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Model 17 Staggerwing
1944 Beechcraft D17S
Role Utility aircraft
Manufacturer Beech Aircraft Corporation
Designer T. A. Wells
First flight 04 November 1932
Introduction 1933
Primary users Private sector
United States Army Air Forces
Produced 1933-1949
Number built 785
Unit cost
US$14,000-17,000 (1933)
US$29,000 (1949)

Vintage Wings of Canada Beechcraft D17S Staggerwing

1943 Beech D.17S Staggerwing

Assembly line at the beginning of Staggerwing production (note the fixed landing gear).

An F17D Model Staggerwing

The Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing is an American biplane with an atypical negative stagger (the lower wing is farther forward than the upper wing), that first flew in 1932.


At the height of the Great Depression, aircraft executive Walter H. Beech and airplane designer T. A. "Ted" Wells joined forces to collaborate on a project to produce a large, powerful, and fast cabin biplane built specifically for the business executive. The Beechcraft Model 17, popularly known as the "Staggerwing" was first flown on November 4, 1932. During its heyday it was used as an executive aircraft, much as the private jet is now, and its primary competition were the Waco Custom Cabin and Waco Standard Cabin series of biplanes.

The Model 17's unusual negative stagger wing configuration (the upper wing staggered behind the lower) and unique shape maximized pilot visibility while negligibly reducing interference between the wings.[1] The fabric-covered fuselage was faired with wood formers and stringers over a welded, steel tube frame.[1] Construction was complex and took many man-hours to complete. The Staggerwing's retractable conventional landing gear, uncommon at that time, combined with careful streamlining, light weight, and a powerful radial engine helped it perform well.

In the mid-1930s, Beech undertook a major redesign of the aircraft, to create the Model D17 Staggerwing. The D17 featured a lengthened fuselage that improved the aircraft's handling characteristics by increasing control leverage and the ailerons were relocated to the upper wings, eliminating interference with the flaps. Braking was improved with a foot-operated brake linked to the rudder pedals.

Operational history

Sales began slowly. The first Staggerwings' high price tag (between US$14,000 and US$17,000, depending on engine size) scared off potential buyers in an already depressed civil aircraft market. Only 18 Model 17s were sold during 1933, the first year of production, but sales steadily increased. Each Staggerwing was custom-built by hand. The luxurious cabin, trimmed in leather and mohair, held up to five passengers. Eventually, the Staggerwing captured a substantial share of the passenger aircraft market. By the start of World War II, Beechcraft had sold more than 424 Model 17s.

Air racing

1937 advertisement for the Model 17 Beech Staggerwing

The Staggerwing's speed made it popular with 1930s air racers. An early version of the Model 17 won the 1933 Texaco Trophy Race. In 1935, a British diplomat, Capt. H.L. Farquhar, successfully flew around the world in a Model B17R, traveling 21,332 miles (34,331 kilometers) from New York to London, by way of Siberia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and back across Europe.

Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes won the 1936 Bendix trophy in a Model C17R Staggerwing. Thaden also won the Harmon Trophy for her achievement. Jackie Cochran set a women's speed record of 203.9 mph (328 km/h), established an altitude record of over 30,000 feet (9,144 m), and finished third in the 1937 Bendix Trophy Race, all in a special Model D17W Staggerwing. The aircraft made an impressive showing in the 1938 Bendix race as well.

In 1970, due to a dispute with the T-6 racing class, the Reno National Air Races invited five Staggerwings to perform a demonstration race. Two G models and two D17 models raced. The five pilots were Bryant Morris, Bert Jensen, Don clark, Noel Gourselle, and Phil Livingston the only pilot to have prior racing experience in the T-6 Class. The race was flawless with ABC Wide World of Sports Coverage but protesting T-6 racers prevented the class from future competition with allegations of safety issues.

World War II

As World War II loomed, a number of Model B17L were pressed into service as bombers by the FARE, the air forces of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. China ordered a number of Staggerwings to use as ambulance planes in its fight against Imperial Japan. Finland had one B17L as a liaison aircraft between 1940-1945. On October 2, 1941, Beech shipped a special camouflaged D17S to Prince Bernhard of Lippe, who was in exile in London after the Germany invasion of the Netherlands. He used it for refugee work in and around London.

YC-43 Traveler

The Beech UC-43 Traveler was a slightly modified version of the Staggerwing. In late 1938, the United States Army Air Corps purchased three Model D17S to evaluate them for use as light liaison aircraft. These were designated YC-43. After a short flight test program, the YC-43s went to Europe to serve as liaison aircraft with the air attachés in London, Paris, and Rome.

