The Ercoupe: A Journey into the resurrection, restoration, and triumph of a 48 year old airplane
This story starts out innocently enough, my dad and I were looking for a good used airplane. Nothing fancy, just something that carried two people and it didn’t have to be fast or flashy – our mission was low-cost!
If you know my dad, he is consummate scrounger; able to source amazing things for almost no money – he was born and raised in Oklahoma so what can I say?
We scoured the normal sources, Tradeplane and Aerotrader, this was before the full-on proliferation of the internet so things like Barnstormers.com didn’t exist. Then my dad recalled seeing an airplane years ago in his nearby hometown of Walters, Oklahoma. It was sitting wingless in a guy’s backyard – oh boy, here we go!
Of course, my dad ‘sourced’ it by going over and dealing this guy out of his airplane. It was a 1946 Ercoupe, one of 4311 built that year. It had been setting out in that backyard for 11 years, the wings were in storage at another location and it looked pitiful. All of the plexiglass was discolored or missing, the white paint had turn into a chalk-like substance that came off at the sight of a pressure washer and the bottom of the fuselage was layered in silt from years of dusty Oklahoma days. To make matters worse, that area is tornado alley, how it survived with very minimal hail damage we’ll never know.
So we used an oil field winch-truck dad borrowed to load up the fuselage and wings and took them to Jim Brewer’s hangar for inspection. At that point we didn’t really know if we had a large aluminum paperweight or something that, with a bunch of dough, could be turned back into a flyable airplane. It did have the engine and prop and even a radio and transponder. We didn’t have high expectations for this stuff though. Corrosion in the wings or fuselage would have been a show stopper, the rest we figured we could fix over time.
This is the phase I termed as the resurrection, it was certainly not a restoration by any means, rather an attempt to get it inspected (annual’d) and flying. We had to go through everything top to bottom. With the help of Jim Brewer, Dad and I put in some long hours on the ‘coupe hoping to have an airworthy airplane at the end of all this effort. We literally used a puddy knife to get the silt out of the bottom of the fuselage and the radios were the home of an enormous ant colony – amazingly after cleaning up the Narco VHF Com and transponder they worked!
Finally we got to the point where we could run the engine. It literally started on the second pull, Jim prop started it. We did the normal compression checks and drained the oil again after doing the taxi tests and the engine was fine – at least for now, we could expect to overhaul it down the road of course. The taxi checks consisted of taxiing it around without wings on it.
The Ercoupe was designed to be a super-safe solution to the expected post-war light airplane boom, which never really materialized. A 1940 LIFE Magazine article described it as “nearly foolproof”. The ‘coupe originally had no rudder pedals, the ailerons were interconnected with the rudder as such it would normally have a single brake pedal on the floor – ours was retrofitted with independent rudder pedals, but they didn’t have a lot of authority. Same for the elevator, they didn’t want you to be able to stall it so they limited the up travel, something you really have to plan for on landings with power off and high sink rates. The tricycle gear was super-rugged to accomodate the side loads from landing in a crab with crosswinds. It was an innovated design that didn’t quite make the mark, but they weren’t unpopular and you still see them around in good numbers today.
After the taxi tests it was time to put the wings back on and rig everything. The wings would normally be fabric covered aluminum, but ours was metalized, replacing the fabric with light weight sheet aluminum.
With that done, I did the test flights on it. No irregularities to report!
In an effort to get it painted, overhaul the engine, and upgrade the radios, my dad and I took on two partners in the airplane. Rick Endicott and his father-in-law Jack Medford. We bartered with local pilot and painter, Dave Vinson, to lay on some new imron. She turned out beautiful.
At the time we got the Ercoupe flying my career was shifting into high gear – I was flying everything under the sun and I was constantly in the air – it was one of the best times of my life. I wasn’t making any money, but I was happy! The coupe was great for giving rides to folks or commuting to work – I had a part time flying gig 50 miles away while still flying full-time for Jim.
One of the best memories I have of the coupe was solo’ing my dad in it!
As these things go, the partnership turned sour and unfortunately we sold the Ercoupe to get out of it.
The ‘coupe gave lots folks rides and lessons in the year and half we owned it. Some notables are David Meadows and Eric Kendall, both High Schoolers that hung out at the airport flew every chance they got; they have both grown into fine young family men.
All in all, my logbook shows 60.4 hours in N3466H, but it seems like many more. It is neat how such a diminutive, unassuming little airplane left such a positive mark on me some 48 years after it came off the assembly line in College Park, Maryland.
Please comment below if you have feedback or questions.
VISIT OUR SPONSOR for Training DVD's, affordable headsets, cable adapters, headset parts, LED strobes and lights, and more! They cover ALL EXPENSES for iFLYblog.com to keep it coming FREE to you FOREVER!
Subscribe to the iFlyBLOG Mailing List to get the latest blog posts and news to your E-Mail instantly! PLUS TWO FREE eBooks!