The Beech GB and JB Travelers were the militarized versions of
one of the legendary American light aircraft, the Beech Model 17
Staggerwing. This aircraft, built by the Beech Aircraft Corporation of
Wichita, Kansas, entered production in 1932 and the last of 360 civil and
563 military machines was delivered in June 1949.
Walter H. Beech and his wife formed Beech Aircraft in 1932. Beech had worked for Swallow, Travel Air and Curtiss-Wright before forming his own company. While at Curtiss-Wright, he had envisioned a fast executive biplane with enclosed cockpit, seating four or five, with a top speed of 200 mph (322 km/h) and a range up to 1,000 miles (1,609 km). Because of the Great Depression, the design was not developed but when Beech formed his own company, this would be the first aircraft built. One unique feature of the aircraft was the negative-stagger wing which gave good stall and recovery characteristics plus enhanced visibility for the pilot and passengers. The vast majority of biplanes of the era had positive-stagger, i.e., the leading edge of the upper wing was further forward than the leading edge of the lower wing. Negative-stagger is just the opposite, i.e., the leading edge of the upper wing is further aft than the leading edge of the lower wing. Work began on the new aircraft and the first prototype of the Model 17R, the alpha suffix indicating the power plant, i.e.:
A: 350 hp (261 kW) Wright R-760-E2 Whirlwind seven-cylinder radial engine
B: 285 hp (213 kW) Jacobs L-5 seven-cylinder radial engine
D: 330 hp (246 kW); Jacobs L-6 seven-cylinder radial engine
E: 285 hp (213 kW) Wright R-760-E1 Whirlwind seven-cylinder radial engine
F: 690 hp (515 kW) Wright R-1820-F11 or 710 hp (529 kW) SR-1820-F3 Cyclone nine-cylinder radial engine
L: 225 hp (168 kW); Jacobs L-4 seven-cylinder radial engine
R: 420 hp (313 kW) Wright R-975-E2/E3 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine
S: 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-SB Wasp Junior nine-cylinder radial engine
W: 600 hp (447 kW) supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-985-SC-G Wasp Junior nine-cylinder radial engine
The Model 17R was a single-engine biplane made of wood and metal. The fuselage was all metal and covered with stressed metal to aft of the cabin; the remainder of the fuselage was fabric covered. The two wings, which consisted of two wooden spars and wooden ribs all fabric covered, were connected by one I-type strut on either side plus flying- and landing-wires. The fin and horizontal stabilizer were wood while the elevators and rudder were made of metal and fabric covered. The landing gear was fixed with wheel-pants; the main wheels partially retracted into the wheel pants.
In 1934, the Model A17F was introduced, the A prefix indicating the second aircraft in the series. This model introduced flaps on the upper wings, a wider track landing gear and a swiveling tail wheel. In late 1934, the third aircraft in the series, the Models B17B, E, L, and R were introduced featuring a retractable landing gear
The fourth model of the Staggerwing, the Models C17B, E, L and R were introduced in February 1936. This aircraft featured flaps on the lower wings, changes to the tail and an additional fuel tank. One Model C17R, powered by the Wright R-975 engine, was purchased "off the shelf" for the USN.
GB-1 and -2
The fifth model of the Staggerwing, the Models D17A, R, S and W were introduced in 1937 and featured a lengthened fuselage, full-length flaps on the lower wing, relocation of the ailerons on the upper wing, a redesigned tail, new shock absorbers and three fuel tanks for increased range. In 1939, the US Army Air Corps (USAAC), which was superseded by the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, purchased three D17Ss designating them C-43s; the USN also purchased seven D17Ss. The D17s were powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine. Most of these aircraft were assigned to US Army and Navy attaches in foreign countries, e.g., London, Paris, Rome, etc.
After the U.S. entered World War II, the USAAF and USN recognized a need for a fast utility aircraft and over 200 D17Ss were ordered by the USAAF while the USN ordered 360 aircraft. These aircraft could accommodate a pilot and either three or four passengers depending on the fuel carried. While awaiting delivery of the new aircraft, numerous civil Model 17s were impressed and used by the military.
GB-1: 18 GB-1s were acquired by the USN. Seven were Model D17Ss ordered in 1939 and powered by one 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-48 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine driving a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller; three additional aircraft were ordered in 1940. During World War II, the USN impressed eight civilian aircraft, seven Model D17Ss and one Model D17R, designating them GB-1s. The D17R was powered by a 420 hp (313 kW) Wright R-975-E2/E3 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine
GB-2: 360 aircraft similar to the GB-1 but powered by the 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled radial engine were ordered between 1941 and 1944. These aircraft were procured for both the USN and Lend Lease. Of the 360 aircraft ordered, 68 were canceled, 44 were transferred to the USAAF, 75 were transferred to the United Kingdom as Traveller Mk Is and 14 went to Brazil under Lend Lease. An additional three civil Model D17Ss were impressed by the USN during the war and designated GB-2.
JB-1: One Model C-17R purchased in 1937 for use as a staff transport for non-flag officers. The aircraft was powered by a 420 hp (313 kW) Wright R-975-26 nine-cylinder single-row air-cooled radial engine driving a Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch two-bladed propeller.
By December 1941, the USNs JB-1 was off the books and ten GB-1s and 17 GB-2s were in active service. The GB-1s were serving (1) the Naval Attaches in Madrid and Mexico City and (2) at seven Naval Air Stations (NASs) in the U.S. Six of the GB-2s were based at five NASs and eleven were at Naval Reserve Air Bases (NRABs). For the remainder of the war, the GBs were based at numerous NASs as station utility aircraft and staff transports.
The USMC received its first GB-2 in 1942 and its first GB-1 in 1943; all of these aircraft were used as station utility aircraft in the U.S. By August 1943, the Marines had one GB-1 and six GB-2s deployed at the following Marine Corps Air Stations (MCASs) Cherry Point, North Carolina (2); El Centro (1), El Toro (1), and Santa Barbara (1), California; and Quantico, Virginia (2).
After World War II, the GB were rapidly scrapped or sold to civilian users.
SPECIFICATIONS FOR GB-1 and GB-2
Wing Span: 32 feet (9.76 meters)
Length: 26 feet 2 inches (7.98 meters)
Height: 10 feet 3 inches (3.12 meters)
Wing Area: 296 square feet (27.5 square meters)
Empty Weight: 3,085 pounds (1,400 kg)
Gross Weight: 4,700 pounds (2,131 kg)
Maximum Fuel: 102 US gallons (386 liters)
Maximum Speed: 198 mph (318.7 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 20,000 feet (6,096 meters)
Range: 500 miles (804.7 km)