became interested in flight from a very early age
and by the age of 14 he had not only designed but
built his own glider. His first solo flight was in
a Curtiss pusher on 11th July 1914. By the time he
was 26 he was rated U.S. Army Aviator & Flight
Instructor and went on to join the Swallow
Airplane Company where he rapidly made his way up
from Test Pilot to General Manager.
1924 Walter joined forces with Clyde Cessna &
Lloyd Stearman and co-founded Travel Air
Manufacturing Company, located in Witchita,
Kansas. They quickly established themselves as the
world's largest producer of both monoplane and
biplane aircraft. These aircraft we predominately
aimed at the commercial market and the rich and
famous. During these early years Travel Air
managed to receive International recognition and
respect by realising more than 200 performance
records. In fact Walter's slogan was "The world is
a small when you fly a Beechcraft", emphasising
the speed and luxury offered by his aircraft.
Stearman left Travel Air after a few very
successful years and Clyde Cessna a year later to
concentrate on monoplane design and building.
Walter continued at Travel Air where he continued
to build "mystery ship" racers and won hundreds of
transcontinental speed records during the late
1929 saw the merger of Travel Air with Curtiss-Wright
Airplane Company and Walter took the position of
President of the new corporation's Aircraft
Division. He longed to pursue his passion of
aircraft design and in 1932 he decided to leave,
move back to Witchita and set up his own
company with Olive Ann called Beech Aircraft
Company in rented space in the idle Cessna plant.
His mission was to build biplanes that were faster
and would go further than his rival monoplanes.
Along with Ted Wells he set to work and soon the
Beech Staggerwing Model 17R was ready.
first aircraft had a price tag of between $14,000
and $17,000 (depending on the engine, 225 to
420hp) and first flew on 4th November 1932. It was
everything that he had dreamed of and was used to
win many more distance and speed records, along
with the Bendix air race. With the Staggerwing's
top speed of 200mph he even managed to out perform
his military contemporaries. Little did he know
that the Staggerwing would earn him a reputation
that has made the Beech name synonymous with
reliability and quality for almost 70 years.
During World War II, production concentrated on
building aircraft for the defence industry and he
produced around 270 Staggerwings for the war
effort. Over 7000 military aircraft were produced
and around 90% of the U.S. Army Air Forces
navigators and 50% of the multi-engine pilots were
trained using Walter's Twin Beech AT-17C-45.
Following the war, Walter returned to commercial
aircraft building and built 16 more powerful Beech
Staggerwing (model G-17S, $29,000). 781
Staggerwing aircraft had been built and it was
finally replaced by the "V" tailed Bonanza in 1947
which was much cheaper to purchase ($8945) and was
only 1460 lbs empty and had a top cruising speed
of only 172mph . Staggerwing production
ended in 1948, with the last aircraft leaving the
factory in 1949.
the following years many more light commercial
aircraft were designed and built and Beech
Aircraft Company became a leader in Business
aviation. Olive Ann took over the running of the
company when Walter died until she retired in
1982, two years after the company became a
Raytheon Company. She died in 1993.