Post World War II, the state-of- the-art for a personal airplane was a basic, two-seat taildragger of modest horsepower and tube-and-rag construction. Wood, as often as not, was a major airframe constituent and IFR flight was something not even all the airlines practiced.
Still, as the war wound down, manufacturers like Aeronca, Cessna, Piper and Taylorcraft were putting the finishing touches on new designs they were convinced would be market leaders. Wartime training had turned out scores of thousands of pilots, most of whom it was thought would want something to fly when they got home.
But, as it turned out, most returning pilots just wanted to settle down and raise a family; they’d had enough flying for one lifetime.
While the hoped-for boom in demand for personal airplanes went bust, anticipated competition resulted in some classic designs: The Cessna 120/140, the Piper PA-11/12 and the Taylorcraft series come to mind, all of which remain popular today. And many—though by no means all—have seen a renewed interest, thanks to the FAA’s light sport aircraft rules. Of them, the Taylorcraft is among the types with the longest production history, new, non-LSA-compliant models having been produced as recently as the 1990s. Though it’s unclear how many—if any—new Taylorcraft will be manufactured moving forward, service parts are available, as is some level of factory support, based on experience from Taylorcraft owners we spoke with.
Meanwhile, the Taylorcraft’s simplicity and low operating costs, combined with many models’ LSA compliance, make a highly affordable fun flyer for pilots who want to operate an airplane for pocket change and who are content to putt around the pattern or venture off on short cross-country flights.
The Taylorcraft’s brand, ownership and production histories read just as you might expect for this child of the 1930s and 1940s. It was designed by C. G. Taylor, the very same guy responsible for Piper’s Cub. In the early 1930s, Taylor teamed with money-man William T. Piper; what the two came up with was known as the Taylor Cub. But—in a development familiar within the industry—the principals soon had a falling out and went their separate ways.
But Taylor stuck with the idea of developing his brand, and the Model A Taylorcraft—a 40-HP two-seater closely resembling a J-3 Cub, but with side-by-side seating—soon hit the market in 1936. Then, on April 5, 1939, the Model BC was type-certificated. The newer Taylorcraft had control wheels in place of the Cub’s sticks and an entirely different wing.
These first Taylorcraft airplanes began to appear in substantial numbers in 1939 and 1940, just as the Great Depression was ending and World War II was beginning. The BC—a Model B airframe powered by a Continental engine—was soon joined by a Franklin-powered Model BF and the Model BL, powered by—you guessed it—a Lycoming. Originally sporting a 50-HP Continental A-50-1 engine, the BC model was soon upgraded to the BC-65, powered by an A-65-1.
Likewise, the BF started life with a 50-HP Franklin 4AC-150, which also came in an olive drab paint scheme as the United States Army’s L-2G. It was powered by a Franklin 4AC-171.
Similar Lycoming engine variations resulted in the BL and BL-65 (Army L-2F) variants. Regardless, few of these pre-war airplanes retain the original engines, with the vast majority now flying behind Continental powerplants, with 100-HP, O-200 variants being a popular upgrade.
In spring 1941, with war looming, the BC12-65 (L-2H), BF12-65 (L-2K) and BL12-65 (L-2J) were introduced. In addition to some minor structural modifications, this revision also featured an elevator trim tab. More important: Better-quality steel was used in the fuselage tubing.
Civilian production was suspended during the war but resumed in 1946 with the BC12-D. A Franklin engine would not power a factory-new Taylorcraft again, while Lycomings wouldn’t reappear until after ownership changes and other drama, in 1980.
According to the TCDS, the “D” model was the same “as Model BC12-65 except for alternate tail surface, revised aileron travel, alternate one-piece windshield and other miscellaneous structural and non-structural changes.”
One of those changes was installation of a six-gallon fuel tank in a wing, complementing the 12-gallon tank mounted between the firewall and instrument panel, a design in place since the first Taylorcrafts.
Riding the wave of post-war prosperity, thousands of Taylorcraft were built that year; the majority of older BC12-Ds are 1946 models. But in what was to become a familiar refrain for Taylorcraft and other companies hoping to cash in on the mythical post-war aviation boom, the company went bankrupt. Soon, though, it was reorganized and continued building the BC12 series with 65- and 85-HP engines.
