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Model 17 Staggerwing
1944 Beechcraft D17S
Role Utility aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Beech Aircraft Corporation
First flight November 4, 1932
Introduction 1933
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Navy
Produced 1933–1949
Number built 785
Vintage Wings of Canada Beechcraft D17S Staggerwing
1943 Beech D17S Staggerwing
Assembly line at the beginning of Staggerwing production; the sole A17F (with fixed landing gear) is being constructed in front of the frames of the first and second production B17Ls.
An F17D Model Staggerwing

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


In 1932, Walter H. Beech, formerly head of the aircraft manufacturer Travel Air, left Curtiss-Wright, which had purchased Travel Air in 1929, to set up a new company, Beech Aircraft Corporation, based in Wichita, Kansas. Beech took the airplane designer Ted A. Wells from Curtiss-Wright, and the first project of the new company was the Model 17, a fast biplane with an enclosed cabin designed to meet the needs of business executives. It was based on a design drafted by Wells while at Curtiss-Wright, but rejected by the Curtiss-Wright board.[1][2] 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 and was intended to reduce interference drag between the wings (although it was later found to have negligible effect).[3] The fabric-covered fuselage was faired with wood formers and stringers over a welded, steel tube frame.[3] 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.

Between April 1936 through May 1940 there were six Model 17 fatal accidents involving midair breakups that were attributed to weather conditions and structural failures, later determined to be caused by flutter of the ailerons and wings. The CAA Bureau of Safety Regulation initially issued an edict to restrict maximum airspeed and instrument flight, which was later replaced by a safety bulletin requiring lead balance weights to be added to the ailerons and flaps, and plywood panels to the outboard portion of the wings to increase torsional stiffness of the wing tip section.[4]

Operational history

Sales began slowly. The first Staggerwings' high price tag (between US$14,000 and $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 B17Ls were pressed into service as bombers by the Spanish Republican Air Force, the air forces of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. China ordered a number of Staggerwings to use as air ambulances in its fight against Imperial Japan. Finland had one C17L as a liaison aircraft between 1940 and 1945.[5] On October 2, 1941, Beech shipped a special camouflaged D17S to Prince Bernhard of Lippe, who was in exile in London after the German 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 D17Ss to evaluate them for use as light liaison aircraft. These were designated YC-43 (Y designating a development aircraft or non-standard type, C standing for Cargo). 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 (USAAF designation for Utility, Cargo). 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 airplanes were designated as GB-1 and GB-2 (under USN designating convention signifying General (purpose), Beech, 1st or 2nd variant of type). 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 automatic direction finder antennae 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.[5]

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 of the price. The Bonanza was a smaller aircraft with less 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.[6]

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 fifth in their top 12 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."[7]


Production by Model
17R 2
A17F 1
A17FS 1
B17B 2
B17E 4
B17L 46
B17R 15
C17B 39
C17E 22
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 prototypes, manufactured from 1932 to 1933.[8]
Prototypes, powered by 420 hp (310 kW) Wright R-975-E2 engine. Made first flight on November 4, 1932. Two built.[9][8]
Proposed single-seat military development of the Model 17 powered by a 715 hp (533 kW) Wright Cyclone engine. The cockpit was moved aft of the upper wing, which was to be in an inverted gull configuration to improve visibility. Not built.[10]
Fixed gear, plans for production abandoned in 1935.[8]
Powered by 690 hp (510 kW) Wright R-1820-F11 engine. One built.[11]
Powered by 710 hp (530 kW) Wright SR-1820-F3 engine. One built.[11]
Retractable gear, first production model, manufactured from March 1934 to March 1936.
285 hp (213 kW) Jacobs L-5 engine. One built 1934.[11]
285 hp (213 kW) Wright R-760-E1 engine. Four built from 1935.[12]
225 hp (168 kW) Jacobs L-4 engine. 48 built.[13]
B17L fitted with floats. One built.[13]
425 hp (317 kW) Wright R-975-E2/E3 engine. 16 built from 1935.[13]
Manufactured from March 1936 to March 1937.
285 hp (213 kW) Jacobs L-5 engine. 40 built.[13]
Floatplane version of C17B - One built.[13]
285 hp (213 kW) Wright R-760-E1.[13]
225 hp (168 kW) Jacobs L-4 engine. Six built.[14]
420 hp (310 kW) Wright R-975-E2/E3 engine. 16 built.[14]
Floatplane C17R. One built.[14]
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1945 (All were military models after 1941).
350 hp (260 kW) Wright R-760-E2. 10 built.[14]
420 hp (310 kW) Wright R-975-E3 engine. 27 built.[15]
450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-SB Wasp Junior. 23 built.[16]
Floatplane version of D17S.[16]
600 hp (450 kW) geared and supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-985-SC-G Wasp Junior. Two built.[16]
Manufactured from March 1937 to 1941.
Powered by 285 hp (213 kW) Jacobs L-MB engine. 50 built.[16]
Amphibian version of E17B. Four built.[16]
Powered by 225 hp (168 kW) Jacobs L-4 engine. One built.[16]
Manufactured from April 1938 to 1941.
Powered by 330 hp (250 kW) Jacobs L-6 engine. 61 built.[16]
One built.[16]
Manufactured from 1946 to 1948.
Powered by 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN4 engine. 20 built.[16]
Tachikawa-Beechcraft C17E Light Transport
20 built in licence production in Japan by Tachikawa, plus two assembled from imported parts for Dai Nihon Koku KK. Manshu, Chuka Koku and agencies such as provincial police headquarters.
Unbuilt twin-engine derivative of the Model 17. Was to have been powered by two Menasco C6S-4 Super Buccaneer engines. Canceled in favor of the Model 18.[17]

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 Army Air Corps and 63 for the United States Navy as the GB-1, 132 were later transferred from the Navy to the Army Air Corps.
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 aviator Jacqueline Cochran. Cochran flew the airplane 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 airplane.
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[18]

Republic of China-Nanjing
 New Zealand
 United Kingdom

Aircraft on display

United States

Surviving aircraft

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (April 2023)
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.

United Kingdom
United States

Specifications (Beech Model D17S)

3-view line drawing of the Beechcraft UC-43
3-view line drawing of the Beechcraft UC-43

Data from Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II[57]

General characteristics


See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ Pelletier 1995, pp. 13–14, 53
  2. ^ Berry 1990, pp. 8–9
  3. ^ a b "The Beechcraft Biplanes". Sport Aviation. January 1961.
  4. ^ Barnes, Sparky (May 22, 2019). "The savior of the Staggerwing fleet". General Aviation News.
  5. ^ a b c Heinonen, Timo; Valtonen, Hannu (2010). Albatrossista Pilatukseen – Suomen sotilaslentokoneet 1917–2010 (in Finnish). Tikkakoski: Keski-Suomen ilmailumuseo. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-952-99989-2-0.
  6. ^ "Top 10 All-Time Favorites". Warner Publishing Corporation. March 2003. Archived from the original on October 18, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2006.
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  9. ^ Pelletier 1995, p. 53
  10. ^ Pelletier 1995, p. 175
  11. ^ a b c Pelletier 1995, p. 55
  12. ^ Pelletier 1995, pp. 55–56
  13. ^ a b c d e f Pelletier 1995, p. 56
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