Flying Bathtubs Sell Like Hotcakes

The nation’s first mass-produced lightplane started as a homely, humble homebuilt.

The postwar 11AC Chief (with a side of cheesecake) had 75 percent of parts in common with the Champion. (NASM (SI NEG. #HGC-121))
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The glide rate might have been affected by the size of the pilot. Haynes says when a C-2 hauled around his 230 pounds, he couldn’t land slower than 45 mph; a lighter friend consistently landed at 35 mph.

At six feet four, Rick Durden jokes that when he clambers past the flying wires and into the little Aeronca, it is not a “graceful” sight.

Durden flies numerous modern and vintage aircraft. The Coloradan has logged more than 7,000 hours aloft, some of it in open-cockpit Aeroncas. “If you have flown anything in that era, you realize they didn’t understand anything about stability and control,” he says. “Control harmony didn’t exist. Stability didn’t exist. This [C-2] was a big step forward for the time. It might not be the best today, but it was so much better than anything else then.” Genealogically speaking, Durden says the C-2 “begat” some of the classics of general aviation: Taylorcrafts, Piper J-3 Cubs, and Aeronca Champions.

“What is phenomenal about the aircraft is that the engineering that went into it is so elegant,” says Craig MacVeigh of Seattle. MacVeigh owns 11 Aeroncas, including a recently purchased C-2. He is a board member of the National Aeronca Association; a board peer affectionately calls the ex-Marine Corps aircraft maintenance officer “our resident C-2 nut.” MacVeigh also has a pair of C-3s, the C-2’s two-place successor.

“The plane wasn’t just something that Roche slapped together from a 1910 Popular Mechanics magazine,” MacVeigh continues. “He did some very, very serious engineering, efficient engineering.”

Bob Hollenbaugh, an Aeronca engineer for 40 years, says, “The C-2 and C-3 and virtually all Aeroncas were configured with two lower longerons and one upper longeron. They used the triangular fuselage because structurally it was a better configuration, stronger than a box type.”

Three longerons—the fuselage’s primary longitudinal members—indeed were a genetic marker for Aeroncas. The signature framework remained even after wooden stringers were attached to later models to soften the lines for aesthetic and aerodynamic reasons. The C-2’s lineage, in other words, is in the bone structure.

After producing more than 17,000 airplanes in 55 models, Aeronca quit in 1951, turning to components for commercial and military aircraft, missiles, and space vehicles. In July 2008, Aeronca, which had been acquired by Magellan Aerospace in 1986, was awarded the contract to develop heat shields for NASA’s new Orion crew exploration vehicle. If the contract is not canceled in a shift of priorities for the space agency, Aeronca will build the shields in its Middletown, Ohio facility, where, since it relocated there in 1940, it produced more than 10,000 of the Flying Bathtub’s most famous successor, the Aeronca Champion.

Giles Lambertson became acquainted with the Aeronca C-2 because his father learned to fly in one.

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