Throughout these years, a seaplane version also was available alongside the wheeled models (e.g., BCS12D-85, type certificated in 1948). Significantly, no Taylorcraft landplane model produced up to this point featured a maximum gross takeoff weight exceeding 1320 pounds, making them all compliant for operation under the FAA’s light sport aircraft standard.
Another detail regarding Taylorcraft’s early history: In 1938, Taylorcraft Aeroplanes Ltd. was established in Leicestershire, England, to manufacture airplanes under license. That company developed the Taylorcraft Model D and the Auster Mk. I through Mk. V, which were used extensively by the British during World War II as observation platforms. A name change to Auster Aircraft Limited occurred in 1946, and the company was merged into Beagle Aircraft in 1960. By 1968, the Auster name was dropped altogether, but numerous aircraft were developed from the basic model C.G. Taylor first designed in 1936.
The Model 19, an improved version, was type-certificated on June 20, 1951; a couple of hundred were sold before the company again went bankrupt for the last time in 1957. The Model 19 had the Continental C85-12 85-HP engine, a gross weight boosted 300 pounds—to 1500, removing it from the LSA category—a three-tank, 24-gallon fuel system replacing the older 12- and 18-gallon designs, an overhead skylight, better brakes, a bigger baggage compartment and other improvements.
The late 1950s might have seen the end of the Taylorcraft but, improbably, it was resurrected once again by a former dealer named Charles Feris. As has happened before in the GA market, Feris was a Taylorcraft bug and spent years tracking down parts, tooling and jigs following the bankruptcy sale. Feris assembled a group of Taylorcraft old timers, at least some of whom dated back to the days of C.G. Taylor himself, and began building the airplane at the old factory in Alliance, Ohio.
Along the way, he got the FAA to approve a Continental O-200-A 100-HP engine installation and rechristened the airplane the Model F19, which was granted a type certificate on July 3, 1973. Although Charles Feris died that year, his widow, Doris, kept the company operating.
In 1980, the F19 underwent yet more design changes with the introduction of a 118-HP (maximum horsepower limited to five minutes) Lycoming O-235-L2C, designated the Model F21, which yielded a cruise speed of 110 knots, a real speedster for this class of airplane. In context, the F21 appeared after the great GA sales peak of the late 1970s, but before the mid-1980s market meltdown.
The F21A earned its type certificate on November 15, 1982. The big news was removing the fuselage-mounted 12-gallon fuel tank and installing a 42-gallon fuel system—two 21-gallon wing-mounted tanks—along with other minor changes.
The fuel system changes alone greatly improved the new model’s crashworthiness. Soon, the F21B was approved, in 1985, still powered by a Lycoming O-235, but now sporting a whopping 1750-pound max gross weight.
Things got even more interesting after August 1, 1988, when the FAA approved the Model F22. According to the TCDS, the new entrant was “basically a Model F21B with the addition of wing flaps, wider doors, top-hinged windows, and fore and aft adjustable individual seats.” It retained the F21B’s 1750-pound gross weight.
To this point, all Taylorcraft models had been two-seat taildraggers, still made principally of fabric stretched over a steel-tube fuselage frame. While the basic fuselage and covering didn’t change for the F22A, the landing gear did: This model, introduced in early 1991, came with tricycle gear. Gross weight was the same, making for a slightly reduced useful load. Of course, Taylorcraft aficionados rarely wanted the small wheel under the nose, so very few F22As were sold.
A year after the trike-geared F22A emerged, in 1992, the company brought out what might be the ultimate Taylorcraft: An F22 powered by a 180-HP Lycoming O-360-A4M. This model, the F22B, was somewhat popular as a bush airplane. Another model, the F22C, a tricycle-gear version of the F22B, was brought out for 1992, also, but by this time the end was near. The Alliance factory continued to build the F22/A/B/C models until 1994, but then shut down.
In 2002, a Texas car dealer named Harry Ingram bought the type certificates, formed Taylorcraft Aviation and opened up a new facility in a defunct cabinet factory at the La Grange, Texas, Airport. As we reported back in the December 2004 issue of Aviation Consumer, Ingram planned to offer four models, including the F22 Classic for $59,995, the F22A Tracker for $63,995, the F22B Trooper for $69,995 and the F22C Ranger at $73,995. Also in 2004, and hoping to cash in on the then-nascent LSA market, the company announced the Taylor Sport, essentially the 1946 airplane manufactured to 2004 standards and powered by a 100-HP Continental O-200 engine, 42-gallon fuel capacity and a claimed top speed of 127 MPH. First deliveries were expected in January of 2005.
