In 1932 Beechcraft introduced a new high performance, luxury executive aircraft. The Model 17 Staggerwing quickly became a pilot favorite. It was fast, powerful and modern.
As War clouds gathered the type was pressed into military service from Spain to China to England. Let’s take a look.
Beech Aircraft Company has generally been known for sturdy and powerful aircraft. The Staggerwing is an early example of that style. The oddly stepped back “negative stagger” wing was ostensibly to reduce interference drag between the wings, although wind tunnel tests showed no particular benefit. But it did give great visibility for the pilot, and with 450 horsepower and a maximum cruise speed of 212 mph it was clearly at the very top of its class.
It was expensive and slow to build. Construction was complex and materials were premium (leather and mohair interiors). So it was marketed as a top executive transport, like a Learjet of an earlier age. The Staggerwing also saw some success in air races, winning the Bendix Trophy in 1936; set a speed record from New York to London (the long way, over the Pacific), and Jackie Cochran set the women’s speed record in the type.
No surprise such a fast light type attracted some military attention too, mostly as a currier and VIP transport, but Chinese Nationalists used the type as an air ambulance and the Spanish Republic used a couple as bombers.
USAAF designated the Staggerwing UC-43, USN tagged it a GB-2 (also GB-1 for civilian aircraft impressed into service) and the RAF called it a Traveller.
Production totaled 785 aircraft broken down across 20 sub-types. Post-War, the Staggerwing returned to civilian service with the last examples delivered in 1949. Beech then replaced the Staggerwing with the more modern V-tailed Bonanza.
In 2007 AOPA members (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) voted the Beechcraft Staggerwing the most beautiful aircraft ever built. Other surveys in the 21st Century all rank the type in the top ten for pure good looks.
Sharp eyed readers may have noticed this post was tagged as a “YC-43”, that’s not a typo. Before series production began three service test aircraft were ordered under that designation. Those three were delivered in 1938 and were assigned to US Embassies in London, Rome and Paris.
This particular build represents the aircraft assigned to London. I don’t know the fate of that airframe, but at least one Staggerwing still flying carried these markings for many years.
This is the Roden kit. I think the kit is from early this century. Its not a hard build, but it is an odd mix of thick, crude moldings with beautiful texture and fine details. By far the hardest thing for me is the rigging, I think I learned some things on this one, and the next couple builds in this theme will give me more opportunity to improve, or make a horrible mess of things.