KMUW 89.1 Wichita Public Radio – Book Review

Beech Aircraft Corporation has been a leading Wichita industry—on its own, as part of Raytheon, and as Hawker—since 1932, when it was founded by the enterprising couple Walter and Olive Ann Beech.

In his new book on the Beeches, former Wall Street Journal reporter Dennis Farney tells how a rascally speed-demon barnstormer pilot met and married a shy, small-town girl with a “backbone of steel.”

Together, the two created a lasting aviation legacy that included designing the innovative Staggerwing biplane for executive travel and producing thousands of U.S. military aircraft during WWII. Most war-time navigators trained on Beech-built planes.
During the war, when Walter suffered from near-fatal encephalitis, Olive Ann took over running their company, and after his death in 1950, she did it once again. For decades, this “topflight executive” woman was a pivotal power in American aviation as company president, chairman, and chief executive officer.

Olive Ann never learned to fly a plane, but in business, she helped propel Wichita to the forefront as the Air Capitol of the World.

As pioneers and humble aviation aristocrats, Walter and Olive Ann Beech will long be remembered in this town—as in this book—as fascinating, forward-thinking, truly first-class Wichitans.

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