But none of that happened. In early 2008, Ingram’s company was repossessed by Taylorcraft 2000, which had owned at least some of the type certificates. That twist apparently left several owners in a bind, especially in the aftermath of two airworthiness directives issued in 2007 and 2008 (more below), addressing wing struts and their attach points. While Ingram’s company apparently had FAA part manufacturing authority (PMA) to produce struts and other components, Taylorcraft 2000 did not.
In 2009, type certificates, tooling, parts and other materials associated with the Taylorcraft brand went up for sale by Taylorcraft 2000. According to Scott Ruffner, contact person for Taylorcraft 2000 at the time, the company “cannot manufacture new parts or pieces, and can only sell parts manufactured by Harry Ingram’s former company, Taylorcraft Aviation,” he told Aviation Consumer in an interview back in 2009.
Ruffner added that the question of whether any parts will be manufactured in the future will be up to the company’s new owners, whoever they may be. This is a bit of a mystery today.
While preparing this report, we tried to contact the company at the phone number listed on its website, www.taylorcraft.com, but nobody answered. We also sent several emails, which were unreturned. According to the website, the company still goes by Taylorcraft 2000, LLC, and is located in Brownsville, Texas.
Nevertheless, the website shows that many parts and drawings are available. It also lists two Light Sport models—the 37-HP Continental A-40-powered Taylor Cub and the 100-HP Continental O-200-powered Taylor Sport. It also shows two certified models, the familiar BC-series and the F-series.
A Taylorcraft forum, www.taylorcraft.org, has discussions about folks visiting the factory, but the threads are outdated.
Did we mention the Taylorcraft is a simple airplane? Like most designs with their roots in the 1930s, all models are built around a welded steel fuselage and conventional ribbed wings. The structure is then covered with fabric. Cable-operated control surfaces also are fabric-covered, though the pair of yokes in the cockpit—instead of sticks—is a decidedly uncommon feature for this type of airplane.
Systems are simple. Early airplanes had no electrical systems, but the later Alliance-manufactured airplanes were equipped with both electrical and vacuum systems. As noted, fuel capacity varies by model year with some models having both fuselage and wing fuel, some just fuselage fuel and the later models wing fuel only.
Again, like most designs of its era, the Taylorcraft won’t be mistaken for a luxury ride. Two adults of average size will bump shoulders in the cockpit and all but the shortest occupants will find their knees crowding the instrument panel; headroom is also tight, although adequate.
You’ll probably want a noise canceling headset when flying it. The early ones are terrifically noisy and owners tell us the later models aren’t much better. When the weather turns cool, bring a sweater; the cabin heat isn’t especially good, at least by modern standards, and the cabin can be drafty.
As taildraggers go, the T-craft is not especially pleasant to fly. Aileron control tends to be stiff and on the sluggish side, and adverse yaw is pronounced. Pilots wishing to learn the importance of rudder control would do well to log a little Taylorcraft time.
Owners tell us the airplane is widely known as a floater on approach and landing, primarily due to its unusually low wing loading of barely six pounds per square foot. That’s less than some low-performance gliders. By comparison, the Cessna 150, no slouch in gliding flight, has a wing loading of 10 pounds per square foot.
In general, gusty crosswinds are the nemesis of taildragger pilots and that’s especially true for the T-craft, again because of that low wing loading. As with a high-performance airplane, pilots have to nail the proper approach speed: If it’s planted on at too fast a speed, it will bounce, balloon and become a real handful to control, as taildraggers are wont to do.
Planting it on hard in a three-point attitude is not helpful if the speed is too fast, for the airplane will happily bounce back into the air and continue flying. Thanks to that fat wing, approach speeds in the 50- to 55-MPH range are the norm, say owners, and even at that, it has a flat glide angle that takes some getting used to.
There are no wing flaps—except for the F22 models—but the airplane can be readily slipped and with a little practice, a skilled pilot can put it right on the numbers every time. Any pilot with Cub, Luscombe or Stinson time will adapt to the Taylorcraft easily. Tri-gear pilots with no taildragger time are advised to get a thorough checkout from a knowledgeable instructor. Or buy one of the tri-gear versions, if you can find one, but be prepared to lose out on some of the fun from owning this class of airplane.
