Story and photos by Ken Kula
The Beech Aircraft Company was formed in 1932. Walter Beech was President of the company, his wife Olive Ann was the company’s Secretary. Wichita, Kansas was and is the first and only home of the company, whose initial product was the classic Beech 17 Staggerwing. The name “Beechcraft” was coined after World War II. The company remained under own “power” until 1980, when it was bought by the Raytheon Company. In 2007, it was sold to Goldman Sachs, and seven years later it was sold to its current owner, Textron. Today, the owner is known as Textron Aviation, which includes Beechcraft and a one-time compeditor Cessna. This article will cover a trio of commercial designs, the Beech Model 18, Beech 99 and Beech 1900 airliners, and a pair of other commercial twins.
The Beech Model 18 became known as the “Twin Beech” when it was first produced in 1937. The twin-tailed transport had a long production run; thirty two years of commercial and military versions of which more than 9,000 examples were manufactured. The aircraft was used an American military trainer and light transport during World War II, and known as the SNB Kansan, AT-7 and AT-11 trainers and the C-45 Expeditor. During and after the War it was widely exported around the world. Many surplus military aircraft were bought up and pressed into service as freighters and passenger transports. New versions were produced after the War too, with the final version known as the H-18 executive transport. Engine power was increased throughout production, beginning with around 330 horsepower in early designs to 450 horsepower for each engine later. Engines varied with Jacobs, Wright or Pratt and Whitney radial designs. Other late models were powered by turboprop engines. There are very few Beech 18s in passenger service today, but freighters can still be found here and there. There are a few Twin Beeches that have been adapted with floats for amphibious operations too!
The replacement for the Beech 18 became known as the Beech 99 Airliner. A version of this was called the Beech 99 Commuter too. The twin turboprop could seat up to 15 passengers, in an unpressurized airframe that took design features from Beech Queen Air and King Air executive transports. This aircraft was upgraded twice after the initial offereing; the engine power was increased from the 550 horsepower in each engine to 715 horsepower in the final version. Deliveries commenced in 1968, and ended around 1984. Today, large fleets of Beech 99s are operated for overnight cargo flights by Ameriflight of Dallas TX and Wiggins Airways of Manchester NH
To better the Beech 99 Airliner/Commuter, the Beechcraft 1900 followed. A longer fuselage carried up to 19 passengers, and was pressurized, allowing a service ceiling of 25,000 feet. The lineage of the 1900 began with Queen Air and King Air designs too. Initially in service in 1984, the final production versions were completed in 2002. The main variant was the BE-1900C version, some of which had a wet wing for more fuel capacity. Six aircraft were remanufacturered into C-12J military transports for the U.S. Air Force, some of which are still active today. Numerous freightrer conversions of the Beech 1900C versions are still active, including Alaskan operators
After the initial Beech 1900 success, a new Beech 1900 version, known as the Beech 1900D, introduced a taller, redesigned fuselage and more powerful engines. Small winglets were added too, as part of the offset of the taller fuselage. There were 429 Beech 1900D airliners built, far more than the 249 Beech 1900C variant. Several of these airframes are converted into freighters too
Various modifications to Beech’s King Air line of twins have occurred, with both the Beech 90 King Air and the Beech 200/300/350 Super King Air series of transports having lent themselved to special air missions. Medical evacuation aircraft have been specially modified with life support features, and are prevelant worldwide
A modified Super King Air 200 passenger variant is known as the CATPASS 250, a thirteen-seat commuter aircraft. Production began in 1986, and more than 80 aircraft were built. A cargo container was added to the belly for baggage.
From their humble beginnings in 1932, more than 1,500 turboprop commercial transports and thousands of Twin Beech 18s have been built., Beechcraft’s contributions to civil aviation around the world stands tall. Even though production of the final Beech 1900D airliner took place in 2002, there are hundreds of airframes still in service several decades later. After lives as passenger-carrying airliners, many aircraft were converted to freighters and still serve today.