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ERCO Ercoupe


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The ERCO Ercoupe is a low wing monoplane first manufactured by the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) shortly before World War II, production continued after World War II by several other manufacturers until 1967. It was designed to be the safest fixed-wing aircraft that aerospace engineering could provide at the time, and the type still enjoys a very faithful following today.

Background

In late 1931, aeronautical engineer Fred Weick was the assistant chief of the aeronautics division of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In 1934, Weick asked permission to build a aircraft based on the 1931 Stout Skycar with fabric instead of aluminum covering, and control modifications based on NACA research. Weick and a group of co-workers designed and assembled the experimental aircraft with a group of his colleagues who worked on the project in their spare time and paid for it themselves. The test aircraft built by Weick, known as the W-1, featured tricycle landing gear, a high parasol wing, and a pusher propeller configuration.

Fred Weick listed the W1 design goals that were tested in later seminers....

* The tricycle landing gear with castering nose wheel, steerable if desired.

* Suitable longitudinal and lateral stability with definitely limited upward elevator travel to prevent loss of control due to stalling and spinning.

* A glide-control flap.

* Two-control operation using pitching and rolling controls.

In 1934 the Bureau of Air Commerce approached Weick's team looking for standards for a competition for a safe and practical $700 aircraft. In 1936 the winner of the competition was the Stearman-Hammond Y-1, incorporating many of the safety features of the W-1. Two other winners were the Waterman Aeroplane and a roadable autogyro, the Autogiro Company of America AC-35 . The W-1 was not intended for production to qualify as a competitor, but was purchased by the bureau for continued experimental tests in spin-control safety. After a forced landing of the W-1, a updated W-1A was built by Fairchild, incorporating leading edge cuffs.

Weick left NACA in 1936 and joined ERCO's fledgling aircraft team as chief designer, primarily to continue improving his aircraft design. Focusing his efforts on a number of design issues, primarily simplicity and safety, Weick strove to create a reasonably priced aircraft that would not stall or spin . Retaining the tricycle gear (for ease of maneuvering on the ground), and limited stall-spin features, Weick switched to a low-wing monoplane configuration in his new model, powered by a tractor propeller configuration.

The ERCO 310, which included a fully cowled engine, made its first flight in October 1937 and was soon renamed the "Ercoupe". The easy-to-fly design included unique design features, including a large glazed canopy for great visibility. The protoype 310 featured a ERCO-made inverted four cylnder engine, the ERCO I-L 116, which was shortly dropped due to high manafacturing cost compaired to the new Continental A-65 . Lacking rudder pedals, the Ercoupe was flown entirely using only a control wheel: a two-control system linked the rudder and aileron systems, which controlled yaw and roll, with the steerable nose wheel. This wheel controlled the pitch and the steering of the aircraft, both on the ground and in the air, simplifying control and coordinated turning and eliminating the need for rudder pedals. A completely new category of pilot's license had to be created for Ercoupe pilots who had never used a rudder pedal.

Design and development

The Ercoupe contained many innovative design features that produced an aircraft that was safe, easy to fly, and certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) as "characteristically incapable of spinning." The aircraft was designed by Fred E. Weick, a noted aeronautical engineer, who before coming to ERCO in 1936, worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The first experimental model of the Ercoupe was test flown at College Park airport in 1937. Construction of the production prototype was completed in 1939 and certification by the CAA was completed in 1940. The first Ercoupe, serial no. 1, was owned by George Brinckerhoff and flown at College Park Airport,later purchased and flown by Robert Whipperman who donated it to the National Air and Space Museum .

Targeted at the non-professional pilot, the Ercoupe was also designed to be spin-proof with no dangerous stall characteristics. A placard, which was the first for any aircraft, was allowed to be placed proudly on the instrument panel reading: "This aircraft characteristically incapable of spinning." An elevator that could move upward and downward only a limited amount—13 degrees—plus automatic yaw correction, enabled the aircraft to actually fly itself out of a spin. Inexpensive to operate and maintain, the Ercoupe was able to fly into and out of small airfields, and its nose-wheel steering made taxiing almost like driving an automobile. The landing gear was also beefed up to allow for landing in a crabbed attitude in crosswinds since there were no rudder pedals to correct for runway alignment. When the main gear touched town, the side forces were absorbed and the nose would automatically swing forward to align the aircraft with the runway.

The two-seat ERCO Ercoupe 415 went on sale in 1940 . LIFE magazine featured the aircraft as "nearly foolproof" showing a series of pictures with the pilot landing with his hands in the air. Only 112 were delivered before World War II intervened, halting all civil aircraft production. By mid-1941, aluminum supplies were being diverted to war-related production, so ERCO decided to manufacture Ercoupes for military use by using wood as the principal building material. The substitution of wood resulted in a heavier Ercoupe, but the aircraft flew much more quietly because the wood absorbed vibrations from the engine and air flow. Ercoupes were flown during the war by the Civilian Pilot Training Program for flight instruction, and the Civil Air Patrol used them to patrol for German submarines.