Early in World War II, the need for a compact executive-type transport or courier aircraft became apparent, and in 1942 the United States Army Air Forces ordered the first of 270 Model 17s for service within the United States and overseas as the UC-43. These differed only in minor details from the commercial model. To meet urgent wartime needs, the government also purchased or leased (impressed) additional "Staggerwings" from private owners including 118 more for the Army Air Force plus others for the United States Navy. In Navy service the planes were designated as GB-1 and GB-2. The British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy acquired 106 "Traveller Mk. I" (the British name uses the UK double "l" spelling) through the Lend-Lease arrangement to fill its own critical need for light personnel transports.

The production UC-43 differed in minor details from the service test YC-43. Two distinguishing external features of the UC-43 are the circular ADF antenna mounted between the main landing gear and landing lights near the lower wingtips. They were all powered by the 450 horsepower (336 kilowatt) Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine.


After the war's end, Beech immediately converted its manufacturing capabilities back to civil aircraft production, making one final version of the Staggerwing, the Model G17S. They built 16 aircraft, which they sold for US$29,000 apiece. Norway sold one D17S to Finland in 1949, which the Finnish Air Force used from 1950 to 1958.

The lightweight V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza, a powerful four-passenger luxury aircraft, soon replaced the venerable Staggerwing in the Beech product line, at about a third the price. The Bonanza was a smaller aircraft with fewer horsepower, but carried four people at a similar speed to the Staggerwing. Beechcraft sold the 785th and final Staggerwing in 1948 and delivered it in 1949.

Critical praise

In March 2003, Plane & Pilot magazine named the Staggerwing one of its Top Ten All-Time Favorite aircraft.[2]

In the April, 2007 issue of AOPA Pilot magazine it was reported that the Staggerwing was voted by nearly 3000 AOPA members as the Most Beautiful Airplane. "Members said it's the perfect balance between 'muscular strength and delicate grace,' and rated it highly for its 'classic lines and symmetry.'"

The November 2012 issue of Aviation History magazine ranked the Staggerwing as fifth in their top twelve list of The Worlds Most Beautiful Airplanes. Stating that "Some might think 'the Stag' ungainly, backward wings and all, yet it has become the prime example of vintage beauty." and "...the aftward upper wing led to the big, steeply raked windscreen that is also a key element of what some have called an art deco classic."[3]

Variants and design stages

Production by Model
17R 2
A17F 1
A17FS 1
B17B 2
B17E 4
B17L 46
B17R 15
C17B 39
C17E 2
C17L 6
C17R 17
D17A 8
D17R 27
D17S 67 civilian
412 military
D17W 2
E17B 54
E17L 1
F17D 60
G17S 20
Total 785
Fixed gear prototype made first flight on November 4, 1932.

By 1934, Beechcraft had designed and built four models. They were the 17R (420 hp Wright engine); the A17F (690 hp Wright engine); the A17FS (710 hp Wright engine); and the B17L (225 hp Jacobs engine). All were fixed gear models with the exception of the B17L, which had a pneumatically retractable undercarriage. Of the three models, the B17L proved best suited to meet the market demands, and became the first production model.

First production model, manufactured from March 1934 to March 1936.
Manufactured from March 1936 to March 1937.
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1945 (All were military models after 1941).
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1941.
Manufactured from April 1938 to 1941.
Manufactured from 1946 to 1948.

Military designations

YC-43 (S/N 39-139) assigned to the American Embassy in London, England

Three Model D17S with a 450hp R-985-17 engine for evaluation by the United States Army Air Corps

UC-43 s/n 43-10859

UC-43 Traveler
Production version with a 450hp R-985-AN-1 engine, 75 ordered for the USAAC and 63 for the United States Navy as the GB-1, 132 were later transferred from the USN to the USAAC.
Model D17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, 13 impressed into service.
Model D17S with 450hp R-985-17 engine, 13 impressed into service.
Model F17D with 300hp R-915-1 engine, 37 impressed into service.
Model E17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine, 31 impressed into service.
Model C17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, five impressed into service.
Model D17A with 350hp R-975-3 engine, one impressed into service.
Model C17B with 285hp R-830-1 engine, 10 impressed into service.
Model B17R with 440hp R-975-11 engine, three impressed into service.
Model C17L with 225hp R-755-1 engine, three impressed into service.
Model D17W, one impressed into service. This aircraft was originally built in 1937 for famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran. Cochran flew the plane in the 1937 Bendix cross-country race and placed first in the Women's Division and 3rd overall. She also set a Women's National Speed Record of 203.895 miles per hour using the plane.

A GB-1 Traveler

United States Navy transport version of the D17, ten bought in 1939 and ten impressed into USN service.
USN version as GB-1 but with a 450hp R-985-50 or R-985-AN-1 engine, 271 built, 132 later transferred to USAAF as UC-43s. Also additional aircraft from a cancelled British contract and impressed aircraft.
One Model C17R as an executive transport for the United States Navy.
Traveller I
British designation for the former US Embassy in London's YC-43 and 107 UC-43 and GB-2 aircraft delivered mainly for the Royal Navy.

