Low-wing airplanes had not quite caught on with the flying public
prior to World War II, so Aeronca had an uphill battle in gaining
acceptance of its "Model-L" series of planes. It ended up being
a complete success. The article has an interesting tale of salvaging
partially-complete airplanes during a flood in Cincinnati in
1937 using techniques that would never be allowed in today's
highly regulated and monitored world.
Aeronca Model L Series Article & 4-View
One of the first truly successful cabin low-wingers to enter
the private market, the "L" was another ahead-of-their-time
Paul R. Matt
To many aeronautical buffs the introduction of the Aeronca
low-wing in 1935 earmarked this design as one of the most interesting
and eye-appealing airplanes ever produced. It was then, and
would forever be, a classic example of progress in light-plane
design and engineering.
The model L series (LA-LB-LC), which followed another classic
design by Aeronca, the C-2 and C-3, was indeed a marked departure
in private aircraft during this period of time. Not only was
the Model L a change of pace for the Aeronca firm but it can
well be classified as one of the first truly successful cabin
low-wing aircraft to enter the private and commercial market.
At the time the number of low-wing aircraft available to the
private buyer could be counted on one hand.
The 70-hp Aeronca cruised over 100 mph, with range over 500
miles and initial climb of 600 ft. per min. Similarly powered
planes 30 years later have not bettered this performance. Landed
at about 45 mph.
Recalling some of these single-engine low-wing
machines that appeared in the 1930's is not difficult. The Fairchild
45 and Spartan 7W were large, 4-5 place, rather expensive machines.
They had good all-around performance but were costly in operating
expenses and intended for the executive transport market. Curtiss-Wright
introduced the 19W Coupe, powered with a 90-hp Lambert engine.
It was underpowered, suffered aerodynamic problems and was abandoned
as a commercial product.
The Kinner Envoy-Playboy, Bellanca Junior, Dart G and Culver
Cadet series of the late 1930's were of a better breed in the
lightplane field. Most became quite successful. The Ryan SC
of 1938 was about to make inroads but World War II intervened.
Generally speaking, it can be said that the cantilever, low-wing
aircraft was pretty well reserved for the military and transport
field prior to the war. The Aeronca thus stands out as a pioneering
design and a bold thrust into the future, for it was a 1935
The Aeronca low-wing was designed by Giles E. Barton. The
first of two prototypes was produced in the fall of 1935. Final
general-arrangement drawings were completed in October. The
first plane, X 14558, rolled out of the Aeronautical Corp. of
America's plant in Cincinnati, powered with the standard Aeronca
E-113 40-hp horizontally opposed, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine.
This was the same powerplant used on all preceding C-2 and C-3
models. It seemed fitting and economically advantageous to employ
the same engine in the new low wing design - a decision made
by the executive department over some protests of the design
The aircraft, although of new configuration compared to what
the company had been building, was nevertheless conceived as
a light-weight two-place machine. Initial studies appear to
have confirmed the fact that the E-113 would render sufficient
power. In practice the combination proved otherwise. The prototype
was pitifully underpowered. A few abortive hops were reported
in which the plane staggered into the air for a few brief seconds
and then fluttered back to earth with a resounding bounce.
The plane was immediately modified to accept a larger and
more powerful engine. The 70-hp LeBlond radial was chosen. The
five-cylinder air-cooled engine had proven its reliability,
low cost upkeep, honest output, and being locally manufactured,
was readily available.
The new plane now weighed around 1,650 pounds, quite a bit
more than Aeronca was used to. The high-wing C-3 weighed in
at the 1,000- to 1,010-lb. mark. The E-113 engine was adequate
for these "powered gliders," as they were often called. With
the low-wing, however, certain aerodynamic features come into
play which are different. Here the C.G. becomes more critical
and there isn't the pendulum weight of a fuselage hanging below
the supporting surfaces to render some inherent stability. The
LeBlond engine provided nearly double the power of the E-113
and, with this, the low-wing model proved highly successful.
Once a balanced power-to-weight ratio was established, the
plane was reworked, streamlined and faired out into more appealing
lines. By the end of the year the second machine was brought
up to "production line" standards and, after extensive testing,
manufacturing and sales promotion got under way.
Construction of the model Ls was conventional for the day,
The fuselage was of welded chrome-molyldenum steel tubing, faired
with plywood bulkheads and stringers and fabric covered, The
Aeronca triangle steel-tube method of construction was employed
for the basic framework, Aluminum was used for covering between
the engine and firewall. The engine was cowled with a Townend
ring-cowl and a full engine-crankcase fairing plate was employed
to assist in smooth airflow between the cylinders,
The wing was built in three sections. The center section
was exceptionally long, measuring 18 ft. Two spruce box spars
were used and the ribs were of truss type construction. Double
drag-wire trussing was used throughout. The leading edge was
of dural. A 19-gal. gas tank was situated in the center-section
just right of the fuselage. A second tank of nine-gal. capacity
was located just ahead of the instrument panel in the fuselage.
