T. Claude Ryan, best known for
building the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew in his famous 1927
transatlantic flight, was born in Kansas in 1898. He learned to fly in
1917, was trained by the U.S. Army Air Corps, and served with the U.S.
Aerial Forest Patrol. In 1922 he established the Ryan Flying School and a
business in San Diego, California, for flying sightseers around town. In
April 1925, needing capital, Ryan became partners with Benjamin Franklin
Mahoney and formed Ryan Airlines. The company converted war surplus
aircraft for civil use, rebuilding Standard open-cockpit biplanes to cabin
transports. Ryan also acquired the Douglas Cloudster and used it as a
passenger plane after modifying it to accommodate passengers in an
enclosed cabin. He designed and built about 40 M-1 and M-2 mail/passenger
transports in 1926.
Ryan sold his
interest in the company to Mahoney in 1926 but stayed on to manage the
company. In early 1927, a group of St. Louis investors asked Ryan if he
could build a plane for a non-stop transatlantic trip within 60 days. He
accepted the challenge and produced the Spirit of St. Louis, which
Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Ryan, however, had no
financial stake in the company and did not receive much in the way of
formed the Mahoney-Ryan Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, in
1928, to capitalize on Ryan's name. The new company produced a number of
airplanes but was acquired by the holding company Detroit Aircraft
Corporation in May 1929. Detroit folded the next year and sold the factory
in October 1930.
also in 1926, Ryan had established a separate, Ryan Aeronautical Company,
primarily to import Siemens aircraft engines from Germany. In 1928,
Siemens, which wished to establish its own distributorship in the United
States, bought Ryan out for $75,000.
money he received from Siemens, Ryan started a flying school in May 1928,
and formed the Ryan School of Aeronautics on June 5, 1931. On May 26,
1934, he formed a new Ryan Aeronautical Company, and the school eventually
became a subsidiary.
design by the new company was the Ryan ST. The prototype's first flight
took place from Lindbergh Field on June 8, 1934. The ST was a two-seat,
open-cockpit aircraft with fabric-covered braced low-wings and an
all-metal fuselage. A 95 horsepower (71-horsepower) inline engine powered
it, giving the ST a top speed of almost 140 miles per hour (225 kilometres
per hour). With its exceptional handling and speed, the ST caused a minor
sensation at the time. However, only five were produced. Less than a year
later, the STA appeared. Powered by a 125-horsepower (93-kilowatt) engine,
this model set a number of light plane speed and altitude records and also
won the 1937 International Aerobatic Championships, piloted by Tex Rankin.
The next model was the STA Special, powered by a supercharged
150-horsepower (112-kilowatt) engine. This led directly to the STM (Sport
Trainer Military) that had the same engine but a slightly wider cockpit
opening to accommodate the wearing of parachutes.
The STM was
initially marketed in Latin American. Small numbers of single-seat
versions were sold to Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and
Nicaragua. The biggest export customer turned out to be the Netherlands
East Indies (later Indonesia), which needed a basic trainer when war broke
out in Europe in 1939 and its pilots could not reach the Netherlands for
training. In 1940, an order was placed for 84 STM-2 landplane and 24
STM-S2 floatplane trainers that were used as primary, basic, and advanced
trainers and for every task except bombing and gunnery training. Following
the invasion of Java by the Japanese, several STMs were captured and flown
by the invading forces. However, 34 managed to be evacuated by ship to
Australia where the Royal Australian Air Force put them into service.
1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps acquired an STA for evaluation under the
designation XPT-16. A contract for 15 YPT-16s (the limited version of the
XPT) followed. Production for the Air Corps was initiated in 1940 with 30
PT-20 trainers, which were similar to the YPT-16. The next year, Ryan
developed a version with an engine that would provide better performance.
One hundred PT-21s with a 132-horsepower (98 kilowatt) engine were
ordered. Additional trainers were ordered, and with the rapid expansion of
training during 1941, Ryan received a contract for 1,023 PT-22 Recruits,
which were similar to the earlier model. He also developed the civil S-C
was the experimental YO-51 Dragonfly observation craft, which pioneered
short takeoff and landing (STOL) techniques. Ryan delivered three YO-51
test models in 1940, but no production order followed.
also trained thousands of Army pilots during the war, very likely becoming
the largest contract flying school in the country during the war.
a Navy contract in December 1943, to develop the XFR-1 compound fighter,
with a piston engine mounted conventionally in the nose and a turbojet
engine in the rear fuselage and exhausting through the tail. This was
followed with an order for 100 FR-1 aircraft, later named Fireball. The
first XFR-1 flew on June 25, 1944 without the turbojet, and the first
flight with both engines took place in July. Deliveries of Fireballs to
the Navy began in March 1945, and by that time Ryan had received contracts
for a total of 1,300 production aircraft. But cancellations at the end of
the war reduced its numbers and none served in the war. They were used
extensively for tests aboard aircraft carriers before being phased out in
post-war slump, to stay in the business, the company produced burial
coffins for a time. It then turned out Navion planes until the Korean War,
a small plane for the personal-business market and for military customers,
acquired from the aircraft company North American Aviation. While out of
aircraft production, Ryan gained important experimental aircraft contracts
and was one of the early leaders in the emerging missile and
unpiloted-aircraft fields, along with Douglas, Martin, and Bell companies.
Ryan developed the Firebee target drone and the Firebird, the first true
air-to-air guided missile. His company also pioneered Doppler systems and
lunar landing radar.
strong interest in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) high-performance
combat aircraft. The Air Force sponsored the Ryan X-13 Vertijet, which
made its first conventional flight on December 28, 1956. It achieved
vertical takeoff to horizontal flight to vertical landing on April 11,
1957, but remained strictly experimental. The Vertijet, along with the
VZ-3RY, and the SV-5A Vertifan convertiplanes all advanced the field.
In 1955, the
Emtor Holding Company, a California investment firm, acquired 20 percent
of Ryan. The company originally had gone public in the late 1930s, and
Claude Ryan held only 12 percent of the stock by 1955, so Emtor gained
effective control. Robert Johnson of Emtor joined Ryan's board and became
president in 1961, with Claude Ryan continuing as chairman. Ryan acquired
a 50-percent interest in Continental Motors Corporation of Detroit, the
aircraft engine producer, in 1965.
acquired by Teledyne, Inc., for $128 million in 1968 and became a wholly
owned subsidiary of Teledyne in February 1969. Claude Ryan retired but
afterward pursued independent experimental work in aircraft for several