Beechcraft Model 18- Record Breaker and Air Racer

By Willie Bodenstein

Throughout history there has been some aircraft that were just right and the Beechcraft Model 18 was one of them. When it first flew on 15 January 1937 few imagined that it will continue in production for the next 32 years and that more than 9,000 will be built with more than half of that doing service in the military. Construction ended in 1970 with a final Model H18 going to Japan Airlines.

Early production aircraft were powered either by two 330-hp (250-kW) Jacobs L-6s or 350-hp (260-kW) Wright R-760Es. The 450-hp (336-kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 became the definitive engine from the prewar C18S onwards. Off conventional all metal semi semi-monocoque construction with fabric-covered control surfaces and tailwheel undercarriage her less conventional twin-tailfin configuration often had her mistaken for the larger Lockheed Electra's that prior to Pearl Harbour outsold her twelve to one.

America's entry into the war changed that. Lockheed started to concentrate on its heavier aircraft and wartime contracts started to come Beech's way. The first order from the military was for fourteen photo reconnaissance versions. This was followed by eleven C-45 personnel transport versions. Then Nationalist China ordered six M18R light bombers/trainers. This version had a clear plastic nose, a single gun turret on the upper fuselage, and a machine gun in a tunnel in the rear floor. It also had internal bomb racks, which carried up to twenty 25-pound bombs.

Beechcraft AT-11 ………..Beechcraft F 2s (US Air Force photos)

Eventually the Beech 18 was to serve in the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (USAFSAC), the USAF (United States Air Force) and the USN (United Sates Navy). In US military service she became the primary military trainer of 90% of all USAAF bombardiers and navigators. She also served in the photo reconnaissance, mother ship for target drones and light transport role. World War II brought more orders for military versions of the Beech 18S from the United States and foreign governments for a wide range of uses.

Beech 18's operated by Air America saw extensive service during the Vietnam War. The clandestine company initially used C-45 examples. Between 1963 and 1964 twelve were modified by Conrad Conversions resulting in increased performance and load carrying capacity. They were subsequently known as Conrad Ten-Twos. A further fourteen were later fitted with turboprop power, fitted with Garrett AiResearch TPE-331 turbo prop engines. These were called Volpar Turbo Beeches.

Beech 18C on Floats photo by A Hunt.
It was in the post war era that the Beech made her mark in the civilian market. She was available as a taildragger, in tricycle configuration, could be fitted with floats or skis and became the pre-eminent "business aircraft" and "feeder airliner. Whatever could be done from the air the Beech 18 did. She became a crop sprayer, did sterile insect release, fish seeding, dry ice cloud seeding, operated in the aerial fire fighting role, carried freight, delivered air mail, served as an air ambulance, acted in numerous movie productions, dropped countless skydivers, broke the law and became involved in weapons- and drug-smuggling, served as an engine test bed, towed banners and did skywriting

The Beech not only did all of the above, she also became a record breaker and air racer. In 1939 she set a new flight record while on a demonstration tour, flying from Bogota to Barranquilla, Colombia, a distance of 450 miles, in 1 hour, 54 minutes. The same airplane later made a 1,350-mile flight from Maracay, Venezuela, to Miami, Florida, in 6 hours, the first known non-stop flight between those two cities. In 1940 Walter Beech entered her in the Macfadden race from St. Louis to Miami and with Ding Rankin at the controls won the race in a time of 4 hours, 37 minutes and average speed of 234 mph (374.4 K/ph). One survivor woes audience at airshows in the USA, highly modified this 18 does things that its designers never intended it to do.

As far as can be established 2 Beech 18's survive in South Africa. Only one, ZS-OIJ, is airworthy. OIJ was built in 1959 and arrived in SA in 1994 to serve with Mercy Air. She was refurbished and polished to bare aluminium. Initially flying with her N registration she later went onto the SA register. In 2000 she got the long nose extension and in 2008 with the extension removed she played the part of Amelia Earhart's L-10E Electra in the Hollywood production "Amelia" a docu-drama about Amelia Earhart's attempt at circumnavigating the globe.

She served with Mercy Air until 2010 supporting missionary work in Southern Africa before being sold to Namibia. In 2012 she was left stranded in Soussusvlei and in 2013 Flippie Vermeulen of Springbok Classic purchased her and she joined his DC-3 ZS-NTE flying tourist in the southern African region. OIJ can currently be seen in the new Three Ships Whiskey television advert.

Springbok Classic Air can be contacted at +27-11 824 2142 or e-mail:

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