In the modern era of slick glass airplanes, the Ercoupe is a throwback. On the ramp, its likely to generate a range of responses from oh, thats cute to boy, that sure is small. One owner we heard from describes his Coupe as a babe magnet.
We can understand why. Theres nothing quite like the Ercoupe-or, depending on the year, Aircoupe. Dating to the post-war years, it was one of the first affordable low-wing airplanes and represented something the market hadnt seen much of: a sporty low-wing airplane with a jaunty canopy that could be opened in flight.
These days, the venerable Coupe remains one of the cheapest ways to get into the air. A nicely kept up late-model Ercoupe retails for $16,000, although a pristine restored model may sell for more. Earlier models can be had for $10,000 or less but prospective buyers should watch out for basket cases in that price range.
Find a decent example, however, and you get a fun airplane suitable for Saturday-afternoon joyrides on nice days or modest cross country trips. But Coupes are slow and dont carry much so many owners weve corresponded with have a second airplane for going places.
First of all, is it Aircoupe or Ercoupe? It depends on who you talk to and also the year of manufacture. The airplane has a long, complex history with on-again, off-again production dating back to the heady days after World War II, when thousands of returning Air Corp pilots had a hankering to stay in the air in something.
The first model had actually appeared before the war, in 1939, and was manufactured by the Engineering Research Corp., which is where the ER in Ercoupe comes from. Limited production continued on the airplane through 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor brought all U.S. civil production to a standstill. Some 112 were built before the war.
After VJ Day, Engineering Research got in high gear and pumped out more than 4000 75 HP Coupes in 1946, an impressive volume second only to Mr. Pipers Cub. (Actual production began in 1945). These models are known as the 415-C and they have a four-cylinder Continental C-75-12. (Many have been converted to C-85-12 engines.) Even during 1946, ER was busy engineering many improvements to the Ercoupe and aficionados say the models built in late 1946 are the better choice.
Production of the 415-C, D, E and G models continued until 1950, totaling about 5000 aircraft. Model changes in the C and D were minimal but the D model got a weight increase to 1400 (up from 1260 pounds) pounds by limiting up elevator travel. The C and D had 75-HP engines while the E and G had 85-HP powerplants. The E and G models also had split elevators.
After the post-war boom died in 1950, the Ercoupe type certificates were sold to Univair, which didnt build any complete airplanes but did support the airplane with new parts. In 1958, a company called Forney took over production rights and introduced a spruced-up model called the Fornair F-1 Aircoupe.
The F-1 Coupe had a 90-HP Continental C-90-12F but otherwise retained most of the design features that ER had developed. Forney built a couple of hundred airframes before again retiring production in 1960. A few more airplanes trickled out until 1962.
Rights to the airplane got handed around like a used car for awhile before being purchased by Alon, Inc., which built 245 airplanes between 1962 and 1967. Alons have a bubble canopy rather than the sliding windows found in the earlier models.
Surprisingly, the line was then sold to Mooney-yes, Mooney-which made major modifications to the airframe, including a single tail in place of the originals P-38-like twin-fin design and retained the rudder pedals which Alon had actually added when it took over the design. (You can add pedals to any Ercoupe via a kit sold through Univair for about $1100.)
Mooney had in mind a basic trainer and called the revised model the Cadet. But it wasnt much of a seller. Only 118 airplanes were made between 1967 and 1970.
By 1973, the design had come full circle. Rights were sold back to Univair, the same company that had bought the design from Engineering Research back in 1950. As before-and still-Univair supported the airplane with new parts production. All told, nearly 5800 Coupes were built, with the last one coming out of the Mooney plant in 1970. For all practical purposes, however, the majority of Ercoupes were built between 1945 and 1952.
Design High Points
The Ercoupe was considered a radical design for the time and was conceived by famed designer Fred Weick, who went on to create the enormously successful Cherokee series for Piper. At a time when most civil aircraft were covered in fabric stretched over welded tubular frames, the Coupe was an all-metal, riveted design but with fabric-covered wings on early models, later changed to all-metal.
The Ercoupe had a pair of vertical fins on a single tail boom, reminiscent of the famed P-38 Lighting of World War II fame. And although the Ercoupe had rudders, it had no rudder pedals. The cockpit floor in an early Coupe has but one pedal, for the brakes.
Weick set out to confront two safety issues of the day: stall/spins and groundloops. That meant the Ercoupe was one of the first civil aircraft with a nosewheel, the thinking being that it would be easier to land. It took the rest of the industry another decade to adopt this obviously visionary idea.