Military use

A total of three model 415-C aircraft were procured by the United States Army Air Forces for use during World War II.

On August 12, 1941, the first Air Corps rocket-assist takeoff was made by a Wright Field test pilot, Capt. Homer Boushey, using a small civilian-type Ercoupe aircraft. Subsequent refinements of this technique were made for assisting heavily-loaded aircraft in taking off from limited space. The tests were conducted between 6 August and 23 August 1941, at March Field, California, using various combinations of rocket units mounted under the wings of NC28655.

Post war

Although World War II had interrupted production of the Ercoupe, general aviation manufacturers were enthusiastic about the prospects of post-war sales. Thousands of men and women were trained as pilots by the government, and the hope was that they would want to include flying in their civilian life. Production of the model 415-C resumed in 1946, and in that year alone 4,311 aircraft were produced and sold at a cost of US$2,665. This was the same price as in 1941. At its peak, ERCO was turning out 34 Ercoupes per day, operating three shifts per day. The aircraft was aggressively marketed through non-conventional outlets such as the men's department of the Macy's department store chain.

Unfortunately, however, private aircraft sales slumped after the war and the bottom dropped out of the civil aircraft market in late 1946, bursting the bubble held by many aircraft manufacturers, who had expected that post-war prosperity plus a huge number of newly trained pilots would translate into a boom market for civil aircraft sales.

Other production

(1946) Aeronca

Aeronca obtained a licence to produce the Ercoupe 415 as the Aeronca 12AC Chum in 1946 and built two prototypes: ''NX39637'', with the Ercoupe twin-tail, and ''NX83772'' with a larger, single tail, metal wings, and knee-action main undercarriage. No production ensued.

(1947-1950) Sanders Aviation

ERCO sold its remaining Ercoupe inventory to Sanders Aviation in 1947, which continued to produce the aircraft in the same ERCO-owned factory. A total of 213 aircraft were sold by 1950 . During this time, ERCO's chief engineer Fred Wieck moved on to Texas A&M developing the agricultural aircraft the Piper Pawnee, and eventually the popular Piper Cherokee with John Thorpe and Karl Bergley .

(1950-1955) UNIVAIR

Universal Aircraft Industries of Aurora, Colorado purchased the Ercoupe design from the Engineering and Research Company in 1950. They provided spare parts and customer support to the then existing models. UNIVAIR sold the project to the Forney Aircraft Company in April, 1955 .

(1955-1959) Forney / Fornaire Aircoupe

In April 1955, Univair sold the Federal Aviation Administration aircraft type certificate for the Ercoupe to the Forney Aircraft Company of Fort Collins, Colorado, which later became the Fornaire Aircraft Company. This aircraft was similar to the 415-G except for engine and propeller combination, revised engine cowling, outer wing panels, metal covered, baggage compartment extended, modifications of seats and instrument panel. Production began in 1958 and ended in 1959

* 56 of the F-1 Forney Delux were produced in 1958 for US$6,995 each.

* 59 of the F-1 Forney Explorer, Execta and Expediter were produced in 1959 for US$6,995 each.

* 23 of the F-1A Forney Trainer were produced in 1959 for US$7,450 each.

A total of 138 aircraft were produced.

(1960-1964) Air Products Company Aircoupe

Between August 1960 and March 1964, the rights to the Aircoupe aircraft were held by the AirCoupe division of Air Products Company of the City of Carlsbad, New Mexico . The company was established by the city, with the hope of establishing aircraft manufacture as a local industry. They purchased the type certificate from Forney when a potential deal with Beechcraft had fallen through. Only a few planes were ever produced before the type certificate was sold to Alon, Incorporated on March 16, 1964.

* 25 of the F-1A Forney Trainer were produced in 1959 for US$7,450 each.

(1964-1967) Alon Aircoupe

Alon, Incorporated was started by John Allen (whose first two letters from his last name formed the "AL") and Lee O. Higdon (whose last two letters from his last name formed the "ON").

The two were part of a group of executives who had retired from aircraft manufacturer Beechcraft to found their own company. They had previously negotiated with Forney Aircraft to purchase production of the Aircoupe so that Beechcraft could use the design as an introductory trainer. The deal was canceled by Olive Ann Beech, instead deciding to concentrate resources on the Beechcraft Musketeer . This decision caused the executives to leave Beechcraft. They set up shop in McPherson, Kansas where they purchased the type certificate for the Aircoupe from the City of Carlsbad, New Mexico on March 16, 1964.

"A new company formed by former Beechcraft executives Allen and Higdon, who have purchased all assets, jigs, tools, and engineering of the program from the city of Carlsbad NM. They expect to deliver the first of 30-50 Aircoupes to be built next year for about $8,000." (-- Aviation Week 3/30/64)

The Alon A-2 and A-2A Aircoupes were much improved upon models of the original Ercoupe which differed from it in several ways. The Alons featured a sliding canopy, a more powerful 90 hp (up from 75) Continental engine, separate bucket seats and a much improved instrument panel . The A-2 also differed from earlier models in having limited movement rudder pedals, which also controlled the nosewheel steering. This was done in order to make it a more acceptable training aircraft, and to make it easier to counteract increased P-factor yaw during a climb from the more powerful engine. This modification resulted in a slightly increased best rate of climb speed, better engine cooling and slightly increased rate of ascent. The aircraft remained unspinnable.

