ERCO Ercoupe Light Sport Aircraft: Antique Flying Art

Developed by Fred Weick in 1937 as a modern ‘safety plane’, the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) Ercoupe (later Aircoupe) side-by-side two seat, mostly metal monoplane was far advanced for its time.

The many safety features such as high visibility cockpit, tricycle landing gear, twin tails, angled engine placement, elevator limits and interconnection of ailerons with rudders meant there were no rudder pedals and the plane was certified as charistically incapable of stalling or spinning.

WWII ceased production of the Ercoupe after only a few hundred examples just before the war as the ERCO factory capacity was contracted for vital war work.

You see military paint schemes on present day aircraft and that can be authentic as some did serve as submarine patrollers and trainers.

Here we see examples of JATO or Jet Assisted Takeoff rockets being developed and tested for the first time by the ERCO plane.

ERCO and every other manufacturer was running three shifts and producing large numbers of small aircraft in the certain belief that every man who was trained to fly by uncle Sam in the war would want to buy a plane and keep flying. But by 1946 everyone who wanted one had a plane and sales plummeted.

Alas for ERCO, Piper, Aeronca, Talorcraft and the rest, seems most GIs didn’t necessarily love flying and mostly wanted cars, houses and kids and the bottom fell out after 1946 when 4,311 LSA eligible 415 C Ercoupes were built at a cost of $2,665 usd, same as in 1941.

ERCO struggled on for some years but dropped small plane production after the market collapse and the type was sold to various supporters and manufacturers such as Alon, Univair and Forney. Some built small runs of improved Ercoupes, called Aircoupes by then, some of which sported rudder pedals, increased power, improved gear and canopy, and other upgrades. This means parts are readily available today.

Sadly, all the improvements involved increased gross weight, removing the later models from eligibility for Sport Pilot flying, requiring at least the Private license.

The type is to this day a solid sport plane choice and affordable at around $15-30k usd depending on condition and engine time. The 75 hp Continental is reliable and lasts for many years / hours. But being certificated it is very expensive to replace or repair.

The aircraft is from a bygone era and safety features available on more modern types such as safety ballistic parachutes are not available. And for a ‘safety plane’ the type’s crash and survivability data is no better than others of the era, perhaps because less adept pilots are drawn to the supposed ease of flight.

And while it can’t stall or spin it can get into a dangerous steep mushing descent which can be a hazard. Too, learning to fly an Aircoupe does not prepare the pilot for crosswind landings which require adroit rudder use in a normal plane but which the Ercoupe/Aircoupe handles with stout trailing link gear allowing it to be plonked down slightly off line in high winds without tearing off the undercarriage.

But the ERCO Ercoupe/ Alon Aircoupe et al is one of the few planes of that era, assuming it sports the improved (though heavier) metal surfaced wing, capable of using cheap outdoor tiedowns. It flies beautifully and gives the pilot and crew mondo foot and leg room because no rudder pedals (on most). And assuming you can avoid the wing spar corrosion problem the plane is probably a good investment at these prices.

As lovely as the Ercoupe is as a flying work of vintage kinetic art it would not be my choice of LSA. A big part of my flying joy is to look straight down to see all the tiny houses, cars, cows, towns and natural features. When you look down when flying a low winger you get a great view of the top of your wing. Not for me.

It looks like a kid’s idea of an airplane in 1941, like a plane in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is an icon of aviation’s Golden Age.

Images copyrighted by, the aircraft’s owner, or wikipedia.

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