North American developed the Navion during the late stages of World War II, rather quietly, since aviation companies were not supposed to be working on civilian projects. The idea was to capitalize on an expected postwar private aviation boom fueled largely by ex-military aircrew who were imagined to have caught the flying bug and would want to continue flying in civilian life, possibly in an aircraft similar to what they flew in the military. There did indeed turn out to be some such pilots. Unexpectedly, however, many military aircrew regarded flying simply as what they had done for the war effort, and were no more inclined to do it for pleasure than a tank crew would want to drive a tank for fun. This, plus the high cost of flying, the time commitment needed at a time when returning servicemen were preoccupied with starting families, and the availability of many pre-war and war surplus planes, dashed the hopes of several civil airplane manufacturers in the late 1940s.
First flown in 1946, the 4-seat Navion was designed to resemble a World War II fighter, specifically the P-51, and to cash in on North American’s reputation. North American produced 1,100 of the aircraft in 1946 and 1947, then sold the design to the Ryan Aeronautical Company, which built about 1,200 through 1951. The final producer was the Tubular Steel Corp. which took the final total to 2,634. Although the Navion was never a cash cow, this was a respectable production total for a high-end leisure aircraft during this period.
The reasons more Navions were not built and sold, and likely why North American shed the design early in the game, were a combination of the facts that the postwar aviation boom was much smaller than expected and that Beech had chosen a superior competitive formula in its Model 35 Bonanza. Compared with the Bonanza, the Navion was larger, heavier, sturdier, had more military-like styling, and was slightly, but for many customers not decisively, easier and more enjoyable to fly. The Bonanza had higher performance and more comfortable accommodations for those not used to a military cockpit; it was better adapted to the corporate market.
“Navion” is a neologism created by affixing an initial “N” for North American to the French word “avion” (airplane). I am assured by owners that the correct pronounciation is “NAY-vion,” not “NAH-vion.”
About 300 Navions of various models were used by the U.S. military as utility and liaison aircraft. These were designated L-17 and later U-18. Relatively few Navions actually built for the military survive, but many of the surviving civilian Navions have been painted by their owners in military colors.
Two different companies, Camair and TEMCO, produced “twin Navions” which consisted of a Navion fuselage with a streamlined nose fairing replacing the engine, and a longer wing with two engines mounted in conventional nacelles. About 143 of these aircraft were built by the two companies, mostly as conversions from regular Navions. A comprehensive web resource on Twin Navions is TwinNavion.com.
Today, the type certificate for the Navion is owned by an outfit called Sierra Hotel Aviation in Saint Paul, Minnesota (“sierra hotel” is military/aviation slang for “very good” and is based on the international codes for S-H, standing for “shit hot”). Sierra Hotel supports the continued operation of Navions worldwide and may, in the future, produce new Navion aircraft. Its website can be visited here.
This is a 1946 Navion A, serial 150, registered to an owner in Tennessee.
1947 Navion A serial 183 is still flying in Ohio.
Serial 1829 is a 1949 Navion A with a New Mexico owner.
Temco D-18A Twin Navion was serial TTN-58. It was converted from Navion 1521, formerly registered N4521K. This aircraft was destroyed in an accident in July 1991.
Serial TTN-40, this Temco D-18A Twin Navion was built in 1940, converted from Navion 478 (N91759). It was wrecked in a forced landing in 1998.
This Navion, serial 4830, has been deregistered since 1992.
Camair serial 101, the first Camair Twin Navion, was a 1952 conversion from Navion N4489K (serial 1489). As originally converted, it was designated the White Engineerin WE-1, registered N99W.
Converted in 1956 from Navion serial 853 (N8853H), this Twin Navion serial 1-070 is currently under restoration with a Michigan owner.
This 1948 Navion, serial 1402, now operates in Canada.
Heavily damaged in a fatal accident in 2001, this L-17B, serial 1668, may still exist and be under repair, remaining on the civil registry and listed to a Georgia owner.
N2341 is a 1948 Navion A, serial 1635. It is registered to an Illinois owner.
Late-production Navion G Rangemaster, serial 2370, was built in 1966 and is listed to an owner in California.
I’m pretty sure N2405T is the registration on the side of this Rangemaster, but it doesn’t show up in the registry databases.
This 1962 Navion G, serial 2428, was damaged in a 1973 accident but is still listed on the registry.
1967 Navion H serial 2503 is listed with a California owner. It would appear that Ryan reserved a block of N-numbers matching the serials of its Navions during the 1960s.
This 1947 military L-17A, serial 1070, is listed to a Kansas owner.
L-17B 48-992 is pictured in very stock condition and provides a lot of clues for distinguishing genuine military L-17s from civilian Navions wearing military paint. Note the absence of propeller spinner and landing gear strut covers (although these are easily added or removed). The paint scheme is generally accurate for a U.S. Army L-17 as far as I can tell, although it is painted as serial 48-628 (reflecting its construction serial, NAV-4-1628) rather than what I understand to be its true military serial 48-992. It is with an Indiana owner.
Long vanished from the civil register, Navion N4396K was photographed in the 1960s.
Tucked in a hangar on a private strip near Newburgh, New York, N4819K is a 1949 Navion serialed NAV-4-1819.
This is a TEMCO D-16 Twin Navion, serial TTN29, photographed in the 1980s. Its registration was cancelled in 1990, and it is now a static display at the Pima Air Museum.
N5308K is a Ryan-built 1950 Navion B registered to an owner in New York State. Despite the fanciful USAF markings, this is not an ex-military Navion. I have seen serial NAV-4-22088 quoted for this aircraft but that serial has too many digits, so I assume it is serial 2208 or 2088.
Navion A N91161, photographed here in the 1960s, is still around and is currently owned by Planes of Fame. The aircraft has been under restoration to fly for some years.
This is a 1947 Navion, serial 4-178, that resides in Southern California and wears a pseudo USAF paint scheme.
This is a 1953 Temco D-16 Twin Navion, serial TTN-23, that probably no longer exists. Its registration was purged in 2009.
Unidentified Navion N—2K
Other Unidentified Navions
Here are Navions whose registration numbers Dick or I did not record.