Eye of Experience #23:
Those Wonderful ‘Coupes

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

Eye Of ExperienceAsis the case with many of my columns on AVweb, a reader who wrote andasked for an article on the Ercoupe inspired this one. Our reader had this tosay:

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 in1939. It goes 115 miles per hour, carries two people, and burns four and aquarter gallons of gas per hour. In 1978, more than 40 years later, Cessna cameout with the 152. It goes 105 mph, carries two people, and burns six gallons perhour! I ask you, where’s the progress?


Thefirst airplane I ever owned all by myself (I had shared ownership in a couple ofothers) was a 1946 Model 415C Ercoupe. I paid $1550.00 for it and the choice wasbetween it and an Aeronca 11AC Chief. I chose the Ercoupe because it had lessfabric to worry about when recover time came. Only the outer sections of thewings were fabric covered. Also, it had an electrical system including a starterso you didn’t have to prop it to get the engine going, and lights so was legalfor night flying. At the time I bought it, I had almost 3,000 hours of flyingconventional “three control” airplanes. The operator from whom Ibought the airplane, at a two-runway sod field, included three months of freehangar 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 thereafter work every day flying my little airplane. I was literally wearing holes inthe floor, pushing on non-existent rudder pedals. The Ercoupe has lots ofrudder, but no pedals. The rudder(s) are connected to the ailerons, so that allmedium-banked turns are automatically perfectly coordinated. This renders theairplane characteristically incapable of spinning. Like all macho pilots of theday, I wanted more control over what the airplane did. Some aftermarket companyhad put out a rudder kit which could be installed on the ‘coupe. I ordered onethrough the operator from whom I had bought the airplane.

Abouta week later, when I showed up after work to fly my airplane, the operator metme and informed me that my rudder kit had arrived that day, but when it wasdelivered, a transient who had flown in in an Ercoupe was standing there, andwhen he saw what it was, he insisted on buying it. The operator said he’d orderme another one, and I replied, “Never mind – I’ll just leave the airplaneas is.” By then I had gotten used to flying a pedal-less airplane, and Ifigured the best mind in the business had engineered the pedals out of it, andwho am I to put ’em back in?

Over the next eight years that I owned that ‘coupe, I put well over 2,000hours on it. I lived in suburban Cleveland at the time, and I regularly flew itto New York, Chicago, and Texas. I had six different radios (with huge, heavypower-packs) in it and when the last one was installed, the FAA told me that ifI 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 wasabsolutely bulletproof. There were two wing tanks with a capacity of ninegallons each, and as is the case with all low-wing airplanes, a fuel pump isrequired to get the petrol up to the engine. Thus the airplane had anengine-driven fuel pump. But there was no need for an electric boost pump! Yousee, the fuel was pumped up to a six-gallon header tank, which fed the engine bygravity. How’s that for simplicity?

In themid-1960s, Piper proudly announced that they had put an “airline-type”throttle quadrant in the Cherokee line, replacing the old push throttle. In1949, more than 15 years earlier, that feature appeared on the Ercoupe!

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

Although absolutely spin proof, the Ercoupe could be made to stall, but itwasn’t easy. The elevator travel was so limited that in order to exceed thecritical angle of attack the pilot had to abruptly yank back on the yoke andattempt to stand the airplane on its tail to make it stall. In other words, itwas spinproof and stall resistant. As Rick Durden pointed out, it is impossibleto demonstrate an “accelerated maneuver” stall. In a steep bank withfull power, the airplane will simply sink while turning.

There were numerous other unique design features which put the ‘coupe yearsahead of its time, including the fact that it was the first general aviationairplane to move the third wheel from the rear up to the front, thus creating anairplane with a steerable nosewheel, a feature found on almost all airplanestoday. The tricycle gear was, of course, the most notable of the innovationsoffered by the Ercoupe. Many of the innovations found on the ‘coupe have had apositive influence on aircraft design ever since. Although spelled “Ercoupe”it is pronounced “aircoupe”. Its name comes from the fact that theoriginal manufacturer was the Engineering and Research Corporation, thus Ercoupe.

A Sort of Downside

Sinceit is impossible to “cross-control” the ailerons and rudder it isimpossible to slip the ‘coupe, and since it doesn’t have flaps some pilotscomplain that an approach can’t be shortened. Not so. The standard technique isto honk back on the yoke and mush down quite steeply. To accomplish thissuccessfully requires quite a bit of practice and skill, for when you relax thebackpressure, there is a noticeable lag in the response, which could well resultin a hard landing and short rollout.