Further, the Ercoupe had a collar on the control column that limited elevator up travel, Weicks theory being that if you couldnt get the nose too high, you couldnt stall the airplane. And if you couldnt cross control-remember, no rudder pedals-you couldnt spin it, either. The airplane has rudder control, but they were automatically coordinated with the ailerons through a mechanical linkage.
The no-stall, no-spin philosophy drove the design entirely. The restricted elevator travel required a nearly constant CG so the Ercoupe had side-by-side seating. The lack of rudder controls presented a theoretical problem on crosswind landings, so Weicks solution was a rugged trailing-beam gear design that allowed the airplane to be plunked down in crosswinds, without the usual side-slip correction. Owners say the gear is more than beefy enough to stand the load of landing in a crab and control authority is sufficient to keep the airplane tracking correctly once its on the pavement. You can do a bad landing in an Ercoupe but it takes effort to damage the gear.
Rudder purists sneered, but the Ercoupe was successfully tested in crosswinds up to 40 MPH, far beyond the capability of most aircraft then or now. True, it took nerve to drive the thing on in a stiff crosswind but the gear proved up to the task.
Indeed, when Boeing came along with its first jetliner, the 707, it used the lowly Ercoupe to train pilots to land the new airplane. Because of its low-slung engine pods, the 707 couldnt be slipped, either. Pilots had to learn to land it in a crab and ride out the rubber-induced correction.
The twin-tail design also resulted from the no-rudder philosophy and probably not the inspiration of the P-38.
Since you couldnt count on right rudder to counteract torque effect during climb out, Weick simply designed out the torque influence. Obviously, the twisting prop blast on the vertical fin is the major source of left yawing tendency. Weicks decision to use two vertical fins on the horizontal stabilizer put the fins outside the prop blast, neutralizing any left yawing tendencies. Very clever.
And, in fact, the initial design was good enough not to require much meaningful fiddling. Rudder pedals were made available as an option in 1949, mostly as a psychological crutch to entice pilots who thought a real airplane had to have two pedals on the floor.
Actually, the airplane developed somewhat of a sissy image for its lack of rudder pedals. The blasted thing was too easy to fly, suggesting that anyone who would own one didnt have the right stuff at a time when the phrase hadnt even been coined yet. This is an absurd state of affairs, of course, and one that seems to dog every radical safety idea, up to and including the ballistic parachute that Cirrus is installing in its modern composite aircraft.
Some flight schools hated the Ercoupe because it was so easy to fly. To solo in a mere five hours was common and one student reportedly took the airplane out on his own after an hour-and-a-half. Horrors! No real pilot should be able to do that.
After a series of minor engineering changes, the Forney airplanes got all-metal wings in place of the ER fabric wings. Some say this wasnt an improvement and makes the airplane more vulnerable to corrosion. Alon added a sliding canopy, replacing the earlier slide-up/down windows. Some Ercoupe fans say its debatable if this is an improvement.
Reverting back to high-testosterone thinking, Mooney revamped the Ercoupes sissy image by installing a single tail-complete with the trademark backward vertical leading edge and angled trailing edge. The Cadet also had standard rudder pedals, enough elevator authority to actually stall briskly and even stall strips, so the airplane would stall like a real airplane.
With its fighter-like twin tails and somewhat sleek design, the Ercoupe looks fast to some eyes. It isnt. But it aint bad, either. For all its clever design ideas, the Ercoupe turned out to have middling aerodynamics. The wing is a fat, low-aspect ratio profile thats excellent for slow speed and stall characteristics but lousy for climb and cruise.
A 75-HP Coupe will struggle climbing above 4000 feet on a warm day with two people aboard; its not bad solo. One owner said his 85-HP model with a climb prop loves the ground. He noted that if you put two people and some baggage aboard, you know youre really carrying a major load. They claim 500 FPM for the first five minutes, but mine never does that well. I dont see how some of those early 65-HP models even flew.
Like other airplanes of the day, such as the J-3 Cub and Champion, the Ercoupe is not an all-purpose machine, performance wise. The 75-HP models will be zippy enough for solo flying but if you want to do much two-person flying, try to find a 90-HP Alon model or, at the very least, an 85-HP version with a climb prop. Youll give up some cruise speed but fast cruise isnt what Ercoupes are about.
