Walter Beech was born with a nearly H.G. Wellsian vision of things to come, at least when it came to aviation. In 1905, at the tender age of 14, Beech designed and built his own glider. Nine years later, he experienced his first flight. During World War I, Beech flew as an army pilot and he became a barnstormer after the war.
Ever the innovator, Walter Beech had a talent for thinking “outside the box” long before the cliché phrase was coined. In fact, Beech hardly recognized there was a box. Even for those of us who weren’t around back in the ’30s, the Beech model D17s are remarkable machines. Dubbed the Staggerwing because of the reverse stagger of its top wing, mounted about 18 inches aft of the lower wing, the new Beech design offered perhaps the most remarkable speed range of any airplane of its time. With the benefit of electrically activated, bicycle-chain operated, retractable gear, the Staggerwing featured a speed range from 60 to 200 mph (52 to 174 knots)—an operating ratio of 3.35 to one. It would be almost 50 years before another piston airplane (the 1989 Mooney TLS) would exceed that level of efficiency. Famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran won the 1937 Bendix Trophy Race flying a Staggerwing.