70 Years in Africa. The Aeronca Sedan is one of those rare classics, appreciated by those in the know. A direct competitor to the Cessna C170, it does almost everything better, with a wonderfully spacious four-place cabin and a fabulous wing that likes to fly slow so well it doesn’t need flaps.
The year is 1946, World War 2 is over and the American aviation industry is anticipating a boom in aircraft sales. By the end of the war 193,440 pilots had graduated from the Army Air Force advanced flying schools and the majority of those that made it back were demobilised by the end of 1946. The American economy was booming and returning airmen were a huge potential pool of aircraft buyers.
All the major general aviation aircraft manufacturers were looking at getting a slice of this market. These aircraft manufacturers had all been producing two place trainers for civilian and military use prior to and during the war, but a new market for a reasonably priced four place family aeroplane was anticipated. The major contenders were the Cessna 170, PA-14 Family Cruiser, Stinson 108, Taylorcraft 15 and the Luscombe 11A Silvaire Sedan.
The Aeronautical Corporation of America (Aeronca) was also a contender as they had been manufacturing planes, engines and components since 1928. They had a number of successful designs under their belt including the 7AC Champion and the 11AC Chief.
The Aeronca designers came up with a design where the airframe and empennage are of welded metal tubing with wooden formers and longerons, covered in fabric. The strut braced wings were all metal. This was unusual and the opposite of Cessna’s C170’s fabric covered wings and metal fuselage. Also unique to the Sedan were the single piece metal wing struts.
The Sedan’s landing gear was conventional taildragger with bungee cords on the main gear and tailwheel for shock absorption. The tailwheel was steerable. The engine chosen was the 145hp, six cylinder, Continental C145-2 or O-300-A, both engines being similar except the latter had the option of a vacuum pump fitment. The Franklin 6A4-165(150)-B3 was also approved for installation.
Like many of the earlier planes of that era, the Sedan was designed without flaps. There is a story that the designers left off the flaps as they wanted to keep the wings simple so they could fold for easy trailering, but this idea was abandoned when it was discovered that the tail feathers were too large for road trailering. But the decision against flaps probably had more to do with cost, similarly for putting a door on only the co-pilots side. The Sedan sold for $4,795 in 1948. By comparison the Cessna 170, equipped with the same Continental O-300-A engine, sold for $5,475.
The Sedan was also available in seaplane and ski configurations.
Despite being well rated and outperforming its opposition, the Sedan was not a huge seller and after producing 561 examples the Aeronca company ceased aircraft production altogether in 1951, having produced a total of 17,408 aircraft in 55 models. The company still exists today as part of Magellan Aerospace and produces components for aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Airbus and Northrop Grumman.
The Aeronca type certificates have, since 1954, been owned variously by Champion Aircraft Company, Bellanca Aircraft Company and once again Champion Aircraft Company. Derivative designs like the Citabria and the Decathlon come out of this stable. The Sedan type certificate is now owned by Burl’s Aircraft Company of Alaska. The company holds many STC’s for the Sedan as well as an engine
upgrade to the ubiquitous Lycoming O-360 which makes the aircraft a great performer. Burl’s is now producing an out of the box New Sedan which sells for $ 345,000 and is marketed as the AeroSedan (Rogers 15AC Sedan).
The Sedan was designed for sparkling performance with STOL characteristics and easy handling. The interior is huge with lots of space for rear passengers on a bench seat and plenty of space for luggage. The Sedan proved to be a dependable, rugged and easy to maintain aeroplane. Amazingly of the 561 built it is estimated that about 260 remain in flying condition, an astonishing achievement considering that they are all in the region of 70 years old. Most of the remaining aircraft are in the United States with the majority of these in Alaska where they do duty as bush or float planes. Many have been re-engined with the Lycoming O-360-1AF6 engine.
There are six flying examples in Europe a dozen or so in Canada and possibly a few in South America. There is only one example in Africa.
There have been a few Sedans that have a notable place in history. In 1949 a Sedan known as “Sunkist Lady” was chosen for an endurance flight out of Fullerton Airport California. Piloted by Bill Barris and Dick Riedel the plane flew from Fullerton on 15 March 1949 to Miami Florida where, forced by bad weather, they circled for fourteen days before returning to Fullerton. The craft was replenished by making low passes over vehicles travelling up and down airport runways and passing fuel and food to the pilots. Having reached Fullerton, the pilots circled the airport until they had spent 1,008 hours (42 Days) in the air.
