From the Cockpit Part 12: Beechcraft 60 Duke

Ryan Flies


This is part twelve of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

Rankin had never flown a Beechcraft 60 Duke before, but after one look he knew he wanted to. It’s called “ramp presence,” he says. Some planes have it and some don't—and the Duke has it in spades. Sleek and gleaming in the sun with twin-engine propellers and a swept-back style, the Duke hit the market in 1965 and hasn’t slowed down since. “It looks like a plane that wants to fly,” says Rankin, “like it’s moving on the ground.” He recalls the old pilot’s adage: “If it looks right, it flies right.”

Taking off from Jake Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores, AL, with the aircraft’s owner, Chris Phillips, and Rankin’s close friend, Brett Taylor, the Duke was everything Rankin hoped for. Not an aerobatic plane or a utility craft, the Duke specializes in transporting passengers and pilots in comfort and class. The interior cabin resembles an upscale private jet and the cockpit comes equipped with autopilot and a full avionics package—an extra bit of pampering not typically found on military aircraft. “It has everything you need,” says Rankin. “This plane is just so smooth.” The Duke, despite being powered by piston engines, also features a pressurized cabin, which not only increases comfort for the people within but allows for a higher cruising altitude.

But the best part, says Rankin, was the ability to really spend time with his fellow pilots during the flight. Rankin and Phillips have been friends for around eight months, ever since Phillips discovered Rankin’s second job building furniture out of old airplane parts in his home workshop. Visiting scrapyards and boneyards, Rankin will hack off a wing or take home an engine—picking through old metal carcasses for anything he thinks he can repurpose, such as the engine cowling from a DC-8 airliner and another from a 737, which now live in Phillips’ office as a receptionist desk and wall mirror, respectively. Taylor helps in the construction and is also a pilot, but this would still be his first flight with Rankin as well. A low-maintenance ride (at least in-flight), the Duke doesn’t require the constant attention other planes may demand, says Rankin, leaving time to talk shop and enjoy the company.

“It was more an experience with people,” says Rankin. “That’s why it was such a fun flight.” When asked what kind of furniture he could craft from the Duke, he laughs: “I don’t know if Chris would let me hack his airplane apart, but all kinds of things. You’re limited by your imagination in these things.”

For more about the flight in Rankin’s own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin in the cockpit of the Beechcraft 60 Duke. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

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