Air: Handling the Aeronca

(by David F Ogilvy)

With the present tendency towards over complication it is interesting to handle an aeroplane that can truly be called the essence of simplicity. I refer to the Aeronca 100, produced originally in the thirties by the Aeronautical Corporation of America and subsequently built in small numbers in this country at Horsey Toll, near Peterborough.

Although several specimens exist in various states of dilapidation, only three appear to have current Certificates of Airworthiness, and two of these were present at the Vintage Aeroplane Club Rally at Denham on January 19th. On the following morning I grasped the opportunity of flying one of these; this machine, G-AEWU of 1937 brew, was acquired by PJ Colbourne about eighteen months ago and has been rebuilt by him to a remarkably high standard.

With a slightly cramped cockpit seating two side-by-side and powered by a diminutive fiat-twin JAP engine that develops 36 bhp, the Aeronca is a very straightforward pylon-braced high-wing monoplane offering an economy of operation that probably never has been equalled. Within, the only movable items apart from the flying controls are the throttle, ignition switches and an on/off fuel selector; there is no trimmer, mixture control, parking brake, flap lever or any other knob that one associates with the average light aeroplane.

Starting is by the orthodox hand-swinging method, after which one waits for the oil pressure to settle at about. 65 lb/sq in; makers’ recommendations are for the oil temperature to reach 50 deg C. before moving away, but as this figure cannot be obtained on the ground and even to reach it in the air necessitates a long, slow climb, this, presumably, is of little consequence.

There is no cockpit check of relevance, and the take-off consists merely of opening the throttle and waiting. Initial acceleration is slow but the run not excessive; unstick speed is 40 ias, and the best climb, not a very good one, is obtainable at 55-60 mph with the engine working almost at full bore.

During this climb there is ample time to examine the surroundings, both inside and out; there is a neat array of instruments on the panel, but these are hidden from view by the combing and it is necessary to stoop to read the altimeter. I mention this particular dial as it is the only one of real importance, for there is a duplicate ASI above the panelling and can be gauged with acceptable accuracy from the engine note, about which more later.

Controls feel about the same throughout the normal speed range, but as this is somewhat limited perhaps it is not a surprising quality. Harmonisation is spoilt by the weight and limited travel of the ailerons, which is due more to static friction than to purely aerodynamic considerations; the rudder and elevators are commendably light and the latter in particular unusually sensitive.

Despite its mere two cylinders, the JAP runs smoothly at most throttle settings, and the economical cruise setting of 2,400 rpm results in a level speed of 70 ias, although at 1,900 revs, considerable vibration is transmitted through the airframe in a not very comforting manner, however, this amount of power serves no useful purpose for it is barely sufficient to maintain height.

Engine noise is considerably less than, for example, that of a Cirrus-Auster; an impractical comparison, perhaps, owing to the vast difference in output between the respective power plants, but one that serves a purpose, for whereas in the Auster one needs to indulge in some mild shouting, conversation in the Aeronca presents no undue hardship. After a few minutes accustoming myself to the idiosyncrasies of my new mount, I attempted some mild evolutions; nothing ambitious, for the C of A limitations prevent anything of an acrobatic nature. However, I carried out what has become my standard initial test, namely a shallow dive, in this case to 105 mph, followed by a steep climbing turn. It is possible to discover a fair amount about an aeroplane’s qualities during this very simple manoeuvre, and in this case I found, as one might expect, that lack of power is the type’s most apparent shortcoming, for on raising the nose above the horizon airspeed was sadly lacking before much bank had been applied. Stalling characteristics are much as would be imagined, although a wing will drop concurrently with the nose if given sufficient chance. Some aileron control is available all the way down the scale until the full stall occurs, when recovery is simple and immediate.

Returning to the circuit, two noteworthy points, one of relevance and the other not present themselves; the first is the lack of forward and sideways view and the other the amusing popping emitted from the engine when throttled back.

I was advised to cross the fence at 65 ias, but this resulted in an unnecessarily long float; subsequent approaches were made at 60 and 55, but I found the middle figure the most satisfactory. The undercarriage is unusually short and some concentration is necessary to avoid holding-off too high, but the landing is simple and without undue ballooning or bouncing tendencies; the heel brakes can safely be applied immediately on touching down.

While lacking some of the qualities expected of a light aeroplane (the JAP, for instance, would never pull a pupil out of serious difficulty near the ground), the Aeronca has proved itself no mere plaything, for in 1950 G-AEWU took part in the Spanish Rally and last year BJ Snook, in G-AEVS, ventured on a holiday to Italy and back, flying through rather than over the Alps ! When it is considered that the fuel consumption is little more than two gallons per hour, no further comment should be necessary. 


On May 3rd the Vintage Aeroplane Club will hold the West London Trophy Race for a cup presented by the West London Aero Club, and demonstrations at White Waltham, where a small public enclosure will be open. On May 17th there will be an Air Display and the Goodyear Trophy Races at Wolverhampton Airport, commencing at 2 pm. 

The “Motor Sport” Clubs Challenge Trophy

This Challenge Trophy, the 1951 holder of which is DJR Chapman (41/2 Bentley), will again be contested this season, during Club Race Meetings at Silverstone. Motor Sport is again putting up a replica to be retained by the winner and a first prize of £50. We are also giving a second prize of £20 and a third prize of £10. The contest is open to drivers of sports cars, and last year’s rules apply, whereby those sports cars placed sufficiently high in races at a given meeting qualify to compete, for no additional entry fees, in a special Motor Sport Handicap at the same meeting, points being scored in this race towards the Clubs Trophy, and the first six finishers becoming eligible to compete, without having to qualify further, in next Motor Sport Handicap. The first meeting at which such a race will be run is the Vintage SCC Meeting at Silverstone on May 3rd. Two of the races are open to non-vintage cars. The second round will be played at the Maidstone & Mid-Kent MC Meeting on May 24th. Further details will he published from time to time.