First Flights of Some Very Famous Birds

Of all the industries that have propelled America into the leadership of the world economy, few can match aviation for the incredible changes it has made in how we think and act and live. The events at Kitty Hawk started an evolution in human culture that will last forever.

Something about aviation that turned our eyes upward and has kept them there is the incredible creativity of the planemakers. The history of the business is full of surprises-especially over at Beechcraft. Early in the game, they presented the aviation community with the fabulous Beech Staggerwing, a great idea whose time finally had come.

Beech followed with the introduction of our beloved Bonanza, a one-of-a-kind design triumph that gave high-performance owner-flown aircraft a new set of standards.

Then along came the legendary King Air, a family of airplanes that created a new concept for corporate air travel.

And here they are: Photos of the first model of these three very famous and wonderful airplanes. Enjoy!



The first airplane built by the Beech Aircraft Co., the Beech Model 17, was dubbed the Staggerwing because its upper wing was behind the lower, a negative stagger.The idea for it came from Walter Beech’s high ideals for a four-seat business plane.

First flight of the Model 17 Staggerwing was November 4, 1932.

The Model 17F, with a 690-hp Wright Cyclone engine, far exceeded Beech’s goals with a top speed of 250 mph, faster than even the top military pursuit planes of 1934.

In 1936, Olive Ann Beech persuaded her husband to enter a Staggerwing in the Bendix Transcontinental speed dash. In that plane, Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes broke the transcontinental record, beat their closest rival by more than 45 minutes and became the first women to win the nation’s most prestigious air race.

Staggerwing production ended in 1948 with more than 730 built.



Eager to capitalize on the expected post- WWII flying boom, Beech designers began work on the Model 35 even before the war was won. The Bonanza featured a distinctive “butterfly” or V-tail, chosen for its aerodynamics, ease of construction, and for instant visual distinction from any competition.

Veteran pilot Vern Carstens test-flew the first Bonanza on December 22, 1945. Modern construction methods allowed Beech to market it at one-third the cost of a comparably performing Staggerwing, assuring that the V-tail would rise to the pinnacle of personal and owner-flown business aviation.

The record-setting Bonanza, in its many variations, continues to be the most popular and probably best-known personal airplane of all time. From certification on March 25, 1947, to completion of the final V-tail, S/N D-10403, delivered to flight test on November 11, 1982, the Bonanza and its Debonair, Travel Air, Baron and straight-tail Bonanza progeny established a standard by which virtually all other light airplanes are measured.

King Air


The first King Air rolled off the production line on October 30, 1963. It became the personal plane of Olive Ann Beech, who signed the plane and had the interior and the instrument panel decorated in baby blue. Four decades later, the plane is still in production. Nearly 6,000 King Airs with various modifications have been built over the years.

The first King Air twin engine turboprop is currently being restored in Mississippi by its owners, who plan to have it flown by celebrity pilots on a ’round-the-world goodwill tour next year.

Article courtesy of ABS December 2003,