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 cabin
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
The WACO 9 was state-of-the-art for its time.
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
1927 Waco 10
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 J-5 Whirlwind).
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
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
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 WACO UIC was its most successful
cabin design plane.
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
The WACO CG-4A was the most widely used U.S. troop/cargo glider of WW II.
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."