The record was short lived and another Sedan, the “City of Yuma” out of Yuma Arizona took off on 24 August 1949 and went on to fly for 1,124 hours (47) days without landing. This aircraft now has pride of place at the City Hall in Yuma. The current record for endurance flying is held by a C172 “Hacienda” which took off from McCarran Airport Las Vegas on 4 December 1958 and flew for nearly 63 days.
A famous bush pilot, Don Sheldon, flew a Sedan out of Talkeetna Alaska. Don pioneered the technique of glacier landings on Mount McKinley (Denali). One great
story about him is the rescue of four Army scouts who had managed to get themselves stranded in the middle of Devil’s Canyon on the Susitna River. Their boat had been smashed when they entered the canyon and they had managed to cling onto a ledge on the canyon wall. They were in terrible shape with no means of rescue.
Sheldon landed the Sedan upstream of the gorge and allowed it to ride the raging waters down whilst facing the aircraft upstream with the engine used for stability. On reaching the scouts he rescued one and floated down river until the water was calm enough to do a down river take off. He repeated this until all four had been saved. His story “Wager with the Wind: The Don Sheldon story” makes for an excellent read.
Back to 1949 and the importation of the only Aeronca Sedan into Africa.
Post WW2 Haller Aviation were the Aeronca agents, operating out of East London, Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. Haller amalgamated with Sharwoods Flying services to form Southern Aviation (Pty) Ltd in Port Elizabeth. In addition, Fichardt’s Motors of Bloemfontein also advertised Aeroncas and Ercoupes as part of their product line.
It is not clear who imported Sedan c/n 14AC-415, a late production model, into the country but we do know it received its CofR No.1555 on 11 July 1949 and received the letters ZS-DDA. No US registration is known for it and none may have been allocated.
It had the standard late model colour scheme of Santa Fe Red and Tuscan Cream. Early owners of the aircraft were Pat McClure, The Langeveld Sisal Farm and TC Lochner of “Mortimer” near Cradock. The aircraft was also based at Paulpietersberg and Utrecht. It then went to ED van der Walt of Venterstad. At some point the aircraft was exported but by 1967 it was back on the SA register as ZS-EUP. Sometime after that the aircraft was boxed and spent the next 40 years in storage. On 30 May 2003 it was registered ZU-DAY but had to spend another seven years in the box until in 2010, Hugh Hodgson of Midcoast Air in Margate bought the plane and did a ground-up refurbishment. In August 2013 ZU-DAY took to the air again for the first time in 40 years.
The aircraft is now based at Morningstar airfield Cape Town and is flown regularly.
The first thing that you notice when you do a walk around is the size of the plane. The wing is huge, and the NACA 4412 aerofoil section looks like it means business. The empennage has graceful lines and a large cross section. The fuselage, in keeping with the wings and tail is large in cross section and width. As mentioned, there are no flaps. The plane weighs in at 560 kg which means it can be manoeuvred around the hangar by one person but a tailwheel dolly makes life much easier.
The Sedan originally came with Goodyear disc brakes with the toothed, free floating discs. They were pretty hopeless and spares expensive and difficult to source. They were replaced with a set of Grove disc brakes which are great. I know some of the greybeard experts reckon you should be able to handle a taildragger without brakes but for me it makes no sense to add an extra ingredient into the ‘no groundloop’ pot, especially at Morningstar, where a taildragger already needs constant attention.
Getting into the aircraft is done from the right, via a step in front of the single wing strut. The large door makes getting in and out relatively easy. Both front seats are rail mounted for pedal distance adjustment.
The interior is spacious with plenty of headroom, no need to pull the pip off your cap in this plane. Both front seats tip forward to allow entry to the back bench. Another thing you notice on sitting in the front seats is the forward view is unusually good for a taildragger. This makes taxiing a lot simpler than some short coupled taildraggers.