Among some with aerobatic aspirations, a popular mod is to shorten the Taylorcraft’s wings. The so-called “clipped-wing” mod—accomplished by removing the wings along with a few feet from their roots, then reinstalling them—should alleviate some of the float on landing, but also requires different technique. Depending on how and where the wing-clipping occurs, along with other changes, the result may place the airframe in the Experimental category.
Compared to other airplanes of the era, the Taylorcraft’s strong point is performance. C.G. Taylor saw his design as a cheap “high-performance” airplane; thus, it’s much faster than Piper’s J-3. With a 65-HP engine, the T-craft will scoot along at about 95 MPH while the 85-HP engine makes 100 MPH attainable.
The newer F-19 models with the 100-HP Continental will hit 115 to 120 MPH, leaving a yellow Cub in the dust and even giving later models, such as the Cessna 150, a run for the money. The 180-HP models, if you can find one, improve on all that, of course, but they aren’t competitive with other, more modern 180-HP designs.
Rate of climb is also quite good—say from 500 FPM to 800 FPM initially—depending on aircraft weight and power loading. That’s decent performance against anything and the airplane will come out of short and turf fields without complaint. Indeed, it’s probably more at home on such fields.
Climb speed is about the same as the approach speed, about 55 to 60 MPH, yielding a reasonable climb angle with a view over the nose.
In turbulence, the Taylorcraft does better than most airplanes, even considering the low wing loading. The 23012 airfoil provides excellent pitch stability but, as you’d expect, the ride can be bumpy. Cross-country trips of more than a couple of hours may prove trying on green air days.
If you’re interested in such trips, the Taylorcraft is better than most at flying them. With the 12-gallon tank, figure on 200 miles, in still air. With a later BC12D model and 18-gallon capacity, the range extends to 350 miles. The 19 and F19 versions carry 19 gallons, which allows them to easily keep pace, rangewise at least, with modern two-seaters.
In terms of efficiency, the 65-HP Taylorcraft gets better mileage than any non-experimental design we can think of, short of a powered glider or new-age airplanes such as Diamond’s DA40 diesel-powered Star. A speed of 95 MPH on four gallons per hour works out to about 24 MPG, outdoing even the vaunted Mooney 201.
Given its simplicity, there’s not much to go wrong in a Taylorcraft. The engine may require the most attention, with routine plug and oil changes, and magneto inspections. Very few owners fly enough to run out an engine—TBOs on the newer models are between 1800 and 2000 hours. Figure overhaul costs of $10,000 to $12,000.
We think anyone contemplating a fabric airplane should have a hangar available. The elements are brutal on fabric and even harder on the underlying tube steel structure. Nothing can turn a $500 Taylorcraft annual into one costing 10 times as much faster than finding corrosion in the steel. And anyone shopping for a fabric aircraft should have the fabric thoroughly punch-tested. If it’s found wanting, that will be a huge hit against the asking price.
Before 2007, asking a T-craft owner about ADs usually resulted in chuckling. Up to then, there were only six airworthiness directives against the entire line; the latest one was in 1987, and called for inspection and replacement of the oil pressure gauge hose. Before that, AD 78-20-11 required inspection of the aileron control stop pins. The other ADs, dating to the late 1940s and early 1950s, are too minor to be worth mentioning.
That changed in 2007 when the FAA issued AD 2007-16-14 after a float-equipped BF12-65 crashed on July 28, 2007, in Oregon, killing both occupants.
The NTSB found the accident’s probable cause to include corrosion, fatigue fracture and subsequent separation of the left wing lift strut attachment fitting.
The AD required owners to inspect wing struts for corrosion or cracks and to replace any damaged struts with original (vented) parts or new, sealed ones. After an initial eddy current or ultrasound inspection, additional inspections were to occur every 24 months.
In 2008, however, the FAA determined a radiograph inspection of the struts should be accomplished instead of the eddy current procedure (the ultrasound inspection remained). A new action, AD 2008-04-09, was developed and replaced the eddy current inspection. The new action superseded AD 2007-16-14. Installing new, sealed struts was a terminating action under the AD.
But that wasn’t enough, apparently, so the FAA three months later issued AD 2008-09-18, which required ultrasound and radiograph inspection of the wing strut attach fittings for cracks and corrosion.
In particular, the FAA was concerned about airplanes to which floats or skis had been fitted at any point during their service; owners of ski- or float-equipped airplanes had only 30 days to comply, while those with airplanes only on wheels had 90. Both 2008 ADs incorporate separate factory service bulletins, which are available free from the factory’s website, www.taylorcraft.com.