I worked out a better technique for shortening the approach. You simply slideone 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 flyaround like this in warm weather). Now, if you are alone, you reach out withyour left hand (reach for the fuel cap on top of the wing), while with yourright hand you twist the yoke to the right. This results in a left wing lowforward slip. If you have a passenger, you both reach for the fuel caps on yourrespective wings, resulting in a sink just as if you had applied flaps. Worksgreat.

Other Downsides

When Rick Durden heard that I was doing this column on the ‘coupe, he wroteme 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.

Iam a fan of Rick Durden and I admire him greatly, but I believe I can explainaway most of his objections. First, it is true that the airplane has arelatively flat climb. I don’t know the exact number, but at gross at sea levelon a standard day I would be surprised if it did better than 350-450 fpm. Thisminimal rate of climb is a fact of life, and something the pilot simply has totake into account. As Rick points out, “they are fun little numbers if youobey the limitations.” Even given the ‘coupe’s sorry rate of climb, I hadone up to 13,500 MSL on more than one occasion (with oxygen, of course) on longtrips.

Second, it must be understood that all the two-place planes of that vintagehad the so-called header tanks. This includes the J3 Cubs, 7AC Champs, 11ACChiefs, BC series Taylorcraft- in fact all of them, so there’s nothing unusualabout the placement of the header tank.

Finally,as to roominess, I agree with the letter writer. I do understand where Rick iscoming from, however. (Durden would have to shrink by about a foot to keep frombanging 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 asthe writer pointed out, the visibility is simply great – like Piper’s Tomahawkor 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 alittle of that (speed for space, fuel for load, etc,) and the compromises madein 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 aconventional airplane. An instructor simply cannot show a private applicanteverything he/she needs to know in an Ercoupe.


Themanufacture of the Ercoupe had an interesting history. The first real productionCoupe was the 415C model and 112 were built and sold during 1940 and ’41. WorldWar 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 thesewere “C” and “D” models, and many of the Cs were convertedto become CDs (the major difference was in the fact that the C had a 65 or 75 hpContinental engine, while the D had the great big 85. The big boom in GA thatoccurred right after the war suddenly dried up in ’49 or ’50, and productionfell way off, drying up completely by ’52.

The Forney Company of Colorado bought the rights and tooling and startedproduction of the F1 Aircoupe and between 1956 and 1960 built and sold 157 ofthem. 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 itturned 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 theairplane as the A2 Aircoupe. Between 1964 and 1967 that company produced 245 ofthe 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 intoproduction as the A2A model and called the Cadet. A total of 59 of these wereproduced and sold. In 1968 Mooney redesigned the tail section, doing away withthe twin rudders and replacing them with the distinctive Mooney verticalstabilizer and rudder, and 59 were produced as the Mooney M10. Fifty-nine ofthese were built and sold between 1969 and 1970. That’s the end of the story todate, but it would not surprise me to see someone else pick up on this wonderfullittle bird that just won’t quit. It seems to keep being revived while many ofits 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 andmodels of aircraft, there have been, over the years, several Ercoupe/Aircoupeowner clubs. And these folks who have ‘coupes seem to have developed a muchstronger bond than other owner clubs. At any time more than one ‘couper can befound 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, Ibelonged to the Owners Association and regularly received a little bulletincalled “The Coupe Scoop” which was loaded with tips on flying andmaintaining the bird.

Atthe field where I was based at that time there were seven Ercoupes and wepracticed flying in formation, all without radio communication (only three of ushad radios in our airplanes). In fact we all flew 150 miles to watch aperformance of the Blue Angels, and when the show was over we departed information. The audience thought we were part of the show. On this occasion therewere nine of us and we set up a V of Vs in tight formation and flew all the wayhome 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 andloyalty 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 asubsidiary of McGraw-Hill) published the definitive work on the Ercoupe. It waswritten by Stanley G. Thomas with a forward by Fred Weick and is still availablefor those interested the complete history of the coupe.

Finally, a few years ago while at Oshkosh, standing in line at one of thefood tents, I found myself behind an extremely tall guy. He turned around andthere was his name tag on his chest at my eye level. It read “FredWeick.” I introduced myself as one of his biggest fans and we sat downtogether and chatted for an hour. This was one of the highlights of myexperience.

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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