The first lines for the new airplane,
the Model 7 Champion, were laid on vellum early in 1944
and the airplane flew in May of that year. Chief test
pilot Louis Wehrung did the honours. The official
designation of the airplane was 7AC (Model 7, first
variation, Champion) and it used the A-65 Continental.
In laying out the configuration of
the Champ, designer Ray Hermes took square aim at his
primary competition, the J-3 Cub, which by that time,
was nearly a decade old. He made a list of every one of
the Cub's shortcomings and designed them out of his new
airplane. The final lines of the Champ are the net
result of Anti-Cub design goals.
Forward visibility had always been a
Cub weak point and Hermes solved that in two ways.
First, he put the pilot in the front seat and, second,
he raised the seating position and dropped the nose so
the pilot could see straight ahead while on the ground.
This is why a Champ appears so high in the cabin, when
compared to the Cub. The Cub may have finer, sleeker
lines, but the Champ pilot can not only see where he's
going but sits up in real comfort (relatively speaking).
Cubs also came in for criticism in
the drafty arrangement of the door. While the split door
may be perfect for viewing sunsets today, when the Cub
was working for a living, instructors and students alike
cursed the leaky doors. The Champion used a hinged,
single-piece door not unlike an automobile.
A little over 8,100 Champs were
produced, most of which were the 65 hp 7ACs which ended
production in April of 1948 to be replaced by the 85 hp
7BCM (it was fuel injected and had a larger dorsal fin,
as well) which was ordered by the military as the L-16A.
The military then went to 90 hp (fuel injected) and the
nearest civilian counterpart was the 7CCM. The most
common civilian version to come out of all of this was a
combination of the A and B model L-16, the 85 hp 7DC
which had the larger dorsal and an additional fuel tank
in the right wing. Only 166 7DC's were built before the
final Champ was introduced, the 90 hp 7EC. The final
Champ rolled off the Aeronca line in January of 1951. It
was Champ 7EC, SN96, N4749E. Anyone know where it is
A good design has a way of surviving
and the 7EC is one of those. In 1954, Champion Aircraft
of Osceola, Wisconsin, put the 7EC back into production
where it continued to be up-graded, eventually becoming
the 7ECA Citabria in the early 1960's.
Champs use the triangular
aft-fuselage Gene Roche originally designed for his
little C-2 in the late 1920s. Because most Champs
have probably spent more time tied down outside than in
hangars, the plywood formers which fair the fuselage
into a square shape have to be considered suspect. Bad
fuselage wood isn't a major safety concern but it takes
time and money to replace it.
Other than being triangular in cross
section, there is little about a Champ's fuselage
structure that presents unique inspection concerns. All
steel tube fuselages share the same corrosion concerns,
especially in the rear of the fuselage and in the strut
carry-through tube under the floor.
The trim system is something else
that the designer worked at to make more efficient than
that on a Cub. When twisting the Cub trim crank, the
stabilizer is being screwed up and down while the
overhead knob in a Champ, which moves fore and aft in a
slot, runs a trim tab on the elevator. The arrangement
is quicker and easier, although, since it is located
over the front pilot's left shoulder in the ceiling,
it's a stretch to reach from the back seat.
To absorb landing shocks, the Champ
uses an oleo-spring arrangement in the front leg of the
landing gear "V" frame rather than bungees. In speaking
with Buzz Wagner of the International Aeronca
Association, he said the landing gear is the area in
which they see the most problems, mostly because people
don't maintain them or don't understand the system. The
system is designed to use exactly eight and a half
ounces of fluid. Let it get a half an ounce down and the
gear will be damaged. According to Wagner, the majority
of Champs in operation need the landing gear rebuilt to
one degree or another and the difference in ground
handling, when all the worn parts are replaced, is
There were two different oleo's
installed, the original straight oleo, and the "no
bounce" oleo which came out of the military's desire for
an airplane that could be dropped from ridiculous
heights without damage. The original oleo is less
complicated and easier to handle in a crosswind. Wagner,
among others, has new and rebuilt replacements for
All Champs prior to the 1954
re-introduction of the 7EC used mechanical brakes. These
brakes, if properly adjusted, work just fine. There are
two distinct different types, the Van Sickle/Cleveland
type which is a traditional drum and shoe set up where a
rotating cam actuates them and the Goodyear which is a
form of mechanical disk brake. In neither one is there
no an adjustment to move the shoes or pads closer to the
drums to compensate for wear, as in a car. This is a
weakness in the design and adjusting the cable tighter
(most mechanics' initial urge) won't help. All that does
is rotate the cam closer to its limits. Wagner says, if
shoe brakes are no longer holding, replace the shoes. In
the calliper brakes, replace the pads, and if they still
don't hold, have the cam built back to its original
dimension by welding.
The post-1954 American Champion 7EC's
used hydraulic drum brakes which eliminates most of the
problems. Fortunately, none of the brake types are
expensive to rebuild.
The wings are a combination of wood
spars and formed-aluminium ribs. There is no rib
stitching, as with most fabric airplanes, as the fabric
is screwed or pop-riveted to the ribs. Generally
speaking, Champ wings give little or no trouble.
The wing struts are welded closed
which makes them less susceptible to rust than some
others. Rust, however, is still a definite concern and
they should be carefully inspected as per FAA guide
lines. The end fittings are welded bushings, not
adjustable forks, so there is no concern in that area.
