Eye of Experience #23:
Those Wonderful 'Coupes

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In the market for a good, inexpensive cross-country cruiser? Like to fly with your feet on the floor? Looking for something

Eye Of Experience As is the case with many of my columns on AVweb, a reader who wrote and asked for an article on the Ercoupe inspired this one. Our reader had this to say:

You should do an article on the Ercoupe. What other plane can you buy for less than $15,000 that cruises at 110 mph, burns less than 5gph, and has excellent visibility and control response? If you haven't flown one it will probably be the most fun plane you've ever flown.

I purchased my 415G and got my license in it and have flown over 100 hours. When I sell my bird I will be almost guaranteed to get all my purchase price back, plus some. It burns auto fuel so my costs have been extremely low.

'Coupes also have a lot of room (especially compared to a Cessna 150), I should know, I'm 6'7" and have flown all over the Northwest, sometimes for four hours at a time, with little problem.

I always tell people who are going to get their license not to rent but to buy a 'coupe. Not only is it cheaper in the long run but they will learn to do their own maintenance and to know and understand the aluminum that's holding them up there and keeping them alive (and with a smile!)

Anyway, please consider writing an article.

Herewith is the result of this request.


In 1936, Fred Weick designed the Ercoupe, which was first manufactured in 1939. It goes 115 miles per hour, carries two people, and burns four and a quarter gallons of gas per hour. In 1978, more than 40 years later, Cessna came out with the 152. It goes 105 mph, carries two people, and burns six gallons per hour! I ask you, where's the progress?

Ownership

The first airplane I ever owned all by myself (I had shared ownership in a couple of others) was a 1946 Model 415C Ercoupe. I paid $1550.00 for it and the choice was between it and an Aeronca 11AC Chief. I chose the Ercoupe because it had less fabric to worry about when recover time came. Only the outer sections of the wings were fabric covered. Also, it had an electrical system including a starter so you didn't have to prop it to get the engine going, and lights so was legal for night flying. At the time I bought it, I had almost 3,000 hours of flying conventional "three control" airplanes. The operator from whom I bought the airplane, at a two-runway sod field, included three months of free hangar rent in the deal, so, although I intended to keep the airplane elsewhere, for the first three months I was stuck there.

As does everybody else, for the first few days of ownership, I was out there after work every day flying my little airplane. I was literally wearing holes in the floor, pushing on non-existent rudder pedals. The Ercoupe has lots of rudder, but no pedals. The rudder(s) are connected to the ailerons, so that all medium-banked turns are automatically perfectly coordinated. This renders the airplane characteristically incapable of spinning. Like all macho pilots of the day, I wanted more control over what the airplane did. Some aftermarket company had put out a rudder kit which could be installed on the 'coupe. I ordered one through the operator from whom I had bought the airplane.

About a week later, when I showed up after work to fly my airplane, the operator met me and informed me that my rudder kit had arrived that day, but when it was delivered, a transient who had flown in in an Ercoupe was standing there, and when he saw what it was, he insisted on buying it. The operator said he'd order me another one, and I replied, "Never mind — I'll just leave the airplane as is." By then I had gotten used to flying a pedal-less airplane, and I figured the best mind in the business had engineered the pedals out of it, and who am I to put 'em back in?

Over the next eight years that I owned that 'coupe, I put well over 2,000 hours on it. I lived in suburban Cleveland at the time, and I regularly flew it to New York, Chicago, and Texas. I had six different radios (with huge, heavy power-packs) in it and when the last one was installed, the FAA told me that if I added six more pounds, they would placard it as a one-place airplane!

Unique Design Features

Fred Weick, who designed the Ercoupe (he also did the Cherokee for Piper), was a genius many years before his time. The Ercoupe's fuel system was absolutely bulletproof. There were two wing tanks with a capacity of nine gallons each, and as is the case with all low-wing airplanes, a fuel pump is required to get the petrol up to the engine. Thus the airplane had an engine-driven fuel pump. But there was no need for an electric boost pump! You see, the fuel was pumped up to a six-gallon header tank, which fed the engine by gravity. How's that for simplicity?