Then again, among the post-war designs, Ercoupes hold their own, and then some. Plan on around 100 MPH in a 75- and 85-HP models and perhaps 110 MPH in the 90-HP models. By comparison, youd be lucky to see 80 MPH in an early Cub and even late-model Cessna 150s struggle to make 110 MPH.
In most Ercoupe models, fuel capacity is 24 gallons, in two nine-gallon wing tanks and a five-gallon header tank behind the panel. An engine-driven pump sends fuel from the wing tanks to the header tank, from where it gravity feeds to the carburetor. Like an early Cessna, theres no fuel tank selection, just a simple on/off switch located on the cockpit sidewall.
By modern standards, this fuel design is a no-no. The on/off selector is fine but having that much gas inside the cockpit is a bad idea, in our view, and the Ercoupes tendency toward post-crash fires supports this contention. In modern designs, fuel lines inside the cabin are kept to a minimum and are usually well protected inside of beefy structural members of some kind.
So whats it like to fly an airplane with no rudder pedals, a canopy/windows you can open in flight and systems straight out of the 1940s? Different, to say the least. Then again, thats what attracts owners to the Ercoupe in the first place. Its not your average spam can.
Generally, the Coupe is a good flyer with appealing handling characteristics. It has full-span ailerons-no flaps-so roll response is far snappier than other airplanes of the same era. The rapid rate of descent allows for precise and impressive short-field landings but if youre not careful, the same trait can put you in the weeds short of the approach end of the runway.
Owners tell us the Coupe is quite easy to land. In calm air, the trailing beam gear is forgiving, soaking up the too-high arrival rate of a ham-fisted pilot. In a bouncy crosswind, just crab the airplane into the wind and touchdown as you would with no crosswind. The airplane will reliably right itself on the runway and the rest is easy.
Luddites who insist on having rudder pedals can find a model so equipped but one owner of a pedal-equipped Ercoupe says he crabs it onto the runway anyway. Another owner who contacted us thinks the rudder pedal mod is actually dangerous because its not connected to the nosewheel and may confuse pilots about ground handling. On the ground, you drive the Ercoupe like a car, steering with the control yoke, not the pedals.
A top concern for anyone buying a 50-year-old airplane is parts availability. Fortunately, any model that was built in the thousands-as the Ercoupe was-is usually still around in sufficient quantity to represent a profitable market for parts makers.
For Ercoupe owners, the best source of parts continues to be Univair, which holds the type certificate for the airplane and makes most structural parts. Another company, Skyport Aircoupe Services-which shares quarters with American Champion (800-624-5312)-specializes in Ercoupe parts and accessories and is a cornucopia of coup-iana. A good owner club for support of Ercoupes can be found at www.ercoupe.org.
As with any older aircraft, the largest area of concern with an Ercoupe is corrosion. Buy the wrong airframe and you could face potentially uneconomic repair costs. Since many Ercoupes have and continue to live outdoors, water incursion is a worry.
Water tends to leak into the fuselage and corrode the belly skins. The tail cone and wing spar lower caps are also corrosion-prone areas. Mice can also be destructive. It should go without saying that on a pre-buy, the inspecting mechanic should check the airplane carefully for corrosion.
In previous Used Aircraft Guides on the Ercoupe and other older aircraft, experts in the field have constantly warn away from bargain buys. Said one Ercoupe guru, There are no bargains. Youve got a 40-year-old airplane that has to be treated like an antique. Its all some people can do just to put gas and oil in it.
Even if youre a careful buyer whos meticulous about maintenance, the guy who owned the airplane before you-or make that guys in the multiple plural-may have been a skinflint. If the airplane has fabric wings, it may be smart to factor in a recover as part of the buy-in budget. When that work is done, the wings can be thoroughly inspected for corrosion.
Another common problem in Ercoupe is the nosewheel, especially the singe-fork models on the earlier airplanes. Decades of student landings and abuse and side loading due to crabbed landings in crosswinds will take a toll. Shimmy can be a problem due to loose or worn nosewheel linkages.
Look for the double-fork nosewheel and check the linkage. Some Ercoupes have been converted from the single fork design. If that hasnt been done, it may be worth considering, although some owners say the single-fork is fine.
Main gear struts can also be a problem, again due to the pounding of student operation or years of use. The shock struts can seize up if theyre too low on fluid and landing forces are transmitted directly to the wing spar center section. Check it for damage and look for a reinforcement gusset that has been retrofitted to many airplanes.
