WWII Era Ryan ST's Shiny Metal Skin Shines Like a Diamond, Worth a Few Carats Itself

Ryan ST 8 photos
Photo: Noel Kruse Rd 2, New Zealand
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It's perfectly normal to call a classic Italian sports car or a mint American muscle car beautiful. But an airplane? That's a tough sell to most people. One can only assume years of flying on airplanes that look like tin cans with turbofans makes people assume they all look the same.
But those who delve just a little further do find planes through the ages that are striking, stunning, beautiful, or any other rosy adjective you can think of. But even among that elite club, this bare metal Ryan ST two-seater trainer is in a league all its own. It's also a Second World War veteran alongside greats like the Mustang, Thunderbolt, and the Spitfire.

For those of you who don't have their faces buried inside vintage warplane periodicals, the Ryan Aeronautical Company was one of those real oddball aviation companies that dared to be different. It wound up paying the price for it instead. Apart from a couple of wacky aircraft to their name like the Fireball piston-jet hybrid and as many as four VTOL concepts, Ryan's bread and butter airplane was the ST.

It's a low wing, super-lightweight monoplane that's more beautiful than a basic trainer has any right to be. During its lifetime, the Ryan ST benefitted greatly from a design penned by the founder of the company, Mr. T. Claude Ryan, based out of San Diego, California.

It was Ryan's idea to develop a state-of-the-art fuselage consisting of two separate frames built in tandem on the same semi-monocoque. Interestingly, one of these frames was built from steel, while the other was made from lightweight aluminum alloy. Whether this was to save weight or as a cost-saving measure is somewhat unclear.

Ryan ST
Photo: Noel Kruse Rd 2, New Zealand
What's far less unclear is that sporting a bare polished metal outer skin makes for an airplane so stunningly beautiful that it makes objectively beautiful Aston Martins, Packards, and Cadillacs of its era look derivative. This particular example, serial number 492, is one of only a handful of maybe six examples at most that are still in airworthy, undamaged condition.

Unlike nearly all of its brethren that were abused as trainers and then neglected, this airframe only has 850 hours of flight time in its logs since it left the factory floor in San Diego in 1941. Powering this metal masterpiece of art and engineering is a supercharged variant of an air-cooled four-cylinder engine from the Menasco Motors Company of Burbank, California.

If you can believe it, a limited number of Ryan STs had their engines fitted with a supercharger system a full ten years before hot rodder Barney Navarro fitted one to a flathead Ford V8 and ushered in a new era of speed for passenger cars. This Ryan ST comes equipped with such a unit, named the Menasco Pirate C4S.

The engine cranks out 150 horsepower, making one stunningly quick airplane by late 30s and early 40s standards on account of such a low curb weight. With a top speed of 150 mph (240 kph), it would be a full ten years before the Mercedes-Benz 300SL became the first production car to even come close to matching such a figure. Pair the killer powertrain with the timeless good looks, and you have something that looks like a million little bucks but doesn't even come close to that figure.

Ryan ST
Photo: Noel Kruse Rd 2, New Zealand
The price for this little slice of magnificence is actually an undeniably reasonable $350,000 NZD via a private seller out of Auckland, New Zealand. Doing some quick math, we find that works out to a paltry $227,902 US. For that kind of money, it makes the Ferrari Roma you could buy for almost the exact same money look like a downright dull investment.
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