Plane & Pilot magazine named the Staggerwing one of its Top Ten All-Time Favorite aircraft.
Variants and design stages
- 17 - Fixed gear prototype made first flight on November 4, 1932.
By 1934, Beechcraft had designed and built four models. They were the 17R (420 hp Wright engine); the A17F (690 hp Wright engine); the A17FS (710 hp Wright engine); and the B17L (225 hp Jacobs engine). All were fixed gear models with the exception of the B17L, which had a pneumatically retractable undercarriage. Of the three models, the B17L proved best suited to meet the market demands, and became the first production model.
- B17 - First production model, manufactured from March 1934 to March 1936.
- C17 - Manufactured March 1936 to March 1937.
- D17 - Manufactured March 1937 to 1945 (All were military models after 1941).
- YC-43 -
- UC-43 - Model D17S
- UC-43A - Model D17R, impressed from civilian use
- UC-43B -
- UC-43C -
- UC-43D -
- UC-43E -
- UC-43F -
- UC-43G -
- UC-43H -
- UC-43J -
- UC-43K - Model D17W, impressed from civilian use
- Specifically, this airplane was originally built in 1937 for famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran. Cochran flew the plane in the 1937 Bendix cross-country race and placed first in the Women's Division and 3rd overall. She also set a Women's National Speed Record of 203.895 miles per hour using the plane.
- Serial number: 42-107277
- E17 - March 1937 to 1941.
- F17 - April 1938 to 1941.
- G17 - 1946 to 1948.
- JB-1 - One civil C17R aircraft acquired by the US Navy.
- GB-1 - This designation was given to a number of aircraft, that were impressed into service with the US Navy.
|Suffix||Engine (radial configuration)||Cylinders||Power (hp)|
|B||Jacobs L-5 (R-830-1)||7||285|
|D||Jacobs L-6 (R-915A3)||7||330|
|FS||Wright SR-1820-F3 (supercharged)||9||710|
|L||Jacobs L-4 (R-755D)||7||225|
|R||Wright R-975-E2 or E3||9||420-450|
|S||P&W R-985-AN-1 or AN-3||9||450|
|W||P&W R-985-SC-G (supercharged & geared)||9||600|
- Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Spain, United Kingdom (Royal Air Force, Royal Navy), United States (US Army Air Corps, US Army Air Force, US Navy), Uruguay.
Specifications (Beech Model D17S)
Data from Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II
- Crew: 1
- Capacity: 3 passengers
- Payload: 125 lb (56.7 kg) of baggage
- Length: 26 ft 10 in (8.18 m)
- Wingspan: 32 ft (9.75 m)
- Height: 8 ft (2.44 m)
- Wing area: 296.5 ft² (27.55 m²)
- Empty weight: 2,540 lb (1,150 kg)
- Loaded weight: 4,250 lb (1,930 kg)
- Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 "Wasp Junior" radial engine, 450 hp (340 kW) at 2,300 rpm
- Maximum speed: 212 mph (184 knots, 341 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 202 mph (176 knots, 325 km/h)
- Landing speed: 45 mph (39 knots, 72 km/h))
- Range: 582 nm (670 mi, 1,078 km)
- Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
- Rate of climb: 1,500 ft/min (7.6 m/s)
- Wing loading: 14.3 lb/ft² (70.0 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.11 lb/hp (170 g/kW)
- Guillemette, Roger. Beech Model 17 Staggerwing. U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved on 2006-01-06.
- Cargo Aircraft Virtual Gallery; World War II era Development- Part I. National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved on 2006-01-06.
- Phillips, Edward H. (1996). The Staggerwing Story. Flying Books International. ISBN 0-911139-27-3.
- National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. 
- National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio 
- National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola near Pensacola, Florida 
- Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada
- The Staggerwing Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee (actually contains 10 examples of the type as of January 8, 2006) 
- Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California
Lists relating to aviation
|General||Timeline of aviation · Aircraft · Aircraft manufacturers · Aircraft engines · Aircraft engine manufacturers · Airports · Airlines|
|Military||Air forces · Aircraft weapons · Missiles · Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) · Experimental aircraft|
|Notable incidents |
|Military aviation · Airliners · General aviation · Famous aviation-related deaths|
|Records||Flight airspeed record · Flight distance record · Flight altitude record · Flight endurance record · Most produced aircraft|