October does not seem like the time of year you'd want to have a beach party. After all, temperatures in the northern latitudes are trending toward chilly.
But if you change the spelling to Beech — as in Beechcraft — and the location to Tullahoma, Tennessee, you have a perfect opportunity to meet and learn about a wide variety of classic aircraft made by the longtime Wichita manufacturer, as well as the people who own and fly them.
Tullahoma Regional Airport, on the edge of the Highland Rim in south-central Tennessee about 70 miles southeast of Nashville, has hosted the annual gathering since the Staggerwing Museum Foundation was incorporated in 1973.
At first the emphasis was on Beech's distinctive Staggerwing cabin biplane, with the upper wing rakishly offset from the lower. In 1995, the foundation added the Twin Beech 18 Society division. The Bonanza/Baron Museum division was added in 2003.
The museum's facilities have expanded to accommodate the additional aircraft types. The Twin Beech 18 Hangar was dedicated in 1997 and enlarged in 2001. The first phase of the Bonanza/Baron hangar was dedicated in 2004, and the second phase just two years later; the 18,000-square-foot facility is designed for additional expansion.
What will you find among the museum's nearly 60,000 square feet and more than 25 displayed aircraft? The centerpiece of the collection is the very first aircraft built by the Beech Aircraft Company, a Beechcraft Model 17R-1 from 1932. You can see one of only three existing pre-war examples of the Beech-craft Model 18 Twin Beech, as well as the original one-fifth-scale Bonanza wind tunnel models from 1945; two of the oldest surviving 1947 Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanzas; and the first Model 55 Baron, built in 1960. The museum is home to a factory-built cutaway Bonanza, as well as a Staggerwing airframe left uncovered in many areas so visitors can see its internal construction. There's even a Starship, the futuristic twin-turboprop composite pusher Beech stopped supporting several years ago.
Reflecting this expansion in scope, the foundation's board voted earlier this year to rename the museum the Beechcraft Heritage Museum. "With the recent growth and plans for future expansion, this new name more accurately reflects the museum's commitment to preserving the rich history of Beechcraft as well as fostering aviation education," said Michael Greenblatt, the foundation's president.
Its annual convention includes workshops, maintenance seminars, looking at — and flying — Beech aircraft, and a variety of social events. "Our events are, have been, and should be homecoming and big family reunions with folks who share a common passion," said John L. Parish Sr., foundation chairman and a driving force behind the organization. October weather is generally clear and comfortable, but bring a jacket — it's not uncommon to find some light frost when preparing for dawn flights.
This year, the Beechcraft Heritage Museum is planning a special celebration during its thirty-fourth annual convention October 10 through 14, as 2007 marks a number of milestones — it's the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of both the Beech Aircraft Company and the Staggerwing; the seventieth anniversary of the Twin Beech, and the sixtieth anniversary of the Bonanza. This year's event is being called the "Beechcraft Birthday Party," said Wade McNabb, the museum's chief executive officer and curator. The museum is open daily except holidays from March through November.
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