Ercoupe or Aircoupe? Which is correct? The answer is…depends on who manufactured it.
The original name was derived from the name of the first manufacturer, ERCO, which stood for Engineering and Research Corp. The airplane is a low-wing design with a distinctive twin boom tail, which makes the two-place plane look a little like a baby Beech 18.
The first Ercoupes were just rolling out of the factory when World War II began. During the war the Ercoupe was shelved, with production resuming after the war. And while ERCO stopped making the Ercoupe in 1947, during the post-war general aviation glut, that wasn’t the end of the design. In fact, the design was so popular, the aircraft continued to be built up through the 1960s.
The Type Certificate was sold several times, with coupes being manufactured by Sanders Aviation, Air Products Co., Forney, Alon Co., and the Mooney Aircraft Co. Aeronca and Beech Aircraft also both owned the Type Certificate for a time.
“All these companies made modifications,” said Roger Baglien of Tucson, Ariz., who owns a 1966 Alon Aircoupe. “My airplane was built by the Alon Co., which bought the Type Certificate in 1965. They gave it a sliding canopy and called the airplane the Aircoupe.”
Despite the canopy change, Fred Weick, the Ercoupe designer, would recognize Baglien’s airplane as a derivative of his 1930s-era design.
In addition to the distinctive tail, the other design feature most people know the Ercoupe for is the linked aileron/rudder, which makes it possible to fly the airplane without rudder pedals. This makes it possible for people who do not have the use of their legs or feet to fly and, as such, was popular with a lot of soldiers who came home from the war with life-altering injuries. Ercoupes with rudder pedals, many of them added after-market, are also available.
The Ercoupe was also the first airplane to be designed with tricycle gear, which made it easier to handle on the ground for most people.
The flying characteristics of the coupe were innovative in the heyday of the aircraft and are still unusual today.
The airplane is said to be impossible to stall and therefore impossible to spin. Weick designed it this way to make it safer than its contemporaries. If the airplane is within weight and balance, the pilot can put the airplane into a low-airspeed, nose-high configuration but there won’t be a break like in other low-wing airplanes when the nose and one wing drop off to the side. Instead, the coupe just sort of mushes.
Baglien, who has owned the airplane since 1981, was showing it off last year at Sun ’n Fun, but noted that the plane’s finish, primarily polished metal, took a beating on the way to the show in Lakeland, Fla.
“It went some 1,600 miles through rain,” he said. “I have been thinking of painting it. It’s a pain to keep clean.”
Baglien’s Aircoupe, with its red, white and blue tail, is covered with military markings. There is an eagle on the fuselage and the name U.S.S. Yorktown emblazoned down the side. “Those are decals,” said Baglien, who noted the military motif came from the previous owner. “I think he was a Navy pilot,” he said. “The numbers you see on the airplane were his numbers. The only changes I made was new glass and I put in the leather interior and Slick mags.”
At air shows and fly-ins look for coupes to be parked in packs, as the Aircoupe/Ercoupe has quite a following. Actually, the airplane is sort of the VW Beetle of the general aviation world: It may look a little cartoonish to some, but is a classic to others. And, just like the VW Beetle, you probably wouldn’t think of it as a good vehicle for a cross-country trip, yet that is exactly what Baglien does on a regular basis.
“The airplane flies about 150 hours a year,” he said. In addition to Sun ’n Fun, he flies to Oshkosh every year for AirVenture and to Blakesburg, Iowa, for the antique fly in. “I try to make all the shows. The Alon is good cross-country airplane and a good IFR airplane.”
An IFR Aircoupe? It does exist. When Alon was building the aircraft, the company made the instrument panel slightly raised on the left side of the cockpit with an avionics and communication stack on the right.
Looking into the cockpit, I did a double take when I saw the blue knob next to the throttle and mixture. In most of the airplanes I fly, a blue knob is reserved for the controllable pitch prop. Did the Aircoupe have one? Closer inspection revealed the knob activated the carburetor heat.
“The engine is a C-90,” said Baglien, adding that cruise speed is around 120 mph.
That may not be fast enough for some folks, but for Baglien, a retired airline pilot, it’s fast enough.