Parts and support—both overall and to comply with the 2008 ADs—are available from Wag-Aero (www.wagaero.com) and from Univair (www.univair.com), both companies with a long history of serving the classic airplane market. As noted, the Taylorcraft Owner’s Club and Foundation offers information on history, modifications, technical advice and the like.
My father has used the BC12-D Taylorcraft for primary student instruction continuously since 1949.
Of all the similar aircraft on the market at the time, the Taylorcraft models were available at a very reasonable cost, are easy to maintain, only a handful of ADs apply, they feature a modern side-by-side cockpit with a wheel and are less susceptible in crosswinds. That’s because they come with firm landing gear that will take quite a bit of side load when compared to others.
Cost of operation is minimal at 4.5 GPH, the engines are nearly bulletproof and the airframe will demonstrate most any flight maneuver, including limited aerobatics. Duane Cole, Margaret Ritchie and Randy Henderson have certainly used the airplanes to their advantage during their airshow careers.
Dad had a new student who, after his first lesson, was shown the advantages and disadvantages of fabric versus metal airplanes. Dad explained that a metal airplane is subject to corrosion and possibly unrepairable damage in a hail storm, while a fabric airplane could survive small hail with no noticeable damage or be easily recovered after a severe storm. He did mention that fabric was more prone to vandalism as he punctured the fuselage with a knife and cut the fabric from tail to nose, rendering the aircraft unairworthy.
The new student was obviously shocked and never returned, unaware that this airplane was due for new fabric anyway.
My father is one of the rare career instructors in the world who was more interested in really teaching the student about safety and good judgment, rather than taking their money while advancing toward another goal. The Taylorcraft is the perfect vehicle to teach a student how to “fly,” while nosewheel trainers create “drivers.”
I wanted an affordable airplane that would be easy to maintain and enjoyable to fly. During the restoration, my goal was to not only create an airworthy aircraft, but to keep it as original as possible. Since completion, I’ve enjoyed taking it to many shows where others have shared my appreciation for Taylorcrafts. While not a Grand Champion, it’s received many awards at a variety of shows.
Direct operating costs are very reasonable, even with the higher cost of fuel. I use autofuel except on trips, due to availability. I would calculate an engine reserve at $2 per hour based on 2000 hours with a $4000 overhaul cost. Fabric reserve would approximate $1.28 per hour with an average 125 hours annually for 25 years.
In my Taylorcraft, there are no avionics to worry about, just a handheld VHF and GPS. That brings the direct hourly costs to $11.23. I’m fortunate that my annual inspections are very affordable due to the fact I am an A&P and am assisted by a very close friend with an IA.
I’ve owned four Taylorcraft, including my current 1946 BC12D. It was completely rebuilt in 1988. I installed a turbine wind alternator and added an auto fuel STC, which makes it very inexpensive to operate. I use a Garmin portable GPS, an ICOM handheld comm radio and portable intercom, plus a 12-volt, 7-amp battery.
It’s a nice flyer, inexpensive and easy to operate. It burns about 4 GPH and cruises about 90 MPH with a climb propeller and 105 MPH with a standard propeller. I have a short home grass strip, so I use a climb prop (41×74) and, on occasion, a 46×72 for higher cruise.
The Taylorcraft is cheap to operate, easy to work on and can carry two people in relative comfort, if you don’t mind being close.
My aircraft holds 50 pounds of baggage and I also have the 12-gallon nose tank plus two six-gallon wing tanks, giving me 24 gallons or about six hours flying time to empty. Most times I only fill one wing tank to use as a reserve. This gives me about an hour and a half after the nose tank goes dry.
I think the Taylorcraft is a good-looking, very fine flying machine. I have owned over 20 airplanes in my 50 years of flying, with nearly 10,000 hours flying time. I hold a SEL/SES-MEL, instrument and CFI, so I have flown many different aircraft during my flying career and still believe the Taylorcraft is one of the best buys today.
Lee and Shirley Dautreuil
New Iberia, Louisiana
My airplane is a 1946 BC12-D with a 65-HP Continental A-65-8 engine, 24-gallon fuel capacity and a 1200-pound gross weight. A complete rebuild was completed in November 2001.
As you are aware, this aircraft meets the light sport aircraft rule definitions and is the most economical and practical fun flying you can buy at 4.2 GPH and true 90 MPH speed.