If a woman saw this ad on a dating website, she would most likely pass:
“Born in 1944, I’ve been through a war, worked occasionally, but I am well-traveled, steady and true, and love to fly. I’m athletic, though a bit stout, and honestly, I’m a heavy drinker with lots of gas, plus I smoke a little. I have a few peculiarities, such as lots of plastic surgery over thin skin, and a new interior is planned. Parts of me have been rebuilt a couple of times, but I am looking forward to years ahead if I can find the right person to fund my habits.”
I did not pass. My first date with a Staggerwing was after winning a ride in one as first prize in a Ninety-Nines Poker Run at Fallbrook Community Airpark (L18) in San Diego.
I was fortunate to be able to fly as co-pilot several more times in NC582, including the Hayward Air Rally, where even last place was fun.
We parted ways in 2010 when owner Granger Haugh donated the plane to the National Warplane Museum. It was to be on display and fly in airshows, awaiting restoration funding.
And then there was a landing accident. The museum had no money for the extensive work necessary to fix the plane and several more years went by.
Granger and his family could not stand that the wreck remained in a forgotten hangar, so they bought the plane back from the museum, had it trucked to California, and began to rebuild.
That same Staggerwing has now boomeranged back into my life.
In 1932, the Staggerwing, known as Model 17, was the first product off the assembly line of the newly formed Beech Aircraft Company. It remained in production until 1949.
It is estimated that about 200 of the 785 that were built remain in the world today, though not all are flying.
Staggerwings were gradually replaced by the Beech V-tail Bonanza, which was first offered to the public in 1947. The newer looking mono-wing, with a horizontally opposed 6-cylinder, was much more fuel and oil efficient and flew nearly as fast. And even if it was only a four-place, it was successful for the company.
As a tribute to female pilots, it is necessary to mention that speed made the Staggerwing popular with air racers. Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes won the 1936 Bendix trophy in a Model C17R Staggerwing, and Thaden went on to win the Harmon trophy, and others.
A women’s speed and altitude records were achieved by Jackie Cochran in a Staggerwing.
After the decision was made to return NC582 to California for a complete rebuild, research began on the story of this particular plane, from assembly line to the present.
This Staggerwing served for Great Britain in World War II as FT478, flying out of Heston and Lee-on-Solent on various missions within the UK.
Upon returning to America, there were several owners from Alaska to Switzerland before it was purchased by Granger Haugh in 1994, and making its home in California.
The current restoration will return the plane to 1944 British Royal Navy standards, and it should be one of a kind in the world upon completion.
It is a privilege and aviation dream come true to be a small part of this story.
And the secret to falling in love? Fly it!
Knowing the qualities and characteristics will be an honor and I appreciate the chance to fly it again.
For now, I will continue my flirtation with the Staggerwing and will learn all I can about this historic and special aircraft before our next date.
But please don’t tell my Cessna 180….