This story began as fall sunlight kissed the grass at The Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealelton, Virginia, some 50 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The surprise was two Aeronca L-16s among the show’s Stearman and WACO “heavy-iron.” There were even post-show rides and mid-week dual available in one of the post-war period’s great little airplanes.
There aren’t many left of these 603 1947-48 L-16A/B military editions of Aeronca’s two-seat taildragger, originally engineered to beat Piper’s Cub. Those who have them love them. I was one, restoring, then flying N4019B for 10 years until BE A PILOT folded. I had to sell. You don’t see many for sale now, in part because most (but not my modified L-16B) are LSA-eligible, as well as mini-warbird neat.
Although a version of the Champ, my L-16B was heavier and more stable due to added equipment. This poster-plane for the CAP Historical Foundation, AF 48-484 (see photo), had been modified by CAP’s Louisiana Wing to patrol the Mississippi Delta.
Few landing fields there, so 26 gallons in two wing tanks yielded almost five hours absolute endurance. This served me well on long cross-country flights to various airshow displays, as did an electrical system, starter and panel of basic instruments with built-in NAVCOMM. At 1,350 pounds MGTW, however, it would be 30 pounds overweight for a future Light Sport pilot-oldster.
After a special invite once to The Flying Circus and knowing firsthand their discomfort with non-show planes, I was surprised this fall to see two L-16s on the field. Post-show rides and dual instruction were offered, allowing young hopefuls and C-172 pilots a new glimpse into aviation history, flying fun and light taildragger airmanship.
Alas, I now learn that this opportunity has vanished. Sure, you can still take a WACO ride with show-pilot John Corradi of Blue Ridge Biplane Rides, but his like-new L-16 is off the schedule. Seems the companion L-16 at The Flying Circus was dumped into a field recently with not a tube unbent, says Corradi. Meanwhile, he heard that long-time Maryland Eastern Shore CFI Tony Markl had his L-16 damaged on a student solo. Hard Landing. Spar cracks. Down for six months. Sounds like Markl (of “Taildragger & Fabric Spoken Here”) will be doing more fabric work and less taildraggin’ this winter.
Corradi saw the handwriting on the wall. His beautiful, newly restored L-16A was just too pristine for dual instruction. So, sadly, I can’t offer you these tips on where to get some L-16 dual around here. But if you can find an L-16 to fly, you’ll enjoy it. I did. You’ll learn some stick-and-rudder airmanship “sitting on the centerline” while celebrating a little modern aviation history in the process.
© 2012 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved
Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
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