Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Walter Herschel Beech 1891-1950

Walter Herschel Beech began an illustrious career in aviation with a solo flight on July 11, 1914, in a Curtiss pusher. A rated Army aviator and flight instructor in 1917, he barnstormed after his enlistment ended in 1920, finally joining the Swallow Company in 1923, where he quickly rose from designer, salesman, and test pilot to general manager. In 1924 he co-founded Travel Air with Clyde Cessna , which would become the world's largest producer of both monoplane and biplane commercial aircraft, internationally acclaimed for establishing more than 200 performance records. With the merger of Travel Air and Curtiss-Wright, Beech became president of the new corporation.

However, he desired a more personal participation in aircraft design and manufacture and so co-founded Beech Aircraft Company with his wife, Olive Ann, on April 1, 1932. His early Beechcrafts set many distance and speed records, and won the Bendix and McFadden races. Most novel among these, with design and performance features years ahead of its time, was the Model 17 "Staggerwing" cabin biplane.

During World War II, Beech turned the entire production of his company to defense, producing more than 7,400 military aircraft. His AT-71/C-45 trained more than 90 percent of the USAAF navigator and bombardiers and 50 percent of its multi-engine pilots.
In the postwar years Beech again applied his efforts to producing a new line of light aircraft, the most famous of which was the V-tailed Bonanza

Lawrence 'Larry' Dale Bell 1895-1956

Lawrence Dale Bell was first involved in aviation in 1913 when he worked as a mechanic for two exhibition pilots: his brother, Grover Bell, and Lincoln Beachey. Employed by Glenn Martin in late 1913 as a factory worker, and in mid-1914 he had produced his first aircraft during his off-hours, a Martin tractor converted into a bomber for sale to Mexican rebel Panco Villa. This so impressed Martin that Bell was made superintendent of the new factory.

Bell left Martin in the late '20s to join Consolidated, becoming their Vice-President and General Manager in 1929. When the company was moved to San Diego, he elected to remain in Buffalo and, with several others from Consolidated, to form the Bell Aircraft Co in 1935. Initial work came as subcontracts from other manufacturers, but as Bell's ideas focused more on research and development, the company came into its own. His concept of the Airacuda as a multiplace, cannon-bearing, long-range fighter was quite novel for the time, and was followed by the P-39 Airacobra as a full production plane, for which the company expanded to meet wartime contracts in the US and abroad.

For years Bell had been interested in rotary-wing aircraft, and in 1944 met Arthur M Young, who had devoted many years to helicopter research. Bell set him up in a shop and spent many hours with him developing plans, from which the successful line of Bell helicopters came. And when Bell Company was invited to submit a proposal for a plane to attack the sound barrier, he told his engineers to "throw away the book" and start fresh—in such an experiment he insisted that no prior aircraft design ideas or practices should be allowed to hamper creative imagination. The resulting X-1, the USAF's first rocket-propelled flight research vehicle for NASA, was first to exceed the speed of sound.

Clyde Cessna 1879-1954

At age 31, after witnessing an aerial exhibition in Kansas that sparked his interest in aircraft, Clyde Vernon Cessna began his lifelong dedication to aviation. He designed and built his own aircraft and taught himself to fly. Those qualities of courage and self-reliance not only made him successful in aviation, but also served to inspire his associates throughout the industry.

Following World War I, the widespread interest in private flying induced him, in 1925 to found, with Walter Beech, the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita KS. With Cessna as its president, the company became one of the leading U S aircraft manufacturers, and his advanced design concepts produced a line of internationally famous aircraft that established many speed and distance records.

In 1927, he formed the Cessna Aircraft Company, and in the decade of the 1930s produced racing and sports aircraft that set traditions of safety, performance, and economy which are still the standards of safety for aviation. His aircraft introduced the pleasures of private flying to many thousands of pilots throughout the world. Cessna returned to his farm to spend his later years in Rago KS.