Beechcraft YC-43 Staggerwing

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.

I have to mention for my readers here in Michigan, I do not believe the colors are in any way related to a local school…
Fully covered retracting landing gear, both main and tail, were shockingly modern features on a civil aircraft in the early 1930s.

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.

Still flying Staggerwings are always perfect looking. Military aircraft did not have the propeller hub cover. Chances are, these two even have all modern instrumentation.

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.

These were both based at London Airport (now London Heathrow) until September 1939. Only the big Beech was welcome after! The Staggerwing has over twice the horsepower and can move 50 knots faster.
Obviously the Staggerwing is not a combat type. It seats four (including one pilot), weighs over 4000 lbs fully loaded, cruises at over 200 mph at up to 25000 feet and has a 650 mile range. It has a Pratt and Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior normally aspirated with 450 hp. Just for comparison; the P-40B seats one, weighs just under 7000 lbs fully loaded, cruises at 300 mph at up to 31000 feet and has a 1185 mile range. It has an Alllison V-1710 with single-stage supercharger for 1150 hp.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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17 Responses to Beechcraft YC-43 Staggerwing

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I would not touch rigging…but then who knows?

    • atcDave says:

      That’s what I said for years! But there are a few types I want to do that need it.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I remember many years ago, before I got in to modeling, my father spent a summer quitting smoking, and meticulously building a balsa wood model of a WWI biplane that I can’t recall. But I do recall the time and detail he spent on the rigging and the tissue that served as the skin for that plane.

      • atcDave says:

        My dad also built balsa models, before my time. But I did see some of work, the workmanship was impressive and obviously a completely different skill than what I do now. As a kid, he helped me learn some of his skills and I did some balsa wing profiles for a wind tunnel demo in a science fair. Fun stuff.

        Building balsa biplanes sounds like a great way to quit smoking!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I think that while it does involve a lot of the same patience and skill set with small delicate parts, the balsa models are way more commitment. I went more for armor anyway, so it wasn’t really a consideration for me, and by the time I got serious they were getting hard to find.

        Yes, my dad’s solution was a balsa wood biplane and endless games of solitaire to keep him occupied rather than smoking. It worked for him.

      • atcDave says:

        That is awesome for him!
        My dad always teased about when I was going to build with real materials.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    That plane was featured in the war movie Bataan.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Wiki says…

    Army Air Corps pilot Lieutenant Steve Bentley and his Filipino mechanic, Corporal Juan Katigbak, work frantically to repair a Beechcraft C-43 Traveler aircraft. They succeed, but Katigbak is killed and Bentley is mortally wounded. Bentley has explosives loaded aboard and flies into the bridge’s foundation, destroying it for a third time.

    • atcDave says:

      What’s funny too, is you hardly ever see the “Traveler” name applied here. Except for the British, who misspell it!
      Post-War, Beech built a Model 95 Travel Air, which was basically a twin Bonanza (not to be confused with the Twin Bonanza, a wholly different plane) that eventually morphed into the Baron.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        How WWII propaganda movies viewed in the 1950s had an effect on people’s lives would be a good subject to research on.

      • atcDave says:

        I grew up watching those old War movies every Saturday night. But no doubt, a few slipped passed me.
        I would be cautious of such a study though, too many people anymore are eager to downplay or undermine past greatness.

  4. I must admit I didn’t realise the RAF used them, so that’s a new one to me! The first time I came across one of these was at the Duxford air show some years ago now, I believe that one is still flying, although I could be wrong. I would err more on the side of ‘unusual’ than beautiful if I’m honest, but then it does have a certain draw to it, doesn’t it.

    • atcDave says:

      My own taste leans more towards fighters, Mustangs and Spitfires strike me as more beautiful!
      But yes, it does have a distinctive and not unattractive look to it.

  5. Pingback: Theme Build 1 – Complete | Plane Dave

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