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Erco Ercoupe history, performance and specifications

The Erco Ercoupe

An aircraft “incapable of spinning” sold in the men's department of Macy's department store? That is the claim to fame of the Ercoupe—a twin-tail airplane designed by Fred Weick and named after its manufacturer, the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO), located in Riverdale, Maryland.

Weick, assistant chief of the aeronautics division of the National Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), predecessor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, designed and assembled an experimental airplane in 1934 with a group of his colleagues. Responding to a Bureau of Air Commerce-sponsored design competition to build an easy-to-fly, safe airplane, Weick and his friends worked on the project in their spare time and paid for it themselves.

The test aircraft built by Weick, known as the W-1, featured tricycle landing gear, a high parasol wing, and a pusher propeller configuration (with the propeller located behind the main supporting surfaces). The single engine was used for economy of operation and the tricycle gear was intended to prevent "nose over” landing accidents where the airplane would flip over on its nose.

Weick left NACA in 1936 and joined ERCO's fledgling aircraft team as chief designer, primarily to continue improving his airplane design. Focusing his efforts on a number of design issues, primarily simplicity and safety, Weick strove to create a reasonably priced aircraft that would not stall or spin. Retaining the tricycle gear (for ease of manoeuvring on the ground), Weick switched to a low-wing monoplane configuration in his improved model, powered by a tractor engine (the propeller located forward of the main supporting surfaces).

The refined W-1A (originally known as the ERCO 310) made its first flight in October 1937 and was soon renamed the “Ercoupe.” The twin-tail Ercoupe became an instant sensation because of its easy-to-fly design and unique design features, including a bubble canopy for great visibility. Lacking rudder pedals, the Ercoupe was flown entirely using only a control wheel: a two-control system linked the rudder and aileron systems, which controlled yaw and roll, with the steerable nose wheel. This wheel controlled the pitch and the steering of the airplane, both on the ground and in the air, simplifying control and coordinated turning and eliminating the need for rudder pedals. A completely new category of pilot's license had to be created for Ercoupe pilots who had never used a rudder pedal. The Ercoupe was the first plane to incorporate much of the original research that Weick had performed while at the NACA, including the wholly cowled engine.

Targeted at the non-professional pilot, the Ercoupe was also designed to be spin-proof with no dangerous stall characteristics. A placard, which was the first for any airplane, was allowed to be placed proudly on the instrument panel reading: "This aircraft characteristically incapable of spinning." An elevator that could move upward and downward only a limited amount—13 degrees—plus automatic yaw correction, enabled the airplane to actually fly itself out of a spin. Inexpensive to operate and maintain, the Ercoupe was able to fly into and out of small airfields, and its nose-wheel steering made taxiing almost like driving an automobile.

The two-seat ERCO Ercoupe 415 went on sale in 1940 but only 112 were delivered before World War II intervened, halting all civil aircraft production. By mid-1941, aluminium supplies were being diverted to war-related production, so ERCO decided to manufacture Ercoupes for military use by using wood as the principal building material. The substitution of wood resulted in a heavier Ercoupe, but the aircraft flew much more quietly because the wood absorbed vibrations from the engine and air flow. Ercoupes were flown during the war by the Civilian Pilot Training Program for flight instruction, and the Civil Air Patrol used them to patrol for German submarines.

The Ercoupe also was the first U.S airplane to take off assisted by a rocket. In August 1941, an Ercoupe, powered by a 65-horsepower (48-kilowatt) Continental engine, was converted into a Jet Assisted Take-Off (JATO) airplane when six pressed-powder rockets were attached to the Ercoupe's wings at March Field, California. Lt. Homer A. Boushey of the U.S. Army Air Forces ignited a blend of perchlorate, asphalt, and special oils with an instrument panel switch and the JATO Ercoupe took off with a brilliant flash and billowing smoke, cutting the aircraft's normal takeoff time and distance in half.

Production resumed after the war and initial sales were strong; ERCO manufactured more than 4,000 aircraft in 1946 alone. In February of that year, Fred Weick was recognized for his work on the Ercoupe, receiving the Fawcett Aviation Award for the greatest contribution to the scientific advancement of private flying.

At its peak, ERCO was turning out 34 Ercoupes per day, operating three shifts per day. The airplane was aggressively marketed through non-conventional outlets such as the men's department of the Macy's department store chain. Unfortunately, however, private aircraft sales slumped after the war and the bottom dropped out of the civil aircraft market in late 1946, bursting the bubble held by many aircraft manufacturers, who had expected that post-war prosperity plus a huge number of newly trained pilots would translate into a boom market for civil aircraft sales.

ERCO sold its remaining Ercoupe inventory to Saunders Aircraft Company in 1947, which continued to sell the airplanes until 1950. Several other companies continued to build Ercoupes and variations (some renamed as “Aircoupes”) for another 20 years until production ended in 1970.

Fred Weick went on to become a pioneer in agricultural aircraft design, leading Piper Aircraft's efforts in that field and later helped to design the popular Piper Comanche. These notable endeavours notwithstanding, Weick will always be remembered as the “Father of the Ercoupe”—the revolutionary rudderless airplane. 

performance and specifications

Wingspan: 30 feet
Length: 20 feet 9 inches
Height: 5 feet 11 inches
Wing Area: 142.6 square feet


Empty Weight: 838-lbs.
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 1,400 -lbs.


No. Engines: One
Engine Manufacturer: Continental
Engine Designation: C-85
Engine Power: 85-hp


Normal Maximum Speed: 125-mph at sea level
Conservative Cruising Speed: 110-mph at sea level
Climb Rate: 560-fpm
Service Ceiling: 11,000-feet
Range: 430 miles at 110-mph
530 miles at 80-mph

The Ercoupe has climb and cruise performance very similar to the performance of a Cessna 150 - but it drops like a rock when the power goes off. The best thing about a 'Coupe is you can fly it with the sliding windows down!