U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission home page


Ryan M-2 mailplane

The Ryan M-2 mail/passenger plane was built in 1926.

Spirit of St. Louis

Ryan NYP Spriit of St. Louis, 1927 (NASA) (Ryan Aeronautical Library via David A. Anderton)

Spirit of St. Louis

The Spirit of St. Louis.

Ryan ST

The Ryan ST was the first design by Ryan Aeronautical, 1934.

Ryan PT-22 Recruit

The PT-22 "Recruit," a primary trainer, was an early monoplane trainer.

Fireballs flying on jet power only

Fighter pilots flying their Fireballs on jet power only.

Navion L-17B

Ryan acquired design and manufacturing rights to the Navion from North American Aviation. It was used by the military from the late 1940s through the early 1960s for liaison, reconnaissance, personnel, and light cargo-carrying missions.

Four Firebee 2 drones with DC-130

The Firebee was the most widely used jet target drone in the world, with more than 4,500 systems built by Ryan. Remotely controlled, Firebees are used as realistic "flying bull's-eyes" that simulate enemy jet aircraft to challenge the missile-firing skills of jet pilots and ground crews. This photo shows four subsonic Firebees ready for launch from a Lockheed DC-130.

Navy Firebee

Recovered by parachute after each flight, this Navy Firebee has already flown 36 missions.

Supersonic navy Firebee

The supersonic Firebee II flies at Mach 1.5 at 60,000-feet altitude.

Ryan X-13 Vertijet

The X-13 was designed to test the idea of vertical takeoff, transition to horizontal flight, and return to vertical flight for landing by jet aircraft. The plane completed its first full-cycle flight on April 11, 1957.

VZ-3RY Vertiplane

With all its "garbage" extended, the VZ-3RY Vertiplane was no beauty queen. But it was an effective vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) plane.

Ryan Aeronautical Company

T. Claude Ryan, best known for building the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew in his famous 1927 transatlantic flight, was born in Kansas in 1898. He learned to fly in 1917, was trained by the U.S. Army Air Corps, and served with the U.S. Aerial Forest Patrol. In 1922 he established the Ryan Flying School and a business in San Diego, California, for flying sightseers around town. In April 1925, needing capital, Ryan became partners with Benjamin Franklin Mahoney and formed Ryan Airlines. The company converted war surplus aircraft for civil use, rebuilding Standard open-cockpit biplanes to cabin transports. Ryan also acquired the Douglas Cloudster and used it as a passenger plane after modifying it to accommodate passengers in an enclosed cabin. He designed and built about 40 M-1 and M-2 mail/passenger transports in 1926.

Ryan sold his interest in the company to Mahoney in 1926 but stayed on to manage the company. In early 1927, a group of St. Louis investors asked Ryan if he could build a plane for a nonstop transatlantic trip within 60 days. He accepted the challenge and produced the Spirit of St. Louis, which Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Ryan, however, had no financial stake in the company and did not receive much in the way of tangible rewards.

Mahoney formed the Mahoney-Ryan Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928, to capitalize on Ryan's name. The new company produced a number of airplanes but was acquired by the holding company Detroit Aircraft Corporation in May 1929. Detroit folded the next year and sold the factory in October 1930.

Meanwhile, also in 1926, Ryan had established a separate, Ryan Aeronautical Company, primarily to import Siemens aircraft engines from Germany. In 1928, Siemens, which wished to establish its own distributorship in the United States, bought Ryan out for $75,000.

With the money he received from Siemens, Ryan started a flying school in May 1928, and formed the Ryan School of Aeronautics on June 5, 1931. On May 26, 1934, he formed a new Ryan Aeronautical Company, and the school eventually became a subsidiary.

The first design by the new company was the Ryan ST. The prototype's first flight took place from Lindbergh Field on June 8, 1934. The ST was a two-seat, open-cockpit aircraft with fabric-covered braced low-wings and an all-metal fuselage. A 95 horsepower (71-horsepower) inline engine powered it, giving the ST a top speed of almost 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour). With its exceptional handling and speed, the ST caused a minor sensation at the time. However, only five were produced. Less than a year later, the STA appeared. Powered by a 125-horsepower (93-kilowatt) engine, this model set a number of light plane speed and altitude records and also won the 1937 International Aerobatic Championships, piloted by Tex Rankin. The next model was the STA Special, powered by a supercharged 150-horsepower (112-kilowatt) engine. This led directly to the STM (Sport Trainer Military) that had the same engine but a slightly wider cockpit opening to accommodate the wearing of parachutes.

