OLIVE AND WALTER BEECH

The Beechcraft story begins with Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman, three legendary figures who started out together by forming Travel Air, one of the leading aircraft manufacturers of the 1920s. After parting ways with that venture, Walter Beech and his wife Olive Ann cofounded Beech Aircraft Co. in Wichita in 1931. He was 40 and she was 27. The company’s first airplane was also one of its most iconic: the Beech Model 17 Staggerwing. During World War II, Beechcraft won numerous military contracts, supplying versions of the Model 17 and 18 Twin Beech. After the war, Beechcraft introduced the legendary Bonanza, the longest continually produced airplane in aviation history. Olive Ann had already run the company when Walter contracted encephalitis during World War II, and was able to manage the company expertly after her husband’s death from a heart attack in 1950. She was a driving force behind the company’s expansion, ushering in the Beech Baron and King Air line. She headed the company until it was bought by Raytheon in 1980. She died in 1993 at age 89.