by Donivan Godsil
50 years ago, in the south-central part of Tennessee, there was a small cabin adjacent to the Tullahoma airport. This cabin would be the start of the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, and today, the host of the annual event called The Beech Party. This year was special as it is the museum’s 50th Anniversary. Most people think of lakes and oceans when you hear the word “beach” so when asked where I was going for vacation this year, the confusion on folks’ faces was entertaining when I mentioned it was in Tennessee! For those of us in aviation, we know what a Beech is!
Almost a decade ago, I first learned of the Beech Party while attending a school in Tennessee. I was on break for a weekend and found an aircraft museum about an hour away from where I was taking class. On my free day, I learned that the museum’s hours were closed on Sundays. Undeterred, I decided to call the museum in hopes that perhaps they might have unlisted availability. I called the number and left a message. Not long after, a pleasant and friendly voice called me back. It was Mrs. Jody Curtis. Jody invited me to come on down, informing me that she had a couple of volunteers who were interested in opening the museum for me and would love to have me visit. That first trip was memorable. A mostly self-guided tour of the museum, enjoying conversation about antique airplanes with a couple of other like-minded individuals was amazing and a great stress reliever from class work. I learned of the Beech Party and was invited to attend.
My first Beech Party was in 2019. My wife and I showed up on Thursday afternoon, and I went out early on Friday to get some sunrise photographs. It was a short trip, but well worth it. Since then, I have visited the museum a handful of times and each time there are new exhibits and friendly faces just as anxious to welcome me on each subsequent visit as they were on my first.
I finally made it back to the Beech Party this year, which officially started on October 12th and ended on October 14th. While we had hopes of flying our family-owned Stearman to the event, we nonetheless were unable to make the flight with unpredictable weather expected between Illinois (our home state) and Tennessee. Experiencing the event in an attending aircraft would need to wait until our next visit. Upon our arrival to check in early on Thursday morning, October 12, we learned there were 65 aircraft that arrived the day prior, with 600 registrants for the expected weekend!
About fitting in, your first assumption about the Beech Party is it would be for Beechcraft only right? Wrong. While obviously centric to Beechcraft, everyone is included and welcome to attend. Originally a Staggerwing convention, it was later opened up to the Beech 18 group, then Bonanzas, and finally all aircraft. This year, there were 8 Staggerwings in attendance with several Beech 18’s, including airshow performer Matt Younkin. In addition, a pair of T-34s (one belonging to Julie Clark), a couple King Air’s, several Bonanzas, Barons, Twin-Bonanzas, a Stearman, a Cessna 195, a Howard, and my personal (modern) favorite, the Beechcraft Starship, were also in attendance!
Attendees are encouraged to register online before the event. There are day passes and meal tickets, and this year there was a wine tasting that had limited availability. There is a food truck on-site if you get hungry and choose not to have a catered lunch or dinner. Otherwise, it’s but a few minutes drive into town for dining options of your choice. At 3:30 each day, the popcorn machine gets put in service and social hour begins. Thursday night was a catered barbecue dinner at the “barn” on the Parish property. Friday night was the awards banquet and in all the fly-ins I have attended, I can attest that these food lines move quicker than any other out there.
There are many seminars to participate in. This year there were seminars about engine maintenance by Taigh Ramey, servicing discussion hosted by the American Bonanza Society, tips on caring for and maintaining fabric on aircraft, and many more. There were demonstrations by different vendors, guided tours of the museum, and discussions about sheet-metal work, detailing your aircraft, about the Beech Starship. Thursday and Friday evening included formation flights, with the Friday flight a Missing Man flyover for the late Jim Gorman featuring four Staggerwings. The only thing you heard were the engines roaring overhead, it was somber yet a beautiful tribute to such a great ambassador to the BHM.
The love of these airplanes and their history is certainly a focal point for my own interest in visiting the museum. Maybe it is the Southern hospitality or the atmosphere, but it’s definitely the people that keep me coming back. Everyone we encountered went out of their way to treat you like you were one of their own, no matter the mode of transportation you use to attend, or the aircraft you own or fly. I am already looking forward to the next Beech Party!
Maintaining a museum has its own challenges. From their humble beginnings 50 years ago, it has grown from a small cabin to over 78,000 square feet of hangar space with 38 aircraft on display and a library full of archived documents of these beautiful Beechcraft airplanes. The staff and volunteers keep the day-to-day operations going smoothly and then knock this party out of the ballpark. Give them a visit, you will not be disappointed!