Flying this iconic aircraft is a challenge, in terms of preparation, operation and landing — but what a joy!
There are few things more sonically satisfying than operating the twin throttles of a pair of well-tuned radials. As we rumble across the Berkshire countryside owner Tim Darrah gives the port prop lever the tiniest of tweaks and then they’re beautifully synched. I glance at Tim and we both grin at each other. No words are necessary – the grins are enough. Sometimes, life’s a Beech!
Known variously as the Model 18, Twin Beech, C-45 and Expeditor, this iconic aircraft has long been on my ‘wish list’, so when the opportunity arose to fly one I hesitated for only a fraction of a second.
The prototype made its maiden flight from Beechcraft’s Wichita, Kansas plant on 15 January 1937, and over the following 32 years it remained in continuous production, around 9,000 being built. During that time over 200 modifications were incorporated, including fitting a tricycle undercarriage and turboprop engines. The subject of this flight test, G-BKGL was built during WWII and then re-manufactured as a D model for the RCAF in 1951.
As Tim and I wander out on a beautiful autumn day at White Waltham, my initial impression is that it is quite a big aeroplane, while the US Army Air Force paint scheme gives it a wilful, almost aggressive appearance.
The first task is to pull each engine through nine blades (to avoid hydraulic lock) and then Tim shows me around. As we’re already standing by the engines, he tells me that power is provided by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN14B supercharged nine-cylinder air-cooled Wasp Junior radial engines, which produce 450hp each at 36in manifold pressure and 2,300rpm, and turn Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic metal two-blade constant-speed propellers. Each engine has its own independent fuel system consisting of two tanks in the relevant wing, plus an auxiliary tank in the nose.
Unusually, the air intakes are mounted inside the cowlings, while the intakes for the oil coolers are recessed in the wing’s leading edge, just outboard of the engines. The wings are built in three sections: the centre section is integral with the fuselage and carries the engines and main undercarriage. It features a single steel tube monospar which is joined at mid-span to duralumin girders. Each wing has large metal-skinned plain flaps which are actuated electrically, the cowl flaps use cables. Access to the cabin (which can carry up to eleven people) is via a door on the port side, just aft of the wing.