Interesting read from SmithsonianMag on the Ercoupe, an airplane modeled and marketed for everyday civilian use.
In October 1945, the future of travel sat in a glistening showroom in a Manhattan Macy’s. Alongside the department store staples of household appliances, gentlemen’s socks and ladies’ girdles was a small, all-metal, two-seater airplane. This was the Ercoupe, “the airplane that anyone could fly.”
Built by the Engineering and Researching Corporation (ERCO), the Ercoupe was billed as “America’s first certified spin-proof plane.” It was safe: Ads called it the “world’s safest plane” and compared its handling to that of the family car. Others vouched for its affordability, emphasizing that it cost less than $3,000 (about $39,000 today). It was also a media sensation: LIFE Magazine called it “nearly foolproof” and the Saturday Evening Post asked readers to not look at it “as another airplane, but as a new means of personal transportation.”
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This was a great blast from the past, but it failed to mention the greatest drawback of the Ercoupe. The same feature that made this plane “easy to fly” made it very tricky to land in a cross wind and somewhat problematic to taxi on the ground. Unlike more conventional aircraft of the day, the Ercoupe did not have rudder pedals. Instead the rudders were controlled by a mechanical mixing device using the aileron portion of the control column (yoke). On a normal aircraft cross wind landing, the rudder pedals are used to keep the aircraft aligned with the runway (yaw control), while the ailerons are used to keep the aircraft on the center line (lateral position control). To land an Ercoupe, the pilot must use the yoke to keep the aircraft on the center line, and land with the nose pointed slightly into the wind. Then the pilot must ease control pressure and allow the free castering nose wheel to bring the aircraft into alignment with the runway. While the Ercoupe was technologically superior to almost ever other light aircraft on the market, it was not really any easier to fly. It was the first aircraft to have a “tricycle” landing gear (single wheel at the nose instead of at the tail). An experimental Ercoupe was also used to perform the first ever jet-assisted take off (JATO). That experiment was one of the earliest endeavors of what today is known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.