|1938 Beechcraft D17S Staggerwing
N18777 (sn 200)
Photo taken Jul. 2009
Arlington Fly-In @ Arlington Airport, WA USA (KAWO)
|Photo © Marcel Siegenthaler
The Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing is an American biplane with an atypical negative stagger (the lower wing is further forward than the upper wing), that first flew in 1932.
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 Beechcraft 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 negative stagger wing configuration (the upper wing staggered behind the lower) and unique shape maximized pilot visibility while minimizing the tendency to stall. The fabric-covered fuselage was faired with wood formers and stringers over a welded, steel tube frame. Construction was complex and took many man-hours to complete. The Staggerwing's retractable conventional landing gear, uncommon at that time, combined with streamlining, light weight, and powerful radial engines helped it perform significantly better than other biplane designs.
In the mid-1930s, Beech began a major redesign of the aircraft, to create 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. They relocated the Ailerons to the upper wings, eliminating any interference with the air flow over the flaps. Braking was improved with a foot-operated brake synchronized to the rudder pedals. These modifications enhanced the Staggerwing's performance, which was soon put to the test under wartime conditions.
Sales began slowly. The first Staggerwings' high price tag (between US$14,000 and US$17,000, depending on engine size) scared off potential buyers in an already depressed civil aircraft market. 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, held up to five passengers. Eventually, the Staggerwing captured a substantial share of the passenger aircraft market. By the start of World War II, Beechcraft had sold more than 424 Model 17s.
The Staggerwing's speed made it popular with 1930s air racers. An early version of the 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 m), and finished third in the 1937 Bendix Trophy Race, all in a special Model D17W Staggerwing. The aircraft made an impressive showing in the 1938 Bendix race as well.
In 1970, due to a dispute with the T-6 racing class, the Reno National Air Races invited five Staggerwings to perform a demonstration race. Two G models and two D17 models raced. The five pilots were Bryant Morris, Bert Jensen, Don clark, Noel Gourselle, and Phil Livingston the only pilot to have prior racing experience in the T-6 Class. The race was flawless with ABC Wide World of Sports Coverage but protesting T-6 racers prevented the class from future competition with allegations of safety issues.
World War II
As World War II loomed, a number of Model B17L were pressed into service as bombers by the forces of the Second Spanish Republic 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, the United States Army Air Corps purchased three Model D17S to evaluate them for use as light liaison aircraft. These were designated YC-43. After a short flight test program, the YC-43s went 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 and Royal Navy acquired 106 "Traveller Mk. I" (the British name uses the UK double "l" spelling) 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 civil aircraft production, making one final version of the Staggerwing, the Model G17S. They built 16 aircraft, which they sold for US$29,000 apiece. Norway sold one D17S to Finland in 1949, which the Finnish Air Force used from 1950 to 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 at almost exactly the same speed as the Staggerwing. Beechcraft sold the final Staggerwing 1948. It left the factory in 1949, the last of 785 Staggerwings.
In March 2003, Plane & Pilot magazine named the Staggerwing one of its Top Ten All-Time Favorite aircraft.
In the April, 2007 issue of AOPA Pilot magazine it was reported that the Staggerwing was voted by nearly 3000 AOPA members as the Most Beautiful Airplane. "Members said it's the perfect balance between 'muscular strength and delicate grace,' and rated it highly for its 'classic lines and symmetry.'"
Variants and design stages
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.
First production model, manufactured from March 1934 to March 1936.
Manufactured from March 1936 to March 1937.
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1945 (All were military models after 1941).
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1941.
Manufactured from April 1938 to 1941.
Manufactured from 1946 to 1948.
Three Model D17S with a 450hp R-985-17 engine for evaluation by the United States Army Air Corps
Production version with a 450hp R-985-AN-1 engine, 75 ordered for the USAAC and 63 for the United States Navy as the GB-1, 132 were later transferred from the USN to the USAAC.
Model D17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, 13 impressed into service.
Model D17S with 450hp R-985-17 engine, 13 impressed into service.
Model F17D with 300hp R-915-1 engine, 37 impressed into service.
Model E17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine, 31 impressed into service.
Model C17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, five impressed into service.
Model D17A with 350hp R-975-3 engine, one impressed into service.
Model C17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine, 10 impressed into service.
Model B17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, three impressed into service.
Model C17L with 225hp R-755-1 engine, three impressed into service.
Model D17W, one impressed into service. This aircraft 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.
United States Navy transport version of the D17, ten bought in 1939 and ten impressed into USN service.
USN version as GB-1 but with a 450hp R-985-50 or R-985-AN-1 engine, 271 built, 132 later transferred to USAAF as UC-43s. Also additional aircraft from a cancelled British contract and impressed aircraft.
One Model C17R as an executive transport for the United States Navy.
British designation for the former US Embassy in London's YC-43 and 107 UC-43 and GB-2 aircraft delivered mainly for the Royal Navy.
Production by Model
Beechcraft Model 17 Engine Selections
||Engine (radial configuration)
||Jacobs L-5 (R-830-1)
||Jacobs L-6 (R-915A3)
||Wright SR-1820-F3 (supercharged)
||Jacobs L-4 (R-755D)
||Wright R-975-E2 or E3
||P&W R-985-AN-1 or AN-3
||P&W R-985-SC-G (supercharged & geared)
Military staggerwing operators
Australia - Royal Australian Air Force
Ethiopia - Ethiopian Air Force
Finland - Finnish Air Force
New Zealand - Royal New Zealand Air Force, No. 42 Squadron RNZAF
United Kingdom - Royal Air Force,Royal Navy
United States - US Army Air Corps, US Army Air Force, United States Navy
Aircraft on display
- Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee (contains nine examples of the type)
- Frontiers of Flight Museum, Dallas Love Field, Dallas, Texas.
- Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, ID.
- Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, Kansas.
- National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
- National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola near Pensacola, Florida
- National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio (UC-43 Traveler)
- Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada
- Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California
Many Staggerwings remain registered with the FAA in flyable condition, or undergoing restoration. Several military versions are on display.
- UC-43/D-17S (489, N51746) is in storage awaiting restoration at the Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California
- UC-43 (s/n 44-76068) is on display in the Modern Flight Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio
- UC-43 is on display at the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum in Geneseo, New York
- Beechcraft D17S CF-GKY - Vintage Wings of Canada, Gatineau Airport, Quebec, Canada
Specifications (Beech Model D17S)
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)