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Beech Aircraft Company

Walter and Olive Ann Beech viewing World War II aircraft production lines at the Beechcraft Plant I in WichitaFounded in 1932, Beech Aircraft Company was established by Walter and Olive Beech in Wichita. The Beeches had previously partnered in Travel Air Manufacturing Company, producing airplanes for competitive, private, and business use.

Walter Beech was fascinated in flight a child when he created his first glider out of wood and sheets. He was an engineer for Laird Swallow in Wichita before forming Travel Air Manufacturing Company with Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman. Olive Ann Mellor ran the business office. Eventually Cessna left the partnership.

Travel Air was purchased by Curtiss-Wright in 1930. Walter Beech became president of the company and married Olive Ann Mellor. The Beeches partnered with other investors and started Beech Aircraft Company in Wichita in 1932.

The first Beech design was the Model 17, built by Walter Beech and Ted Wells. The biplane had a staggered wing design, reached speeds up to 200 mph. Olive Ann Beech, an astute business woman, convinced aviators Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes to fly a Beech staggerwing in competition for the Bendix Trophy in 1936. The team placed first in their Model C-17R, and gained wider acclaim for the Beech Aircraft Company.

With the beginning of World War II, the Beech company supplied staggerwings for a variety of uses including allied air forces. The monoplane twin Beech Model 18, introduced in 1937, was used as a military transport, bomber, and trainer for the allies. Walter Beech suffered major illness; his hospitalization meant that Olive Ann had to take the control of the company. She oversaw the defense orders as the company expanded from just 235 in 1939 to more than 4,000 by 1942.

Following the war, Beech Aircraft production shifted to meet new demands in general aviation. Walter Beech died of a heart attack in 1950. Olive Ann was one of few female chief executives in America.

The Twin-Bonanza was introduced in 1954 to serve the business market. The company grew to more than one million square feet of production space. There were 17 subsidiaries and 10 production plants producing aircraft for personal, business, and military use. During Olive Ann's nearly 20 years at the helm, sales tripled. Beech Aircraft supplied orders for NASA's Gemini, Apollo, and space shuttle programs.

Beechcraft became a subsidiary of the Raytheon Company in 1980. In 1990 Raytheon merged the Wichita company with another of its product lines. In 2007 Hawker Beechcraft bought the Raytheon division and began operating as its own company.

Entry: Beech Aircraft Company

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2011

Date Modified: October 2022

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.