A Return to English Shores : Royal Navy WW2 Traveller

This former Royal Navy WW2 aircraft, wending its way home to the USA from restoration in New Zealand, touched down in the UK for the first time since 1946...

Manufactured by the US Beech Aircraft Corporation during early 1944, this Beech D17S Staggerwing was delivered directly to the Royal Navy, which operated 75 of this aircraft type as the "Traveller" and issued the British military serial "FT466" to this particular aircraft. As a fast and capable long-distance personnel transport Travellers served in the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Squadrons as communications aircraft during 1944-45.


Royal Navy Travellers were based at and frequent visitors to RNAS Daedalus, Lee-on-the-Solent, which was the headquarters of the Fleet Air Arm and the barracks from which all Fleet Air Arm ratings were drafted to ships and naval air squadrons. 781 and 799 Naval Air Squadrons operated the type at Daedalus during the period Jan 1944 - July 1945.

At the conclusion of WW2 this aircraft returned by sea to the USA in 1946, having been part of the lend-lease program. "FT466" then passed into civilian ownership and was allocated the America civil registration NC16S. The current owner is Mr Bill Charney, a.k.a "Capt Biff Windsock", an experienced ex-military and ex-airline pilot, who flew the aircraft extensively across the US before shipping the aircraft to New Zealand for expert restoration.

Malcolm Smith of the Croydon Aircraft Company, Mandeville, NZ managed a comprehensive engineering project which over a period of some six years which restored the aircraft to immaculate condition. The aircraft was seen during its restoration on separate occasions by Peter Stanton, and by Bob Wealthy whose photographs illustrate the calibre of work performed at the very southern tip of New Zealand.

Owner Bill Charney and NC16S are now on the long journey home back to Reno, Nevada over a period of several years visiting as many countries as possible along the way. It is not a ferry flight, or a race, but a "Total Aviation Persons" adventure, which began April 2009 and has so far encompassed:

• New Zealand           • Norfolk Island            • Lord Howe Island              • Australia             • Indonesia                • Cambodia              • Thailand
• Burma (Myanmar)    • India                          • Middle East                         • Europe               

 And so it was that on 3rd Sept 2012 this former Royal Navy aircraft, wending its way home to the USA from restoration in New Zealand, touched down in the UK for the first time since 1946, at what is still regarded as the spiritual home of the Fleet Air Arm - Daedalus Airfield, Lee-On-the-Solent, near Portsmouth.

The aircraft's arrival at, and very likely return to Daedalus, now in its' 95th year as active aviation centre and very largely unchanged from its WW2 days, was a very poignant moment. A particular high spot in this wonderful journey across the world.













Bill and his aircraft, named "Red Rockette" after one of Bill's daughters who danced for eight years with the New York Red Rockettes, were hosted by Lee Flying Association for several days - which included meeting up once again with NZ restorer Malcolm Smith who had flown over and helped prepare "RR" ready to take up an invitation to participate in the famous Goodwood Revival.

Their Goodwood Revivial 2012 concluded in fabulous style on Sunday, 16 Sept, when "Red Rockkette" was awarded the prestigious Grand Prize for aircraft at the event. Lady March, wife of the Earl of March, presented the trophy to...    ... "an astonished old guy wandering the world in search of the perfect blueberry muffin...in a Beech Staggerwing". 

More on Bill's adventure at http://captainbiff.com/

Air to Air Phototography
 - Images: Karl Drage, Global Aviation Resource
 - Photo-ship Pilot: Jon Butts, Lee Flying Association