By Bruce Menzies
The Navion (pronounced nay-vee-on) was a product of North American Aviation—(NAA) the same company responsible for the celebrated P-51 eight years earlier. The general thought from North American was airmen returning home from the war would want to continue to keep flying.
In the summer of 1945, North American’s Chief of Design was tasked with developing a modern light aircraft for the general aviation boom highly expected to follow the declaration of peace.
NAA had built some remarkable airplanes during World War II: the T-6 Texan trainer, the P-51 Mustang fighter, the B-25 Mitchell bomber and would later turn out the F-86 Sabre—a jet still beloved for its handling. But NAA had a situation: the company had no pre-war experience with civilian planes. Their dichotomy was on the one hand returning airmen (and air-women) for the most part, would be unable to afford a private plane. On the other hand NAA needed to keep their experienced engineering, design, and production group intact as the company waited for fresh military contracts. In the end, NAA took a deep breath and allocated $7.5 million to develop, test, and certify the new plane.
At the start of 1946 the Navion was given its identity when someone suggested using the company’s abbreviated stock market name (NA). Suddenly the Navion was born.
Initially the Navion sold for $6,100 and production occurred in batches of 250. Navions quickly grew in popularity with businessmen, state police agencies and members of the Hollywood elite.
Not without drawbacks, the Navion’s top speed was 12 M.P.H. slower than the Beech Bonanza. More importantly, the NAA was losing money on each plane. Production costs were approximately $18,000 but the sale price for the 1947 model was $6,750. Failing sales, demanding military contracts, and the uneconomical production cost required production to stop in May 1951.
On most Navions, boarding is via a step which juts from the leading edge of the wing. Sliding open the canopy is surprisingly easy. It glides on heavy-gauge rails, reminiscent of its speedier P-51 cousin. Pilots sing the praises of the Navion’s owner’s manual—printed in color and spiral-bound even.
To those fortunate enough to own and fly them, Navions are arguably the best-handling and most comfortable unpressurized, retractable, single engine ever built. So much so that Bonanza owners, who fly very good airplanes in their own right, have been known to walk away after a Navion flight muttering, “At least mine goes faster.”
Through a series of mergers and sales, North American Aviation became part of North American Rockwell, which later became Rockwell International and is now part of Boeing. A quick Internet check shows a Navion can be purchased for a mere $50,000.
The Navion–a little slow but a joy to fly
This page is dedicated to my father, Major Homer Menzies (1920–2007) USAF Retired.
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Dad, center, with pals Oscar Hawkins and Bob Fisher, in front of Navion, circa 1970.