The Twin Beech now stationed at The Yard Store came home to Kansas for a new mission after training navigators during and after World War II. The mission brought distinction: Given serial number AF-1 by Beech Aircraft, it was the first of hundreds converted into transports for the new U.S. Air Force.
The story of AF-1 begins and ends in Wichita. In between, the aircraft lived a life common to the durable Beech Model 18, serving as trainer, transport, freighter, skydiver hauler and pleasure craft. Now, reaching her final destination at The Yard, the historic aircraft honors the men and women who built her and the aviation industry, as well as all who served their nation during war and peace.
Just as millions of Americans left civilian life to serve their country during World War II, so did the Model 18, the aircraft known as the Twin Beech.
And just as farmers, accountants, engineers, clerks and students proved adaptable into soldiers, sailors, pilots and countless other military roles, the Twin Beech proved highly capable of a variety of missions.
The Model 18’s many versions included the C-45, a transporter of goods and people; the AT-7, a trainer of navigators and radiomen; and the Army AT-11 and Navy SNB-1 (both dubbed the “Kansan”), trainers of bombardiers bound for B-17s, B-24s, B-25s and B-29s.
The plane displayed at The Yard Store was originally a model AT-7C that joined the Army Air Corps in early 1943. Built in the bustling Beech Aircraft Corp. factories in Wichita, it was one of more than 7,000 Model 18s produced during the war. Like a good soldier, the aircraft hopped among training commands, serving at bases in Texas and Nebraska.
World War II ended in 1945, but this Twin Beech’s mission of training aviators continued at Offutt Field in Nebraska. The plane went home to Kansas in early 1951, one of hundreds the Navy and Air Force sent for “remanufacturing” by Beech.
Reusing aircraft was a cheap, quick way to bolster ranks during the Korean War. Damaged and surplus planes flew or were shipped to a Beech facility in Herington, 75 miles northeast of Wichita.
There, on a reverse assembly line, workers stripped away wings, engines and tail services for reconditioning and scrapped nearly all the fuselage. Only doors and some flooring were reused intact; new fuselages came off the Beech lines in Wichita. Improvements included extending the upper-engine housings and wing leading edges.
Renovation was so extensive that the planes were considered zero-time aircraft and given new serial numbers. The Yard’s Twin Beech became a C-45G Expeditor transport. It was the first remanufactured Twin Beech delivered to the Air Force, earning it manufacturer’s number AF-1, as in Air Force One.
After delivery in October 1951, AF-1 served in California before going east in mid-1952. There, it was posted at Massachusetts’ Hanscom Field until being “surplused” into civilian life in 1957.
Befitting the Twin Beech’s workhorse nature, the aircraft spent the four decades after its discharge hauling cargo, passengers and skydivers.
By 1990, the plane was sitting unused in Los Lunas, New Mexico, its owners having given up on their scheme to fly strawberries to Mexico and haul back shrimp. A Wichita aircraft restorer, having found that these “pretty simple airplanes” could be fixed up relatively easily, bought AF-1 and made it flyable again. An Indiana man bought the restored aircraft and flew it personally for several years.
During a 1995 flight, though, an electrical problem rendered the landing gear unable to be automatically lowered. The pilot managed to manually lower the gear, but it didn’t fully lock in place and collapsed after the plane landed.
For three years, AF-1 sat in Indiana, unflyable because of damage to the engines, propellers and sheet metal. The plane was rescued and returned to Wichita again in 1998, with the intent being to make it flight-worthy. Instead, it was acquired by The Yard Store and refurbished for preservation and display in the new pocket park at the company’s Central Avenue location.
AF-1 is now a monument to Wichita’s aviation industry and the people
who work in it. As testament to the durability of this “simple airplane,”
“The Beechcraft that Built Beech,” it wouldn’t take much to get her
engines revving again.
Not long after World War II ended, Beech Aircraft Corp. sold a vestige of its booming war production: a salvage yard north of Wichita’s warehouse district, the area now known as Old Town.
Dave Bachus saw opportunity in the leftover desks, propellers, radial engines, aluminum and tools that Beech no longer needed and bought the four-acre business in 1946. The
last castoffs of war were gone from Mead and Central by the late 1960s, but The Yard
Store found continued success catering to aircraft mechanics, plane builders, hobbyists and others.
Always a family-run business, Gary Bachus took over The Yard from his father, Dave. Selling in person and via the Internet, The Yard maintains an extensive inventory of new
and used tools for aircraft sheet metal work, carries thousands of difficult-to-find items
and stocks a huge variety of steel and aluminum products. One of the world’s largest inventories of usable aluminum lies behind its fences.
As anyone who has shopped its shelves, catalogs or website could attest, The Yard is one of a kind. For five generations, the Bachus family and Yard employees have had the privilege of serving thousands of customers both in Wichita and around the world.
Aviation and its workers have been good to The Yard and to Wichita, Kansas.
This monument is The Yard’s gift to Wichita, a fitting reminder of all who have worked
in the aircraft industry and a fitting tribute to all who served during World War II and
Any time a United States Air Force aircraft carries the president of the United States, its radio call numbers are Air Force One. AF-1, the Twin Beech known as Air Force One, isn’t the least bit presidential. It has been around since Eisenhower’s day, when the tradition of calling planes Air Force One began, but it never hauled a commander in chief.
AF-1 is the first of its kind, though. When the Air Force needed planes during the Korean War, it brought hundreds of World War II-era Twin Beeches back for duty. The aircraft were remanufactured into transports, and AF-1 was the very first Beech aircraft delivered to the U.S. Air Force.