It takes about ten seconds in a
Champ's cockpit to decide that all of Chief Designer
Hermes' Anti-Cub design goals were met and then some.
Some argue the Champ cockpit is too modern. Too
civilized. Those are usually Cub pilots speaking.
Once on board, the immediate
impression will be of visibility and a cheerful
airiness. The wing and skylight is so high and the pilot
sits so far forward, there is none of the "Man trapped
in an airplane" feeling of so many of the Champ's
contemporaries. This is definitely the airplane for a
One of the cockpit's niceties is that
all of the major engine controls, i.e. carb heat, fuel
on/off, mags are in a panel by the pilot's left hip.
This makes them available from both seats, although the
front seat pilot has to squirm around a bit to get a
hand down there.
Incidentally, the later airplanes
have most of the fuel in the wings and do away with the
fuselage tank, while the original airplanes have a fuel
gage peeking out of the top of the boot cowl for the
If it's a 7AC, you'll be doing the
"Brakes! Contact!" routine with an Armstrong starter. If
a 7EC, there's a "T' handled on the right half of the
instrument panel that eases the starting chores.
In most areas, there's a big handling
difference between the A and E models because of the
difference in weight. An original, lightly finished A
model with its 65 hp Continental weights about 710-725
pounds or about the same as a Cub. The 90 hp E models
sometimes weigh as much as 200 pounds more because of
electrical, interior, tanks, etc.
There's some difference of opinion as
to how to start a take-off in a Champ, stick forward or
stick back. A lot of the flight schools that used later
7ECs with the No-Bounce gears routinely started the
takeoff roll with the stick full forward. Presumably,
this was done to get the tail up as soon as possible to
keep the oleos from extending. If the pilot waits too
long to pick the tail up, the weight will come off the
oleos while in a three-point position allowing them to
extend. When they're extended, they have little to no
resistance so they'll compress easily. When one
compresses, even though the airplane is headed straight,
the illusion is that the airplane is turning and pilots
often poke in rudder that's not needed causing a swerve
where there was none. Bear in mind, however, that all of
this is happening in slow motion as the airplane will
fly-off somewhere in the neighbourhood of 45 mph.
Theoretically, the bigger engine
Champs will climb better than the lowly 7AC, but not by
much. The books say an AC is supposed to give 500 rpm
and the EC 800 rpm. In real life, the difference isn't
that great. Because of its lighter weight, the 7AC
floats off the ground compared to the 7EC which feels
more like it's on rails. Only the very lightest 7AC,
however, has the feather-like feeling of a Cub when it
Most of the Cub's resemblance to a
feather is probably because the Cub has just enough more
wing area that its wing loading at gross is a little
lower, 6.8 lb/sq. ft to 7.1 lb/sq. ft. The books say a
7EC weighs 890 pounds empty (1450 pounds gross, more
than a C-140) compared to a 7AC at 710 pounds (1220
pounds gross, about the same as a Cub).
Note that the 7EC, despite its much
bigger engine has about the same useful load as the 7AC.
Once up to cruising speed, the 7AC
(65 hp) can generally be depended on to be 5-8 mph
faster than the similarly powered Cub, or a good solid
85-90 mph. The 7ECs seem to run about 90-95 mph.
Ask any who fly a Champ and they'll
all say its a "...rudder airplane...". That's because
its adverse yaw is so pronounced, you either coordinate
with rudder or slip and slide around on the seat. It's
much more noticeable than in a Cub. This makes it a
When you start trying to compare
things like roll rate and aileron pressures between
airplanes like Cubs and Champs, you're dealing more with
perceptions than actual differences. For one thing, the
Cub control stick juts up higher, especially in the
front seat, and has an innately "bigger" feel to it. The
mechanical advantage means the stick moves further than
a Champ's in the same situation, but the response is
probably close to being the same. The pressures, also,
are close, but it is very difficult to say. The
perception is that Cub controls are heavier, when they
There is, however, a difference to
the overall "feel" of the controls. Somehow, a Cub feels
a little more precise and a touch quicker. We're
splitting some very slow-speed hairs at this point, but
that seems to be the general opinion.
Compared to a C-152, the roll
performance will seem leisurely at best. The pressures
are slightly lighter than a Citabria and the roll rate
about the same.
The Champ stalls normally, with just
a tiny bit of edge to it. Release the stick and it's
flying again. Kick a rudder hard and it rotates into a
surprisingly comfortable spin that stops as soon as you
release back pressure and punch a rudder. Just letting
go will bring it out almost as quickly as doing
Depending on the model, a Champ is
happy to approach at just about any speed, but keeping
it under 60 cuts down the float. Three-point landings
happen almost automatically once you get used to a nose
that's not in the way. The sight picture isn't that much
different than landing a C-152 on its mains and holding
the nose off. Actually, you can probably see more out of
In a no-wind situation, the airplane
will track perfectly straight. Given a good cross wind,
the pilot will have to work a little harder but the
airplane will handle it as long as the pilot keeps the
wing down and the nose straight.
Wheel landings are also automatic and
probably easier than in any other type of taildragger.
Just don't force it on. Let it find the ground, pin it
in place and the landing is over.
The controversy between those who
love the Cub and those who swear by the Champ will never
be resolved. The important thing to remember is they are
both terrific airplanes and the Champ wouldn't have
survived as long as it has if it hadn't had the Cub as a