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It’s Just Like Driving a Car, Really!
By Randy Dufault
July 20, 2015 - In 1939 designer Fred Weick set out to build a personal airplane that anyone could easily own, and would love to fly. It would have modern tricycle landing gear and would do away with complicated controls like rudder pedals and differential brakes. Roll down windows would allow both pilot and passenger to enjoy the fresh air at altitude.
The result was an all-metal, two seat, twin-tailed airplane called the Ercoupe. With an aileron and rudder coordinating system, the need for separate rudder pedals was eliminated. Ground Steering is controlled by the control yoke, just like a car.
First produced in 1940, owners of the design have gathered here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 to celebrate the craft’s 75th anniversary.
“Anyone who can drive a car can fly this airplane,” said Norm Samuelson of Raleigh, North Carolina. “It’s stable and smooth.
“My favorite thing to do with this airplane is to fly with an arm out the window and see everything going on below.”
The interesting thing is that Samuelson is not a pilot. He flies often, and flew here to AirVenture 2015, with Ercoupe owner Claude Burkehead, also from the Raleigh area.
Burkehead’s airplane has been in the family since 1946. It was owned, and actively flown, by his grandfather and his father, both also named Claude.
“It’s never been out of annual,” Burkehead said.
The little twin-tailed plane, with an ancient receiving loop antenna on the top of the canopy, is a fixture at fly-ins all over North Carolina.
Since the antenna’s companion receiver had long since been removed from the plane, Burkehead’s father decided to remove the no-longer-useful appendage about 20 years ago.
“Everywhere he went he caught grief because he took it off,” Burkehead said. “The mechanic didn’t charge him to take it off, but he charged him a fortune to put it back. Everybody knows the airplane with that antenna.”
Between 1940 and 1970 some 6,000 examples of the type were produced by a number of different manufacturers, although two thirds of that total were produced in 1946 alone.
“If you walk up to an Ercoupe and say ‘I’ll bet that was built in ’46,’ you have a good chance of being right,” Syd Cohen said.
Cohen, from Wausau, Wisconsin, is an active leader in the Ercoupe Owner’s Club. He owns the polished 1946 example “Scampy,” that is parked just east of the Vintage Interview Circle, and was the organizer of this year’s gathering.
The effort started more than two years ago.
“I thought this is a big year coming up so I went on to the FAA website and got [a list of] all of the Ercoupe owners,” Cohen said. “That took weeks.”
Ultimately Cohen sent out 1,500 information packets inviting airplanes and their owners to the club’s 2015 annual convention, to be held in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and to the celebration here at AirVenture 2015. Seventy-seven are on the field as of Monday morning.
One of the airplanes here is Kevin Gassert’s White Lightning. It was built in 1941 and, at least as far as Gassert knows, is the oldest example of the type still flying.
Neither Cohen nor the club have an estimate of how many Ercoupes are still airworthy. Corrosion issues have grounded many.
“When they left the factory they were not corrosion proofed at all,” Cohen said. “They didn’t think anybody would want to fly these for more than 10 years before something new and better came along.
“And here we are flying them 75 years later.”