In the mid-1960s, Piper proudly announced that they had put an "airline-type" throttle quadrant in the Cherokee line, replacing the old push throttle. In 1949, more than 15 years earlier, that feature appeared on the Ercoupe!

To take care of the left-turning tendency of the engine, the engine was mounted slightly canted so that at cruise power it was perfectly balanced.

Although absolutely spin proof, the Ercoupe could be made to stall, but it wasn't easy. The elevator travel was so limited that in order to exceed the critical angle of attack the pilot had to abruptly yank back on the yoke and attempt to stand the airplane on its tail to make it stall. In other words, it was spinproof and stall resistant. As Rick Durden pointed out, it is impossible to demonstrate an "accelerated maneuver" stall. In a steep bank with full power, the airplane will simply sink while turning.

There were numerous other unique design features which put the 'coupe years ahead of its time, including the fact that it was the first general aviation airplane to move the third wheel from the rear up to the front, thus creating an airplane with a steerable nosewheel, a feature found on almost all airplanes today. The tricycle gear was, of course, the most notable of the innovations offered by the Ercoupe. Many of the innovations found on the 'coupe have had a positive influence on aircraft design ever since. Although spelled "Ercoupe" it is pronounced "aircoupe". Its name comes from the fact that the original manufacturer was the Engineering and Research Corporation, thus Ercoupe.

A Sort of Downside

Since it is impossible to "cross-control" the ailerons and rudder it is impossible to slip the 'coupe, and since it doesn't have flaps some pilots complain that an approach can't be shortened. Not so. The standard technique is to honk back on the yoke and mush down quite steeply. To accomplish this successfully requires quite a bit of practice and skill, for when you relax the backpressure, there is a noticeable lag in the response, which could well result in a hard landing and short rollout.

I worked out a better technique for shortening the approach. You simply slide one side of the split canopy clear down and center the other side over the top. This leaves two side windows about eight inches each open (a lot of 'coupers fly around like this in warm weather). Now, if you are alone, you reach out with your left hand (reach for the fuel cap on top of the wing), while with your right hand you twist the yoke to the right. This results in a left wing low forward slip. If you have a passenger, you both reach for the fuel caps on your respective wings, resulting in a sink just as if you had applied flaps. Works great.

Other Downsides

When Rick Durden heard that I was doing this column on the 'coupe, he wrote me as follows:

Have fun with your piece on the Ercoupe. I did one for AOPA Pilot a little over a year ago. You might want to point out that the airplane has a bad take-off accident record because of the flat climb rate as well as a nasty tendency to burn after a crash as the wing tanks are in the leading edge and the fuselage tank is in FRONT of the occupants (why anyone ever was foolish enough to put fuel there still astounds me). I have to disagree with the writer, I've never thought of the Ercoupe as roomy. I'm cramped in the little bird and have to sit somewhat sideways. If it had rudder pedals, I couldn't fly it. They are fun little numbers if you obey the limitations.

I am a fan of Rick Durden and I admire him greatly, but I believe I can explain away most of his objections. First, it is true that the airplane has a relatively flat climb. I don't know the exact number, but at gross at sea level on a standard day I would be surprised if it did better than 350-450 fpm. This minimal rate of climb is a fact of life, and something the pilot simply has to take into account. As Rick points out, "they are fun little numbers if you obey the limitations." Even given the 'coupe's sorry rate of climb, I had one up to 13,500 MSL on more than one occasion (with oxygen, of course) on long trips.

Second, it must be understood that all the two-place planes of that vintage had the so-called header tanks. This includes the J3 Cubs, 7AC Champs, 11AC Chiefs, BC series Taylorcraft— in fact all of them, so there's nothing unusual about the placement of the header tank.

Finally, as to roominess, I agree with the letter writer. I do understand where Rick is coming from, however. (Durden would have to shrink by about a foot to keep from banging his shins into the panel... — Ed.) Since there are no rudder pedals (just a small brake pedal on the floor) the cabin is tapered toward the front, and there isn't a whole lot of room for the pilot and passenger's feet. However, there is more shoulder room than is offered by the Cessna 150-152 series, and as the writer pointed out, the visibility is simply great — like Piper's Tomahawk or the Grumman Yankees, Trainers, Cheetahs, and Tigers. As we all know, everything in aviation is a compromise — you give a little of this to get a little of that (speed for space, fuel for load, etc,) and the compromises made in the design of the Ercoupe on the whole came out very well.

