Textron deal brings Beech, Cessna full circle

Friday’s closing on Textron’s acquisition of Beechcraft Corp. brings a mix of thoughts, concerns and expectations, local aviation experts said.

Thomas Turner, executive director of the American Bonanza Society’s Air Safety Foundation, noted that Beechcraft’s founder, Walter Beech, was partners with Cessna founder Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman in airplane maker Travel Air Co. The company eventually was sold to Curtiss-Wright Corp.

When Beech decided to create Beechcraft, it was Cessna who leased him factory space in 1932 to build the first prototypes of the Beechcraft Model 17, known as the Staggerwing.

“In some ways, like so many things in the aviation industry and this town in particular, we have come full circle,” Turner said. “In one respect, it’s like getting the band back together.”

Turner’s employer, the American Bonanza Society, is based in Wichita and has more than 10,000 members who own, fly or have an interest in a range of Beechcraft airplanes, including the single-engine Bonanza and twin-engine Baron.

But Turner also said that with a new owner, “there is frankly, a certain sense of loss … just the uncertainty of what does this mean for the big red B, the Beechcraft brand?”

Like Turner, Lon Smith also sees a full-circle historical event – and a “slam dunk” business deal.

“I think it’s a big gain for both organizations,” said Smith, executive director of the Kansas Aviation Museum.

He thinks Beech has a strong product lineup as does Cessna. Both, he said, are complementary and not competitive. The two, he said, will be stronger than one, especially with strong selling products such as the Beechcraft King Air and Cessna Caravan.

“You put that all together and it’s a slam dunk,” Smith said. “Even though I know that there’s going to be some resizing (of the workforce) that happens … overall it puts Wichita in a stronger position for growth.”

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