Check for unrepaired damage. One accident was triggered by wingtip damage that had simply been Bondoed over. As older airplanes go, the Ercoupe isnt overburdened with a huge number of ADs but one to check for is AD 59-5-4, which calls for beefing up the rear spar where the outer wing panel attaches. Non-compliance with this AD can be a killer.
Owners tell us the Ercoupe is what it is: a fun, easy-to-fly airplane with few bad habits thats a good choice for a starter airplane. On the other hand, a prospective buyer shouldnt go into the deal looking for a steal. If you find a barn dweller for $8,000, it may be no bargain.
Of all the Ercoupe models to choose from, we think the later Alon and Forney models may be the better values, even if they cost a little more. Obviously, these arent spring chickens but theyre a little younger than the original 813 airplanes, which we think buyers should avoid unless the example is exceptionally clean.
The early airplanes had fabric wings-a plus for inspections-but the later models with metal wings have been equipped with inspection panels, so hidden corrosion is less of a worry. It can be found, if you look.
Last, dont expect too much of an Ercoupe. If you have places to be and things to do and serious cross country is on your list of desires, the Ercoupe is not a good choice. But its an imminently affordable and maintainable weekend fun flyer with a certain 1940s classic panache. And if its a babe magnet to boot, whats not to like?
I purchased N2679H (christened the Astrocoupe) in mid-1990 and have put about 800 hours on it in the last 12 years. I flight plan 95 to 100 MPH (depending on number of people) and 5.3 GPH. On a long cross country, I plan fuel stops at three-hour intervals. I have taken it to Oshkosh three times.
I was going to buy a Cessna 150 as my first airplane but a friend with a Mooney talked me into the Ercoupe. I have not regretted it. Theres nothing like cruising down to Nantucket at 1500 feet AGL on a nice day, with the top down and my arm hanging out the window. The top goes down in April and up in November. Most of my flying is local $100 hamburger trips of an hour or so.
The Ercoupe is very quick in roll with full span ailerons, has great visibility and is a lot of fun to fly. It does drop like a rock-well like a Cherokee Six-and if you are used to Cessnas, its a good idea to keep some power in until you learn its glide characteristics.
Also, the up elevator travel is limited to keep the airplane from stalling and its easy to get too slow too close to the ground to pick up speed and land softly. So start out by keeping the speed up until you learn your airplane. Once you figure it out, you can get into short fields. But getting out is harder.
I can land and stop in 500 feet but I do not land at any field shorter than 2000 feet if I want to get out again. Coupes with the O-200 engine upgrade climb better.
I have tried to make my airplane a little better each year and the work paid off last year when I won Outstanding Ercoupe at Airventure 2001. The main downside to an Ercoupe (over say a Cessna 150) is useful load.
The airplanes came out of the factory with no paint, fabric wings, no electrical system and wooden prop at about 800 pounds and a gross weight of 1260 pounds. My airplane has picked up metal wings, metal prop, electrics and so on and now weighs close to 900 pounds.
With 24 gallons of fuel on board, that means you have to look for a skinny girlfriend. The 415-D and later models (mine is a 415-C) have a gross weight of 1400 pounds (1450 pounds for the Alon) which helps. The first time I flew to Oshkosh with my wife, I shipped our luggage UPS.
One nice thing about the Coupe is that its very simple and parts are easy to find or make. I made new side and rear windows out of flat plastic stock and installed them myself using a bandsaw, drill press and simple hand tools.
Parts have not been a problem, Univair has most everything, although some of their new manufacture parts have not been that well built, in my estimation.
The Continental C-85 has given me little trouble but I had an oil leak last year and found the kidney oil tank is very difficult to weld and no new ones are available. I would not recommend a polished airplane unless you have a hangar and you like to polish more than fly. It takes me a few minutes a year to wax the painted portion of my plane and tens of hours to polish the rest. Insurance last year was $790 for $200,000K/$1 million and $18,000 hull.
Since Ercoupes were manufactured from the early 1940s through the early 1970s (Mooney), there are a lot of modifications included under the type certificate.Many have metalized wings, rudder pedals (not necessary), bubble windshield (ugly in my opinion but necessary to get the bigger Alon instrument panel in), oversize baggage compartments, big rear windows and every possible panel layout you can imagine.
Theres limited depth behind the panel because of the header fuel tank so many longer instruments will not fit. I replaced the original Goodyear brakes with Cleveland brakes and installed new radios, but most of my airplane is original.
I also replaced the rubber biscuits in the main gear with Belleville springs because my biscuits needed replacement each year. Its important to make sure the top of the vertical fin is at 75 inches to get stable ground handling.