Engine selection

Beechcraft Model 17 Engine Selections
Suffix Engine (radial configuration) Cylinders Power (hp)
A Wright R-760-E2 7 350
B Jacobs L-5 (R-830-1) 7 285
D Jacobs L-6 (R-915A3) 7 330
E Wright R-760-E1 7 285
F Wright R-1820-F11 9 690
FS Wright SR-1820-F3 (supercharged) 9 710
L Jacobs L-4 (R-755D) 7 225
R Wright R-975-E2 or E3 9 420-450
S P&W R-985-AN-1 or AN-3 9 450
W P&W R-985-SC-G (supercharged & geared) 9 600


Military staggerwing operators

Numbers operated from[4]

Bolivian Air Force/Fuerza Aérea Boliviana (received 1 in 1941)
 Republic of China (1912–1949)
  • Cuban Army Aviation Corps (operated 2 in 1945 and 1958)
  • Ethiopian Government (operated 2 from 1935 to 1936)
 New Zealand

Aircraft on display

  • Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee (contains nine examples of the type, including the prototype)[5]


The Fighter Collection's Staggerwing, G-BRVE, in 2003

Many Staggerwings remain registered with the FAA in flyable condition, or undergoing restoration. Several military versions are on display.

  • Beechcraft D17S CF-GKY, Vintage Wings of Canada, Gatineau Airport, Quebec, Canada[14]
  • Beechcraft D17S G-BRVE is owned by the Fighter Collection in the United Kingdom. It was built in 1943 as a US Navy model GB-2. It was shipped to the UK and flown by Royal Navy's 782 Naval Air Squadron as Traveller Mk.I FT475. Post–war, it was returned to the US and flown by the US Air Force before passing into private hands. It came back to the UK in 1990 and has since flown with several owners under the UK registration G-BRVE.[15]
  • UC-43/D-17S (489, N51746) is in storage awaiting restoration at the Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California
  • UC-43 (serial number 44-76068) is on display in the Modern Flight Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio
  • UC-43 is on display at the 1941 Historical Aircraft Group Museum in Geneseo, New York

Specifications (Beech Model D17S)

Beechcraft Model 17DS was designated YC-43 by the US Army Air Corps and used as liaison aircraft for the US Air Attachés in London, Paris and Rome

Data from Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II[16]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 3 passengers
  • Payload: 125 lb (56.7 kg) of baggage
  • Length: 26 ft 10 in (8.18 m)
  • Wingspan: 32 ft (9.75 m)
  • Height: 8 ft (2.44 m)
  • Wing area: 296.5 ft² (27.55 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,540 lb (1,150 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 4,250 lb (1,930 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 "Wasp Junior" radial engine, 450 hp (340 kW) at 2,300 rpm


  • Maximum speed: 212 mph (184 knots, 341 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 202 mph (176 knots, 325 (km/h)
  • Landing speed: 45 mph (39 knots, 72 km/h))
  • Range: 582 nm (670 mi, 1,078 km)
  • Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7,600 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,500 ft/min (7.6 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 14.3 lb/ft² (70.0 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 9.44 lb/hp (5.68 kg/kW)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Beechcraft Biplanes". January 1961. 
  2. "Top 10 All-Time Favorites". Warner Publishing Corporation. March 2003. Retrieved 2006-08-07. 
  3. Wilkinson, Stephan (2012). Aviation History Magazine; "The Worlds Most Beautiful Airplanes". Leesburg, VA: Weider History Group. pp. 22–29. ISSN 1076-8858. 
  4. Chris Thornburg (3 December 2006). "World Air Forces: Historical listings of the aircraft used". Chris Thornburg. Retrieved 6 Aug 2012. 
  5. Beechcraft Heritage Museum (2009). "Collection". Archived from the original on 27 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-13. [dead link]
  6. "Aircraft & Exhibits > General Aviation". 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  7. Frontiers of Flight Museum (2005). "About". Archived from the original on 20 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  8. Legacy Flight Museum (March 2009). "Library of Planes". Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  9. Mid America Air Museum (2002). "Displays". Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  10. Museu Aeroespacial (undated). "BEECHCRAFT D17S "Staggerwing"". Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  11. National Air and Space Museum (2009). "Collections". Archived from the original on 20 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  12. National Museum of Naval Aviation (2001). "GB-2 Traveller". Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  13. National Museum of the United States Air Force (undated). "BEECH UC-43 TRAVELER". Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  14. Vintage Wings (undated). "Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17S". Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  15. "Beech D-17S Staggerwing (G-BRVE)". The Fighter Collection. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  16. Bridgeman, Leonard. “The Beechcraft Traveller.” Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II. London: Studio, 1946. p. 205. ISBN 1 85170 493 0.

External links

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