The fuselage itself was clamped to the center-section, making
these two components an integral structure. The wing-tip sections
had solid spruce spars, truss-rib construction and double drag-wire
trussing. The entire wing was fabric covered. The outer sections
were joined to the center section by four tapered bolts. An
aluminum fairing strip covered the joint. The wing was exceptionally
rigid and torsionally stiff.
The ailerons were of built-up dural channel sections, riveted
together and fabric covered. These were attached to the rear
spar by three piano hinges. A static balance extended below
and forward of the control arm on each aileron. (See the drawings.)
Tail surfaces were of welded steel tubing and fabric covered.
The fin was built integral with the fuselage framework. The
stabilizers were interchangeable, rigidly fixed to the fuselage
and wire braced. The left elevator had an inset dural trim tab
which was operated from the cockpit by means of a cable control.
The landing gear had twin Aeronca-developed oleo struts.
There was sufficient room between the parallel struts to accommodate
air wheels of 7.00 x 5" to 18 x 8" size. The wheels were equipped
with brakes, operated through a Bowden wire to the control in
the cabin. Large full-skirted aluminum fairings formed classic
The cabin was upholstered and soundproofed with Sealpac
insulation. The extra large entrance door was located on the
right side only. The small windows on each side of the cabin
could be opened for ventilation. The overhead windows were tinted
green pyrolin to act as a sunshade, but still provide exceptional
upward and rearward visibility. Seating was side-by-side with
dual control sticks and rudder pedals, Each set of controls
had individual cable systems and were not a "throw-over" method
or interconnected at the cabin juncture.
The rudder pedals were adjustable and acted as brakes when
a hand lever at the right of the pilot was pulled back. This
hand brake also acted as a parking brake, being interconnected
with the wheel-brake line and rudder pedals as a single backup
system. The instrument panel was finished in a black crackle
paint to minimize glare. Although these ships were seen in various
color schemes, the standard finish was overall Loening Yellow
with black trim.
Normal VFR flight instruments were included in the standard
price, along with seat cushions, fire extinguisher, log books,
first aid kit and wiring for navigation lights. Special equipment,
optional at extra cost, were such items as navigation lights,
retractable Grimes landing lights, flares, cabin heater, radio
gear, engine starter and a metal "air brake," better known today
as a landing flap.
This air brake, made of heavy-gauge aluminum, was situated
between the landing gears on the under surface of the wing at
the forward or main spar line. It was adjustable, from zero
through 60 degrees, from a spring-loaded lever in the cockpit.
It was a mechanical system. The flap increased the steepness
of the glide during landing without increasing the forward speed.
This caused altitude to be lost rapidly for short-field landings
and still have the aircraft fully under control at all times
thus eliminating, for the most part, any need to fish-tail or
slide-in during approach. This same idea, method and system
was used a few years later on the Ryan SC. (See American Aircraft
Modeler, July 1968.)
Aeronca offered three versions of the low-wing during 1936,
The first was the LA, powered with the 70/75-hp LeBlond S-E-70
engine. The second was the LB, with the 85/90-hp LeBlond S-F-90
for power. A third model, the LC, was powered with the customer-furnished
90-hp Warner Scarab engine.
The reason for the stipulation "customer furnished" Warner
was that this engine required a different engine mount. It was
larger in diameter, had a different exhaust manifold and carburetion
system, and these features had to be accounted for as the airframe
was being built. In choosing an LC model, the customer automatically
ordered the Warner engine and either had it shipped to the Aeronca
plant on his own consignment or had Aeronca order the engine
for him. Both LeBlond engines fit the same mount and the original
jigs and fixtures were engineered for these powerplants. In
the original concept Aeronca was out to promote the LeBlond-Model
L combination and these optionals were sales enticements.
In a similar manner, Aeronca also offered the standard low-wing
powered with the 90-hp Lambert radial but there were no customers
and this fact remains only as a notation on a price sheet. The
standard Model L, less engine, exhaust manifold, propeller,
motor mount, Townend ring, cowling plate and sundry powerplant
items was $2,100. This bare airframe price enabled prospective
customers to utilize just about any engine available at the
time in the 70- to 90-hp class. A seaplane model was also proposed
for the Warner-powered ship. Termed an LCS model, it likewise
gained little attention. There are no records of any low-wings
being so fitted. The proposal called for twin Edo floats to
be fitted at the cost of $1100.00 with this work being done
at the Edo plant.
A standard LA was priced at $2,750.00, the LB at $2,995.00.
The LC sold for $2,372.00, plus the customer-furnished Warner
Scarab engine, fuel pump, exhaust manifold, carburetor air intake
heater and wood propeller, which added about another $950.00
to the basic price. The airframe remained the same on all the
L models aft of the firewall no matter which powerplant was
installed. While these prices were well within the reach of
the average flyer, the Aeronca low-wing failed to really catch
the excitement or fancy of the public. Perhaps it was too radical
a departure and just a few years ahead of its time. Throughout
1936 only nine LA's, 29 LB's and 15 LC's were produced. Some
53 total, for the year was rather disappointing. The 122 C-3's
built that year kept the firm well in the black.
With the low-wing model, Aeronca entered the slightly higher-powered
aircraft field, in the class with the Monocoupes, Rearwins and
Porterfields. The Model L was economical to operate and maintain.
