Tag Archives: Beechcraft D17W

24 March 1939: Jacqueline Cochran

Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft D17W, NR18562. (FAI)

24 March 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 9,160 meters (30,052 feet), flying a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing,” serial number 164, registered NR18562. A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C. for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.¹

“Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”

— The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Pages 61–62.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “. . . set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”

Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939. (Unattributed)
Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing NR18562, c/n 164, which Jackie Cochran used to set an altitude record, 24 March 1939, at the Beechcraft factory, Wichita, Kansas, 1937. (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The Beechcraft D17W was a special version of the D17 production model. Only two were built. Jackie Cochran purchased it from Beech for $20,145, and it had been delivered to her by famed aviator Frank Hawks.

The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.

The airplane was 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet, 0 inches (9.754 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and loaded weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms).

The standard Beechcraft D17S was equipped with an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liters) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. A, a nine-cylinder radial engine producing 300 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m at Sea Level. It had a maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour), 670 mile (1,078 kilometer) range and service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

Beechcraft D17W NR18562, c/n 164, carrying race number “13.” (Beech Aircraft Corporation)

The 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC-G engine installed in Jackie Cochran’s D17W was an experimental version of the Wasp C with 5:4 propeller reduction gearing. It produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., up to 9,500 feet (2,896 meters). The SC-G never entered production.

During World War II, Beechcraft D17W, c/n 164, was impressed into military service at Tarrant Field, Texas, 12 March 1943. Assigned to the United States Army Air Corps, it was given the designation UC-43K Traveler and Air Corps serial number 42-107277. It was turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 22 November 1944. The airplane was now powered by a 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright R-975-5 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial and was redesignated Beechcraft D17R. It was sold to the Carver Pump Company, Muscatine, Iowa, and registered NC50958. The record-setting Beechcraft Staggerwing crashed at Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, 15 December 1945.

Jackie Cochran's Beechcraft D17W NX18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number "33", circa 1937. (Unattributed)
Jackie Cochran’s Beechcraft D17W NX18562, c/n 164, carrying the race number “33”, circa 1937. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12228: 8,761 meters (28,743 feet), 6 March 1931.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 July 1937: Jacqueline Cochran

ackie Cochran with her second Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NR18562, c/n 164. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran with her second Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NR18562, c/n 164. (FAI)

26 July 1937: Jackie Cochran set a United States Women’s National Speed Record of 203.895 miles per hour (328.137 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer (621.4 mile) course, flying a Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NX17081, serial number 136.

“A woman in the air, therefore, had a choice of flying around in a light plane for pleasure or of obtaining for herself new fast and experimental equipment and determining the maximum that could be obtained from its use. I followed the second course. The objective of each flight was to go faster through the atmosphere or higher into it than anyone else and to bring back some new information about plane, engine, fuel, instruments, air or pilot that would be helpful in the conquest of the atmosphere.”

The Stars at Noon, by Jacqueline Cochran, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1954, Chapter IV at Page 58

Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NC17081, c/n 136, National Speed Record holder, 203.895 mph (328.137 kph). This airplane is painted “Merrimac Diana Cream” with “Stearman Vermillion” striping outlined in black. (Unattributed)
Beechcraft D17W Staggerwing, NC17081, c/n 136, National Speed Record holder, 203.895 mph (328.137 kph). This airplane is painted “Merrimac Diana Cream” with “Stearman Vermillion” striping outlined in black. (Unattributed)

NC17081 was one of two special D17W biplanes that were built by Beechcraft based on the D17S. Jackie Cochran set aviation records with both. The first was originally sold to famous aviator Frank Hawks, but that purchase was not completed. Cochran was given use of the airplane.

The Beechcraft D17S was single engine biplane operated by one pilot and could carry up to three passengers. The airplane got its nickname, “Staggerwing” from the lower wing being placed forward of the upper wing for improved pilot visibility. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel frame with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine which were covered in sheet metal. It was equipped with retractable landing gear. The D17S was  26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) long with a wingspan of 32 feet (9.75 meters) and overall height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,250 pounds (1,927.8 kilograms). It was powered by a 986.75-cubic-inch-displacement (16.17 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-985-AN-1 Wasp single row 9-cylinder radial engine which produced 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. This gave the D17S Staggerwing a cruise speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and range was 670 miles (1,078 kilometers).

The special D17W used a 986.75 cubic-inch-displacement (16.17 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-985-SC-G Wasp single row 9-cylinder radial engine with propeller gear reduction, which produced 600 horsepower at 2,850 r.p.m. for takeoff, and 525 horsepower at 2,700 horsepower up to 9,500 feet (2,895.6 meters) altitude. The additional 150 horsepower greatly increased the D17W performance over the standard production airplane.

After Jackie Cochran’s speed record, c/n 136 was registered NC17081, re-engined with a 420 horsepower Wright R-975 and redesignated D17R. After several owners, the Wright engine was replaced with a Pratt and Whitney R-985 and once again redesignated, this time as a D17S.

Early in World War II, the former speed record holder was impressed into military service. Assigned to the United States Navy, c/n 136 was once again redesignated, this time as a GB-1 Traveller, and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 09776.

Beechcraft GB-1 Traveller Bu. No. 09776 was stricken off at NAS Glenview, Illinois, 30 June 1945.

Beechcraft GB-1 Traveller in U.S. Navy service. (U.S. Air Force)
Beechcraft GB-1 Traveller in U.S. Navy service. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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