North American/Ryan L-17/U-18
The NAvion was the first civilian aircraft manufactured by North American Aviation, known for producing legendary military aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang fighter, AT-6 Texan trainer, B-25 Mitchell bomber and F-86 Saber Jet fighter. NAvions are rugged, capable aircraft that have excellent short landing and take-off capabilities, can land on relatively rough fields and carry 4 people or reasonable cargo capacity while still offering good range. The same qualities that made it attractive to civilian buyers caught the attention of the U.S. Army that needed a "flying pickup truck" for "liaison" duties such as personnel transport, light cargo duties and airborne reconnaissance. 83 aircraft were ordered in 1946 and given the military designation L-17.
North American was advised by the Air Force to halt production of the NAvion as they were concerned it would interfere with production of the new F-86 Saber Jet fighter. North American sold the design along with about 60 uncompleted aircraft to Ryan Aeronautical Company, famed producer of the Spirit of St. Louis, in July 1947. North American produced a total of 1,109 NAvions, including 83 L-17s.
Ryan continued Navion production including 158 upgraded L-17s ordered in 1948. North American L-17s were re-designated L-17A models, and Ryan-produced L-17s were designated L-17Bs. Ryan completed a final order of 5 L-17Bs in 1949 for the Hellenic (Greek) Air Force and ended production after 1,240 Navions, including 163 L-17Bs. The rugged design and short-field qualities of the Navion were it's downfall - it was expensive to produce and slower than the competition. A few additional Navions were produced by a succession of companies, but it was never mass-produced again.
Schweitzer Aircraft Company later upgraded 35 L-17As to the L-17B specs including upgraded brakes and an auxiliary fuel tank under rear seat, and these aircraft were designated L-17Cs.
A number of unique L-17s were built, including 4 L-17As that were adapted as QL-17 radio-controlled target drones and a highly modified L-17, the Model 72, was tested as a primary flight trainer for the USAF and Navy but lost the competition to the Beech T-34 Mentor.
The L-17 was used for a variety of purposes and had a storied service history. L-17s flew personnel and cargo from the carriers USS Sicily (CVE-118) and USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116), sometimes landing on front-line roads. Both General Douglas MacArthur and Major General Matthew Ridgway had personal L-17s. Marilyn Monroe flew in Ryan L-17B 48-944 during her 1954 USO tour in Korea. L-17s were used briefly for Airborne Forward Artillery Control (FAC) to guide artillery on target, but were found to be too vulnerable and were by other aircraft such as the AT-6 Texan. After the Korean War, most L-17s were released to squadron "hack" duties, ROTC flight training, USAF Flying Clubs and finally the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) before moving into civilian hands in the late 60's.
Length: 27’ 3”
Wingspan: 33’ 4”
Height: 8’ 6”
Empty: 1945 lbs.
Max T/O: 2950 lbs.
Max Speed: 163 MPH
Range: 700 mi.
Output: 185 hp
First Flight: April 1946
Surviving Variants: L-17A/B/C, U-18A/B/C