Although you’d expect the Beechcraft Heritage Museum to be in Wichita, Kansas, the “Air Capital of the World” and home of the Beech factory since 1932, it’s located 825 statute miles to the southeast in the small town of Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Founded in 1973 by a group of Beechcraft Staggerwing enthusiasts, the privately funded facility has developed into a world-class museum dedicated to preserving the history of the iconic Beech Aircraft brand, long known for quality and performance.
Located at the Tullahoma Regional Airport (KTHA) in south central Tennessee, the museum is near the Arnold Engineering Development Center, the world’s largest and most advanced flight simulation test facility.
And the Jack Daniels Distillery, another name known around the world, is just a few miles away in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Although Beechcraft founder Walter Beech was born near Tullahoma in Pulaski, Tennessee, the museum had its roots in an annual fly-in for Staggerwings, the unique biplane produced by Beech from 1933 to 1949.
Fly-in hosts John and Charlotte Parish live adjacent to the airport in a log cabin on what was a farm owned by Charlotte’s family. The Parishes donated the land occupied by the museum, where John is its long-time chairman of the board.
Originally known as the Staggerwing Museum, the facility was renamed in 2007 because its scope had expanded over the years to honor everything Beech. In addition to Staggerwings, many other Beechcraft models now come under the museum’s umbrella, including Twin Beech 18s, Barons, Bonanzas and King Airs.
Additional Beechcraft models on display in the museum, soon to be expanded, are one of the few remaining Starships and the very last Duke manufactured, a 1982 model.
The museum’s collection also includes a couple of Travel Airs, an aircraft brand produced by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman before each of the Wichita aviation pioneers went his separate way.
The layout of the airport and museum is ideal for a fly-in and one of the popular Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) regional events was held there last fall and attracted more than 2,500 aviation enthusiasts despite less-than-ideal weather.
The museum has regular hours from March through November, with other times by appointment, but the best opportunity to visit is during the annual “Beech Party” fly-in, a multi-day event held in October just as trees in Middle Tennessee change colors.
The 2015 edition of the Beech Party came only a few days after the AOPA event and the gathering attracted 144 planes and more than 500 people from all over North America and several foreign countries.
The theme of the event was “Honoring Women in Aviation,” including Fran Bera, seven-time winner the All Women Transcontinental Air Race, also known as The Powder Puff Derby.
In addition, Mary Lynn Oliver, daughter of Walter and Olive Ann Beech, was there to autograph her book, “The Barnstormer and the Lady.”
One of the most popular presentations was given by Jack Braly, former Beechcraft president, who reviewed the development and production of the unique Starship turbine-powered twin to a standing-room-only crowd.
Many other seminars and social events filled the schedule, but the focus at all Beech Parties is on flying and the Tullahoma pattern stayed busy with fly-bys and formation flights, plus a Saturday morning fly-out breakfast to Big South Fork Airpark in Oneida, Tennessee, where Wade McNabb, the museum’s outgoing CEO and curator, was honored for his many years of service.
This year’s Beech Party is scheduled for Oct. 12-16.