As an extremely simple two-place economical cross-country airplane, the 'coupe can't be beat, but I have trained quite a number of pilots in 'coupes, but I refused to let them go until they were thoroughly checked out in a conventional airplane. An instructor simply cannot show a private applicant everything he/she needs to know in an Ercoupe.

Numbers

The manufacture of the Ercoupe had an interesting history. The first real production Coupe was the 415C model and 112 were built and sold during 1940 and '41. World War II stopped production until 1945, at which time production of the "C" model was resumed. From 1945 through 1952 ("C" through "H" models) ERCO turned out a total of 5028 Ercoupes Most of these were "C" and "D" models, and many of the Cs were converted to become CDs (the major difference was in the fact that the C had a 65 or 75 hp Continental engine, while the D had the great big 85. The big boom in GA that occurred right after the war suddenly dried up in '49 or '50, and production fell way off, drying up completely by '52.

The Forney Company of Colorado bought the rights and tooling and started production of the F1 Aircoupe and between 1956 and 1960 built and sold 157 of them. The next outfit to produce the Coupe was the City of Carlsbad, N. Mex., which incorporated a company called Air Products, and between 1960 and 1962 it turned out a grand total of 25 airplanes. These were produced as the F1A model

In 1964, Alon of McPherson, Kansas bought the rights and produced the airplane as the A2 Aircoupe. Between 1964 and 1967 that company produced 245 of the little flying machines. By then, all the new production had rudder pedals.

Finally, in 1967, Mooney acquired the rights and once again put it back into production as the A2A model and called the Cadet. A total of 59 of these were produced and sold. In 1968 Mooney redesigned the tail section, doing away with the twin rudders and replacing them with the distinctive Mooney vertical stabilizer and rudder, and 59 were produced as the Mooney M10. Fifty-nine of these were built and sold between 1969 and 1970. That's the end of the story to date, but it would not surprise me to see someone else pick up on this wonderful little bird that just won't quit. It seems to keep being revived while many of its early compatriots have fallen by the wayside, never to rise again.

Organizations And Publications

'Coupe owners are a rare breed. As is the case with many specific make and models of aircraft, there have been, over the years, several Ercoupe/Aircoupe owner clubs. And these folks who have 'coupes seem to have developed a much stronger bond than other owner clubs. At any time more than one 'couper can be found at the same place, they will be comparing notes and modifications — bragging about their airplanes. Back in the 1950s when I was an Ercoupe owner, I belonged to the Owners Association and regularly received a little bulletin called "The Coupe Scoop" which was loaded with tips on flying and maintaining the bird.

At the field where I was based at that time there were seven Ercoupes and we practiced flying in formation, all without radio communication (only three of us had radios in our airplanes). In fact we all flew 150 miles to watch a performance of the Blue Angels, and when the show was over we departed in formation. The audience thought we were part of the show. On this occasion there were nine of us and we set up a V of Vs in tight formation and flew all the way home like that.

At the first national meet of the Ercoupe Owners Club in 1976 at Tahlequah, Okla., 200 Ercoupes showed up! The only thing like this kind of dedication and loyalty that I know of can be found in the ABA (American Bonanza Society)

In 1991, as part of their "Flying Classics" series Tab Aero (now a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill) published the definitive work on the Ercoupe. It was written by Stanley G. Thomas with a forward by Fred Weick and is still available for those interested the complete history of the coupe.

Finally, a few years ago while at Oshkosh, standing in line at one of the food tents, I found myself behind an extremely tall guy. He turned around and there was his name tag on his chest at my eye level. It read "Fred Weick." I introduced myself as one of his biggest fans and we sat down together and chatted for an hour. This was one of the highlights of my experience.

Editor's note: A special thanks to Brian Bailey, Webmaster of the Ercoupe Net, for allowing AVweb to use the images on this page.


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