The tail will droop if the biscuits need replacing or a larger front tire is installed. If you are looking at airplanes with early serial numbers, you need to be aware that they used a builtd-up (not cast) main gear and parts may be harder to come by. Also, there were several iterations of the fuel tanks and associated plumbing.
You can buy the service manuals and service bulletins from Univair fairly cheaply before you go looking for an airplane. Theres an AD to inspect the mechanical fuel pump each year, an AD that requires inspection holes to be cut in the underside of the wing (all airplanes should have had this done by now) and a new AD to add struts to brace the gascolator to the engine.
I have had a new Cirrus in the hangar since the summer and while its a great airplane, if the weather is warm and I have no special place to go, I still roll out the Astrocoupe and look for an expensive burger.
The Ercoupe offers a relatively affordable, fun and unique flying and ownership experience.In my view, when you buy an Ercoupe, you inherit a small piece of history and are a caretaker for that piece of history. I would wish for every Ercoupe to be appreciated for what it is, be properly maintained and passed on to the next owner with a bit of reverence.
Although the airplane is relatively simple, watch closely for corrosion, particularly in the wing spar and spar cap and wing center sections. Corrosion here can cost as much to fix as the airplane is worth. Other important factors are the engine time and condition and general maintenance. Airplanes that are flown regularly are a better bet than ones that are flown infrequently.
I feel that its always better to pay the extra dollar premium for an airplane that has been well maintained and is in good shape, particularly in a low-priced aircraft like the Ercoupe. Aircraft that need TLC are for those who have time and even more money to spend, and/or like to tinker.
In the 4 1/2 years I have owned my Ercoupe, I have had the usual maintenance squawks. I purchased it with 160 hours SMOH and 2100 hours total time. I have flown about 660 hours of VFR pleasure flying and trips. I enjoy going to most of the local fly-ins and running in the Aircraft Spruce sponsored air races.
Since the airplane is so affordable and relatively inexpensive to operate (5 gallons per hour), I can afford to fly whenever I want to.
My Ercoupe is a 1947 415-C/D converted to a D. Like many Ercoupes, it has had quite a number of mods. My Ercoupe has the big O-200 engine, rather than the original C-75 or C-85. I would encourage a potential buyer to select an Ercoupe with the C-90, O-200, or C-85 engine (with a climb prop) for climb performance.
Lightly loaded, I have taken off from Big Bear at 9300 feet density altitude, although I must point out that it was a marginal situation and certainly not something I would recommend.
With two on board, I generally plan on about a 25-minute time to climb to a cruising altitude of 8500 feet for my frequent cross country flights from Southern California to Northern California. The visibility provided by the bubble canopy is a greatly appreciated asset in the traffic pattern, particularly in busy airspace in poor visibility.
Although most Ercoupes have no rudder pedals, even relatively strong cross winds are no problem. The airplane has beefy and forgiving landing gear. Just land in a level crab on the main gear, then lower the nose and steer like a car. Its about as easy as flying can get.
One thing the pilot needs to be aware of is that like the Cherokee, a very high sink rate can develop power off below 80 MPH. Just keep the airplane at 75 MPH or carry a little power on short final and everything will be fine.
I plan on 90 knots airspeed, although I can get up to 100 knots if I push it hard. If you want significantly more speed, youll need to spend enough to buy at least two or three Ercoupes.
I have had the usual minor maintenance squawks you expect with any older airplane; Dead battery, exhaust leaks, minor oil leaks, rebuilt air box, rebuilt carb, cracked and broken muffler heat shroud, loose tail pipe and so on.
Parts seem to be readily available from either salvage or new sources and prices are reasonable by aircraft standards.All things considered, Id rather pay them more and have them stay in business so we can keep the Ercoupe flying for another 50 years.
Frankly, after having a number of A&Ps work on my airplane, I would encourage the owner to do as much of the grunt work as possible. Find a mechanic you can work with, open the airplane up, lube it, inspect as much as you are able, have the A&P supervise and do any real work. Then you can close it back up.
I would also strongly recommend that an Ercoupe owner have anti-corrosion treatments done every 18 to 24 months. Its a relatively inexpensive way to protect your investment and ensure that the Ercoupe will be around for years to come.
Obviously, we would all wish for more climb, speed and payload. However, its hard to fault the airplane given its vintage.It has been relatively affordable to own and operate, handles nicely, is easy to fly and has brought me great pleasure.