Like the blades of a propeller on a radial engine—or a turboprop, for that matter—what goes around, comes around with the passage of time in Wichita’s aviation history. In the middle of the Roaring ‘20s, three aviation pioneers, Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech, and Lloyd Stearman set up shop in a building on West Douglas Avenue in Wichita and called their enterprise the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. They built aircraft together until differing ideas on design and market focus took them in varied directions. Nearly ninety years later, the company they started is making a comeback, of sorts. You might say that Textron’s (Cessna’s parent company) decision to acquire Beechcraft is like a software update: Textron is really Travel Air 2.0!
Cessna and Stearman left Travel Air in September of 1927, starting their own companies. Beech stayed on at Travel Air, which merged with Curtiss-Wright, until 1932 when he launched his firm.
While Stearman eventually left Wichita altogether in the early 1930’s to become President of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech stayed and created great companies that became the dominant forces in general aviation. It’s safe to say that Beech, who died in 1950, and Cessna, who passed away in 1954 would probably be surprised, were they to return, that their airplane companies had come full circle and were again part of the same family. Travel Air, meet Textron!
The competitive juices that have flowed on both sides of Wichita for three generations probably won’t dissipate overnight. There’s simply too much “company pride” among former and current Beechcrafters and Cessnans to expect the corporate armistice to be instantaneous. The spectrum of capabilities and potential customers for their combined product lines would appear to be enhanced by Textron’s ability to offer alternative platforms for diverse roles in both commercial and military markets. The merged rivals should make for a formidable competitor in business and general aviation, from piston singles all the way to mid- size corporate jets...and they have a couple of very competitive military platforms available, as well.
When it’s all said and done, had Clyde and Walter known it would work out this way, they might well have been surprised. But, considering the impact their companies have had and continue to have, they would probably both be justifiably proud, too.
Dave Franson is President of the Wichita Aero Club and a longtime aerospace executive. He has held senior executive positions in public relations and communications at Cessna, Bombardier Learjet, and AlliedSignal Aerospace (now Honeywell) and served as Vice President of Meetings & Membership at the National Business Aviation Association, where he was in charge of the world’s largest business aviation gathering in the early ‘90s.
A native of Michigan, Dave and his wife Cindy came to Wichita originally in 1973 two weeks after they were married to serve as the Sports Information Director at Wichita State. Career opportunities took them to Phoenix in 1980 and then to Los Angeles and Washington, DC before a return to Wichita in 1994, when Dave was named Vice President of Public Relations at Cessna. He started Franson Consulting, Inc. in 1996 and helped found the Wichita Aero Club in 2008. He’s a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois and holds a Master’s Degree in Communications from WSU.
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