The STM was initially marketed in Latin American. Small numbers of single-seat versions were sold to Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. The biggest export customer turned out to be the Netherlands East Indies (later Indonesia), which needed a basic trainer when war broke out in Europe in 1939 and its pilots could not reach the Netherlands for training. In 1940, an order was placed for 84 STM-2 landplane and 24 STM-S2 floatplane trainers that were used as primary, basic, and advanced trainers and for every task except bombing and gunnery training. Following the invasion of Java by the Japanese, several STMs were captured and flown by the invading forces. However, 34 managed to be evacuated by ship to Australia where the Royal Australian Air Force put them into service.

Meanwhile, in 1939, the U.S. Army Air Corps acquired an STA for evaluation under the designation XPT-16. A contract for 15 YPT-16s (the limited version of the XPT) followed. Production for the Air Corps was initiated in 1940 with 30 PT-20 trainers, which were similar to the YPT-16. The next year, Ryan developed a version with an engine that would provide better performance. One hundred PT-21s with a 132-horsepower (98 kilowatt) engine were ordered. Additional trainers were ordered, and with the rapid expansion of training during 1941, Ryan received a contract for 1,023 PT-22 Recruits, which were similar to the earlier model. He also developed the civil S-C cabin version.

Also notable was the experimental YO-51 Dragonfly observation craft, which pioneered short takeoff and landing (STOL) techniques. Ryan delivered three YO-51 test models in 1940, but no production order followed.

Ryan's school also trained thousands of Army pilots during the war, very likely becoming the largest contract flying school in the country during the war.

Ryan received a Navy contract in December 1943, to develop the XFR-1 compound fighter, with a piston engine mounted conventionally in the nose and a turbojet engine in the rear fuselage and exhausting through the tail. This was followed with an order for 100 FR-1 aircraft, later named Fireball. The first XFR-1 flew on June 25, 1944 without the turbojet, and the first flight with both engines took place in July. Deliveries of Fireballs to the Navy began in March 1945, and by that time Ryan had received contracts for a total of 1,300 production aircraft. But cancellations at the end of the war reduced its numbers and none served in the war. They were used extensively for tests aboard aircraft carriers before being phased out in 1947.

In the postwar slump, to stay in the business, the company produced burial coffins for a time. It then turned out Navion planes until the Korean War, a small plane for the personal-business market and for military customers, acquired from the aircraft company North American Aviation. While out of aircraft production, Ryan gained important experimental aircraft contracts and was one of the early leaders in the emerging missile and unpiloted-aircraft fields, along with Douglas, Martin, and Bell companies. Ryan developed the Firebee target drone and the Firebird, the first true air-to-air guided missile. His company also pioneered Doppler systems and lunar landing radar.

There was strong interest in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) high-performance combat aircraft. The Air Force sponsored the Ryan X-13 Vertijet, which made its first conventional flight on December 28, 1956. It achieved vertical takeoff to horizontal flight to vertical landing on April 11, 1957, but remained strictly experimental. The Vertijet, along with the VZ-3RY, and the SV-5A Vertifan convertiplanes all advanced the field.

In 1955, the Emtor Holding Company, a California investment firm, acquired 20 percent of Ryan. The company originally had gone public in the late 1930s, and Claude Ryan held only 12 percent of the stock by 1955, so Emtor gained effective control. Robert Johnson of Emtor joined Ryan's board and became president in 1961, with Claude Ryan continuing as chairman. Ryan acquired a 50-percent interest in Continental Motors Corporation of Detroit, the aircraft engine producer, in 1965.

Ryan was acquired by Teledyne, Inc., for $128 million in 1968 and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Teledyne in February 1969. Claude Ryan retired but afterward pursued independent experimental work in aircraft for several years.

Claude Ryan died in 1982 at the age of 84.

—Judy Rumerman

References and Further Reading:

Donald, David, gen. ed., The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. New York; Barnes & Noble Books, 1997.

Pattillo, Donald. Pushing the Envelope. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Wagner, William. Ryan, the Aviator Being the Adventures & Ventures of Pioneer Airman & Businessman T. Claude Ryan. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.

"Claude Ryan." San Diego Historical Society. http://www.sandiegohistory.org/bio/ryan/ryan.htm.

"Ryan STM-S2." New Zealand Warbirds Association. http://www.nzwarbirds.org.nz/ryana.html

Tekulsky, Joseph D. "Peoples and Planes: B.F. Mahoney." http://www.thehistorynet.com/AviationHistory/articles/03964_text.htm


Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.

National Council for Geographic Education

Standard 1

How to use maps and other geographic representations to acquire and process information.