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Beechcraft was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1932 by Walter H. Beech and his wife Olive Ann Mellor Beech. The company began operations in an idle Cessna factory. With designer Ted Wells, they developed the first aircraft under the Beechcraft name, the classic Model 17 Staggerwing, which first flew in November 1932. Over 750 Staggerwings were built, with 270 manufactured for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.
Beechcraft was not Beech's first company, as he had previously formed Travel Air in 1924 and the design numbers used at Beechcraft followed the sequence started at Travel Air, and were then continued at Curtiss-Wright, after Travel Air had been absorbed into the much larger company in 1929. Beech became President of the Curtiss-Wright's airplane division and VP of sales, but became dissatisfied with being so far removed from aircraft production and quit to form Beechcraft, using the original Travel Air facilities and employing many of the same people. Model numbers prior to 11/11000 were built under the Travel Air name, while Curtiss-Wright built the CW-12, 14, 15 and 16 as well as previous successful Travel Air models (mostly the model 4).
In 1942 Beech won its first Army-Navy ‘E’ Award production award and became one of the elite five percent of war contracting firms in the country to win five straight awards for production efficiency, mostly for the production of the Beechcraft 18 which remains in widespread use worldwide.
After the war, the Staggerwing was replaced by the revolutionary Beechcraft Bonanza with a distinctive V-tail. Perhaps the best known Beech aircraft, the single-engine Bonanza has been manufactured in various models since 1947. The Bonanza has had the longest production run of any airplane, past or present, in the world. Other important Beech planes are the King Air/Super King Air line of twin-engine turboprops, in production since 1964, the Baron, a twin-engine variant of the Bonanza, and the Beechcraft Model 18, originally a business transport and commuter airliner from the late 1930s through the 1960s, which remains in active service as a cargo transport.
In 1950, Olive Ann Beech was installed as president and CEO of the company, after the sudden death of her husband from a heart attack on 29 November of that year. She continued as CEO until Beech was purchased by Raytheon Company on 8 February 1980. Ted Wells had been replaced as Chief Engineer by Herbert Rawdon, who remained at the post until his retirement in the early 1960s (he continued as a part-time consultant to Cessna President Dwane Wallace in Wichita until shortly before his death).
In 1994, Raytheon merged Beechcraft with the Hawker product line it had acquired in 1993 from British Aerospace, forming Raytheon Aircraft Company. In 2002, the Beechcraft brand was revived to again designate the Wichita-produced aircraft. Randy Groom, now President of Groom Aviation LLC, was President from 2003 to 2007, when Raytheon sold Raytheon Aircraft to Hawker Beechcraft. Since its inception Beechcraft has resided in Wichita, Kansas, also the home of chief competitor Cessna, the birthplace of Learjet and of Stearman, whose trainers were used in large numbers during WW2.
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