Fuel consumption with the LeBlond 70 at cruising speed of 100
mph was 5 gallons of gas per hour. Performance-wise, both cruising
and top speed varied only 5 mph between the LeBlond 70- and
90-powered models. Cruising speed was 100 mph at 1800 rpm with
the 70, 105 rnph at 1900 rpm with the 90. Top speed at sea level
was 115 and 120 mph and landing speed varied 42 to 48 mph, depending
upon weight conditions at the time. Initial climb, at gross
weight of 1,680 pounds was 600 ft. per min. Cruising range on
a fuel capacity of 28 gallons was pretty constant at 500 miles.
Performance of the Warner powered LC was about the same as the
LB model. Aircraft of equivalent power built 30 years later
wouldn't get any better performance.
The year 1937 began with high hopes for Aeronca. The C-2
and C-3 line was terminated in 1936 after some 612 of the models
were produced. In their place the new high-wing Model K was
introduced. It was destined to become even more popular than
any previous Aeronca offering. The low-wing was continued and
they geared up for a record-breaking season. Then, near disaster
struck and 1937 reigned as a year of confusion.
Aeronca was located at Lunken Airport, then the municipal
airport for Cincinnati. The Ohio River flows just a few hundred
yards from the field. The winter of 1936/37 was extremely severe
- the rains in March extra heavy. Within three days the river
went above flood stage, rising to 52 feet. Before the waters
receded over 1,000,000 persons were made homeless, over 500
In the spring of 1937 the waters rose so fast that the entire
airport was under seven feet of water within 24 hours. There
was a mad scramble as the last minute Doubting-Thomases attempted
to get their aircraft out before the waters rushed in.
In a personal conversation with the late Lou Wehring, chief
test pilot for Aeronca, the 1937 situation was unbelievable.
Lou received a phone call from the plant one morning before
the break of dawn. "Get your bucket down here, we have to get
every plane out of here we can ... the flood waters have already
inundated the basement storage area and the sandbagging of the
levee won't hold much longer."
Lou jumped into his flight overalls, put on a heavy jacket
and fur-lined boots. Arriving at the plant, he was asked to
fly out three or four of the low-wing jobs. "I don't give a
damn where you take them, just so it's high and dry." There
were other planes ready for delivery, the last of the C-3's
and some of the new K models. They were easy to get in and out
of tight spots but the low-wings could be tricky and only Lou
could be trusted to handle them under emergency conditions.
He found out why ... none were completed. He would have to operate
the controls very unconventionally.
The LC's were in various stages of completion. The throttles
weren't installed, control cables not hooked up, cockpit interiors
bare and instruments not installed. Makeshift throttles were
hurriedly wired in place, cables were temporarily fastened and
pieces of plywood were bolted to the cabin's lower longerons
as a seat. A piece of rope was rigged for a safety belt.
A low mist covered the area, fog and cold winds hampered
every movement. On one ship Lou lashed the rudder cables around
his boots since the rudder pedals couldn't be installed in time.
On another occasion he operated the aileron and elevator cables
with his gloved hand only.
Nothing worked smoothly but through skill and determination
he managed to get the low-wingers out of Lunken and to safety
at neighboring airfields. The other Aeroncas were also flown
to safety while incomplete sections and components were hung
from the rafters or shipped elsewhere by truck until the waters
The great '37 flood left the Aeronca plant in sad condition.
It took months to mop up and get back into production. Despite
these adversities the year closed with production up and the
financial ledger in the black. Not so with the low-wing models.
Production of the model was discontinued after only eight LC's
were built. The model K production more than made up for the
slack. That year 297 came off the line.
The demise of the L series can be attributed to several reasons.
It failed to catch the imagination of the flying public, with
resulting low sales and the disruption of all production due
to the flood. The LeBlond company was also effected by the flood
and there was a temporary loss of a local powerplant source.
The biggest reason, however, was the need for all available
space to meet an ever-growing model K production schedule.
Also during 1937, the LeBlond Mfg. sold all rights to their
engines to Rearwin Airplanes of Kansas City, Mo. They briefly
continued the standard 70 and 90 models in their original forms.
Redesign and modifications undertaken by the Rearwin Engine
Division led to the eventual development of these engines under
the Ken-Royce name.
Although Aeronca had several low-wing concepts under study
following World War II, none went into production. Thus it remains
for the LA-LB-LC's to have the honor of being the only low-wing
Aeronca ever produced in quantity.
Some flyers at the time felt the ship was a bit too hot,
tricky to handle with landing speeds above what they were used
to in high-wing models and biplane aircraft. Later on, many
of these same pilots described it as docile, somewhat underpowered,
or on the edge of being so, and "willy-nllly" in performance.
You can't satisfy everyone. But all will agree the L model was
an advanced design, providing good performance on minimum power.
It would seem that experiences during WW II shed a new concept
of thinking regarding the low wing monoplane.
According to a recent tabulation there are only two Aeronca
low wings (LC's) still flying.
Aeronca Model L Series 4-View (page 1)
for larger version>
Aeronca Model L Series 4-View (page 2)
for larger version>
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Posted June 8, 6012