Waco Aircraft Company
Long synonymous with aviation's “golden age,” the Weaver Aircraft Company
(soon to be known by its acronym WACO) was founded in 1920 in Lorain, Ohio
by George “Buck” Weaver, Elwood “Sam” Junkin, Clayton “Clayt” Bruckner and
Charles “Charlie” William Meyers. For the next 26 years, the WACO name
would be associated with a popular line of versatile open-cockpit and
Bruckner and Junkin actually began designing aircraft
in 1919 with a flawed plan for a floating airplane that never flew.
Meyers, too, had already designed an aircraft with Weaver and the pair
approached Bruckner and Junkin, asking them to join their construction
efforts on a single-seat monoplane named the “Cootie.” Unfortunately,
Weaver crash-landed the Cootie during its first flight attempt and
suffered extensive injuries in the crash.
The WACO partners persevered, designing a practical
three-seat biplane, the WACO 4, and building it out of parts left over
from the Cootie and other biplane efforts. The team continued to assemble
airplanes from parts salvaged from surplus World War I Curtiss Jennys,
continuously tinkering with their designs and making improvements.
Eventually, they sold two WACO 5 biplanes.
Weaver Aircraft moved to Troy, Ohio, in 1923 and the
company name was changed to the Advance Aircraft Company although the
aircraft retained the WACO designation. The company became a pioneer in
the development of reasonably priced, easy-to-fly small aircraft and the
first Troy-built model in a long line of WACO aircraft, the WACO 6, was
soon being marketed.
The next aircraft design, the three-passenger WACO 7,
powered by a Curtiss OX-5 engine, was modestly successful with 16 aircraft
sold. In 1924, the first cabin WACO aircraft was manufactured, the
six-passenger WACO 8, featuring an open cockpit positioned behind the
cabin for the pilot and co-pilot. Only one WACO 8 was ever sold and it was
eventually used to aerially map the Ozarks.
Following Buck Weaver's death in 1924, Clayt Bruckner
and Sam Junkin reorganized the business and soon introduced the company's
popular Model 9 (or Nine) in 1925. Powered by a Curtiss OX-5 or Wright
Hispano engine, the WACO Nine delivered better performance than the
readily available war surplus Curtiss Jennys at a affordable price.
The design of the Nine was state-of-the-art for its
time—a fabric-covered wooden wing structure strengthened with welded steel
tubing. The front cockpit was equipped with a bench seat that accommodated
two passengers with a single cockpit for the pilot in the rear of the
aircraft. An engine radiator mounted under the forward edge of the upper
wing became a distinguishing WACO trait.
The stylish WACO Nine made a good showing during the
1925 Ford Air Tour. The accompanying publicity quickly translated into
increased aircraft sales and 276 Nines were sold between 1925 and 1927. An
outstanding barnstormer, more than 14 Nines competed in the 1926 National
Air Races with several finishing first in their events. WACO Nines also
saw duty as crop-dusters—the airplane could be outfitted with floats for
water landing—and were also used as an early commuter aircraft.
The improved WACO Model 10 replaced the Nine in 1927,
featuring a larger wing area, bigger cockpit, an adjustable stabilizer,
and the first shock absorber landing gear built into a small aircraft. The
WACO 10's performance was markedly enhanced and the aircraft was sold with
several different engine options (OX-5, OXX-6, Hispano-Suiza and Wright
Noted for quick and straightforward takeoffs, a speedy
rate of climb and equally tolerable landing speeds, the WACO 10's
performance soon made it the most popular small aircraft in the United
States. By 1927, more than 40 percent of small aircraft sold in the
country were WACOs, including 350 WACO 10s at a sticker price of $2,460
(with the OX-5 engine). The WACO 10's reputation extended to the air race
circuit as well: an OX-5 engine-powered model won the 1927 New York to
Spokane, Washington, transcontinental Air Derby (Class B) and a Wright
J-5-powered WACO 10 won the National Air Tour the following year.
Advance Aircraft went on to manufacture the notable
WACO Taperwing in 1928 and then, in 1929, the company officially renamed
itself the WACO Aircraft Corporation to correspond with its now-famous
line of aircraft. In 1931, WACO entered the burgeoning business aircraft
market by introducing its four-passenger “QDC” cabin biplane to compete
with such established manufacturers as Bellanca and Stinson.
The QDC label marked the 1930 introduction of a
cryptographic system of model designation that WACO used to identify its
various models. The first letter identified the engine-type, the second
the wing style, and the third the fuselage design. Each letter also
indicated if the aircraft was built before or after 1930—a very confusing
conglomeration of letters that required a scorecard to decipher.
WACO replaced the QDC in 1933 with its most successful
cabin design—the UIC. Powered by a 210-horsepower Continental radial
engine, the UIC was a four-person biplane with a conventional fixed tail
wheel landing gear. The well-appointed cabin was accessed by
automobile-style doors on each side, with a pair of individual front seats
and a roomy rear bench seat for another two passengers.
The UIC's fabric-covered fuselage was constructed from
welded steel tubing, shaped with wooden formers and stringers while the
wings were fabricated with spruce spars, spruce and wooden ribs, and
aluminium edges. Ailerons on both wings were covered in aluminium and
connected with push-pull struts that operated them in pairs. The UIC's
stable handling characteristics were considered to be forgiving, with good
performance. Delivered with a full set of flight controls and
instrumentation, the UIC was priced at a modest $6,000—well within the
reach of smaller corporations and airlines.
WACO delivered 83 UICs before replacing the model with
the UKC/YKC/CJC series of cabin aircraft in 1934. These trendy airplanes
became a favourite of aviators like Jacqueline Cochran and corporate
magnates such as Henry Dupont.
WACO continued to refine the aircraft design and
accessories on an annual basis, but retained the basic configuration to
maintain quality and avoid the high costs of wholesale redesign; as a
result, selling prices remained stable and affordable.
Production of WACO civil aircraft was suspended in 1942
after U.S. entry into World War II. The company contributed to the war
effort by building assemblies for a variety of military aircraft and
manufactured the well-known CG4-A troop-carrying gliders.
WACO ceased producing aircraft in 1946, another victim
of the post-war general aviation bust, but the brand still enjoys enormous
popularity among aviation enthusiasts. Many WACOs remain flying today,
their style and mystique evoking images of aviation's “golden age” or, in
the words of one WACO fan, “After the last WACO gracefully flies, the sky
will become merely air."