The Beech Boys
The pilots and fans dedicated to prolonging the stardom of the Beech 18.
- By David Freed
- Air & Space magazine, January 2013
(Page 4 of 5)
With Ramey’s guidance, Hannigan opted for a Twin Beech. Ramey found one for him in good condition in Rialto, California, its aluminum skin still trimmed in bright lime-green paint, denoting its former life as a U.S. Air Force instrument-training aircraft. Then he hired Ramey to teach him to fly it.
“John tried to kill me in more ways than all my other students combined,” Ramey says, smiling. “It was a learning experience for both of us.”
Hannigan sometimes confused the fuel-air mixture and throttle controls, starving the engines of gas at particularly inopportune times—like right after takeoff. On occasion, he had trouble with directional control. Once, during an especially windy takeoff at Stockton, the airplane went crosswise and Ramey had to take over, jamming the rudder pedals so forcefully to stop from veering out of control that he snapped a rudder cable.
Hannigan logged about 200 hours in his Beech 18 with Ramey riding right seat. They became close friends. They even flew together to one of the annual AirVenture fly-ins at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Ramey came to respect and admire Hannigan’s pluck, but says he never felt confident enough in his student’s skills to let him fly solo. Hannigan never seemed to mind. Before he died in 2007, he willed the aircraft to Ramey. It still bears Hannigan’s name, stenciled in faded black, just below the pilot’s window.
Ramey’s fascination with the Beech 18 began in 1981, when he was a freshman studying aeronautics at San Jose State University. It was Christmas time. Rubik’s Cube was a big gift that year, but Ramey’s dad, Henry, had other ideas. He bought his son a World War II-era gun turret. On its canvas cover was printed “Training Type A-8 for Model AT-11 Aircraft.”
“My first thought was Cool! My very own gun turret,” recalls Ramey. “My second thought was What the heck is an AT-11?”
It’s a Beech 18, in military uniform.
He learned all he could about the airplane. Later, he would discover that his father, an Army Air Forces navigator and veteran of the Pacific campaign, was part of an AT-11 crew that had buzzed a control tower on Japanese-held Rota in the Mariana Islands, prompting the lookouts to leap for their lives.
Ramey was hooked.
He was determined to find an AT-11 to accommodate his fully functioning .30-caliber gun turret. As it turned out, San Jose State owned two non-flying Beech 18s, which had been used to train would-be airplane mechanics. One of the airplanes, he determined upon close inspection, had served as a wartime AT-11. Ramey bought it for $250. He had to borrow the cash from his mother.
“And that,” he says, surveying the repository of history that is his hangar, “is how all this madness started.”