Over the period of production (1964–1967) Alon produced 245 A-2's, with peak production of 137 in 1966. The last 25 A-2's produced by Alon had spring steel landing gear in place of the original main gear struts light alloy castings and trailing links.

Another aircraft produced by Alon (although only a single example was ever built) was the Alon A-4 . The A-4 was a low wing 4 place monoplane of aluminum construction powered by a single 150 hp Lycoming engine. By accounts, it was a promising aircraft, but it did not go into production before Alon closed.

Production of the A-2 ceased in September of 1967, and on October 9, 1967, Alon was purchased by, and became a division of the Mooney Airplane Company of Kerrville, Texas .

Specifications (1967 Alon Aircoupe A-2A)

(1968-1974) Mooney A2-A and M-10 Cadet

"1968, Mooney now produced the twin tail Alon Aicoupe A2 as the Mooney A2-A. The factory moved to Kerrville, Texas, late in 1968. There they re-designed the fuselage from the cockpit back. Now, the Mooney A2-A could be recognized by the square windows behind the sliding canopy. Even as they produced the A2-A Cadet, the Mooney engineers were busy re-designing the coupe into something uniquely Mooney and completely un-weick-like.

On February 23, 1968, the first Mooney Cadet M-10, single tailed in the conventional manner, flew. But meanwhile, the production line still turned out the A2-A twin tailed Cadet."

The Ercoupe A Touch of Class by Frank Rytenhyde Saletri

(1974-Present) UNIVAIR

The type certificate was sold again (and as of 2010, for the final time) to Univair Aircraft Corporation of Aurora, Colorado in October, 1974.

Although no new Ercoupes have been produced since 1970, many spare parts are still available. Univair has owned the type certificate since 1974 for all Ercoupe models, and continues to produce parts as well as provide technical assistance to Ercoupe owners.

Light Sport Inclusion

On July 20, 2004 the FAA adopted the first implementation of Light Sport regulations. A new pilot certification was created that fell between recreational pilot and private pilot in experience requirements and privileges. Specific (Univair) Ercoupe 415-C and 415-CD models met the FAA requirements to be flown by light sport pilots.

Later models of the Ercoupe such as the 415-D through the Mooney Cadet were excluded due to their certified maximum takeoff weight exceeding the 1320 lb limit for use by a Light Sport pilot.The qualifications for a certified aircraft to be used for light sport include...

The Ercoupe 415-C and 415CD have a Maximum Takeoff weight of 1260 lbs. Several have been modified to the 415-D configuration with a stainless steel panel that increased their allowable gross weight to 1400 lbs. The LSA definition specifically states that the aircraft must be both originally certificated AND continuously operated within the definition. Therefore several owners of restored and modernized Ercoupes found themselves unable to return their aircraft to standards that allowed them to fly the aircraft with a sport pilot certificate. A supplemental type certificate is available for qualifying 415-C and 415-CD models to allow a gross weight increase to the light sport maximum of 1320 lbs.

Ercoupe's Light Sport Renaissance.

One of the distinctive rules that affect light sport pilots is the ability to fly without a class III medical as long as the pilot has a valid drivers license. Light sport aircraft became a popular choice among pilots that may not be eligible for a class III medical. Physically disabled pilots also have been able to fly under light sport privileges with the advantage of the Ercoupe's interlinked rudder pedals.

Light sport aircraft include

• Special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA)

• Standard category aircraft

• Experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA)

• Experimental amateur-built aircraft

The Ercoupe and the Quicksilver GT500 are the only standard category aircraft with Tricycle landing gear available. Each of these features are considered favorably in insurance premiums compared to conventional gear aircraft or experimental construction.

The ability to use some models of the Ercoupe for light sport privileges brought a price premium for older Ercoupes. Despite these price premiums, older Light-Sport capable Ercoupes are fractionally less to purchase than newly constructed aircraft.

Variants

*In 1948 J B Collie of Southeast Air Service merged two ercoupes at the wing roots creating a twin engine, triple tail, 4 passenger aircraft. The Thrasher Brothers Air Circus used the aircraft to perform loops, rolls, spins. The aircraft had a smoke system for each engine, and could be flown from either cockpit.

*Leland D. Bryan built a series of roadable aircraft based off an Ercoupe fuselage called the "Autoplane". Significant modifications included a double articulated folding wing mechanism and remounting the engine facing rearward. It still retained ercoupe features such as the twin tail and the centersection. The first flight was in 1953, and the model II flew 65 hours. The Model III with a single wing fold mechanism crashed in 1974 killing it's designer.

*C. W. Lasher built and successfully flew a single seat open cockpit taildragger aircraft called "Little Thumper" out a Ercoupe center section and wing assembly and a Aeronca Champ fuselage.