The instruments are standard six pack and the radios are 1960’s vintage. It also has a VOR with DME which must have come with the radio stack at some point in its career. Fuel gauges are sight gauges in the wings. A recent addition has been a round 2.5 inch Fuel Flow meter from MGL which, although not in keeping with a classic aircraft, makes a world of difference to fuel planning accuracy. I can now plan fuel burn in litres rather than gallons per hour and know at any time how much fuel is in each tank down to the last litre. The MGL fuel flow meter is where the ammeter is in the photo of the instrument panel, above the engine gauge. I have just swopped out that engine gauge as well, also for an MGL 3,5 inch engine monitor. I swopped it out because I couldn’t get spares for the current one – which also wasn’t original – it sported a Cessna logo! The MGL has so many more functions on it and was reasonably easy to install. It shows the importance of allowing modern instruments into vintage aircraft.
FLYING THE SEDAN
Start-up is pretty standard for a carburetted Continental. No primer, so it’s mixture full rich, four slow pushes on the throttle to full rich, then 20 mm open. Master on, mags on, then the usual three-handed start, yoke back with left hand, throttle with right hand and pull the starter toggle with your other hand.
It normally starts on first crank after a few prop turns. Twelve hundred RPM, lean mixture and check T’s and P’s. Not leaning the mixture for taxi will give you fouled plugs on the bottom jugs. They are cleared easily enough with a lean run-up but it’s better to lean aggressively on taxi.
Taxiing is easy as the view over the cowl is good and the tailwheel is steerable.
There is not a lot to do pre-take off: no fuel pumps or flaps. One thing that is critical is centring the trim as landing trim is not a good idea for takeoff as its pretty powerful and will need plenty of forward yoke if not properly set. Run-ups are standard.
On the runway, line up straight, throttle forward smoothly, count two crocodiles and stick forward. The tail comes up easily, four more crocodiles and it flies itself off at about 50 knots. This is usually about 180 m from the threshold. Speed builds to 60 knots and we climb away at a leisurely 550 fpm. It becomes immediately apparent that this aeroplane is very stable and the controls are heavy compared to modern light aircraft. In straight and level flight and properly trimmed, it flies hands off with just a touch of a rudder pedal now and then to keep on point.
ZU-DAY has a cruise prop. I looked at tweaking it a bit to get a bit more climb rate but it would have been at the cost of some cruise speed, so I decided to live with the leisurely climb rate. We had no problem climbing out of Eros on a hot day with full fuel and luggage. We just didn’t hurry it.
At 2,450 RPM the ASI will settle at 95 knots true, burning about 30 litres per hour. The C145 is a low compression engine so should be happy with forecourt fuel in South Africa. I tried it for a while but my AMO complained of fouling and dirty plugs, so I reverted to 100LL Avgas with which it is very happy.
The controls are nicely harmonised. There is very little adverse yaw in the turn and a touch of rudder keeps the ball in the centre. Power off stalls are a breeze and the wing gives a shudder at 40 knots indicated with no wing drop.
When I did my tailwheel endorsement on it I was worried that I would struggle to find an instructor rated on type but, surprisingly, through CAA, we did find a few people who had ratings, most likely from way back when. The instructor I used was adamant the Sedan is the most docile taildragger he has ever flown.
Landings are of course still typical tailwheel, but because of the large wing, it stays stable in the descent. It even handles Morningstar’s legendary two zero rotors with ease. Power off and trimmed, it descends at 400 fpm at 60 knots. Anything more than 60 and it will carry on flying in the flare. As mentioned previously there are no flaps but because of the large side area of the fuselage it slips very easily.
It has no preferences as to the type of landing so I do both wheelers and three pointers. For wheelers I bring it in at 65 knots and 1,200 rpm. At the correct speed it will stop in 150 m with no wind. Having a good view over the cowl really helps to keep on the centreline. That being said, like all conventional geared aircraft, it has to be flown all the way to the hangar.
As part of a group from Morningstar Flying Club, I recently took it up to the annual Uis flyaway in Namibia. We routed Morningstar, Upington, Oranjemund, Lüderitz, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Uis, Eros, Upington and home. It was 28 hours of flying and the Aeronca handled it like a lady, burning 28 litres of fuel an hour. It isn’t the right plane to take on a rushed trip, on all the legs we arrived last, but I am sure we observed a lot more of the surroundings than everyone else and the beers were still cold when we arrived at the destinations.
ZU-DAY, also known locally as ‘DAYZEE’, is now becoming a regular fixture at Cape Town fly-aways and we are doing some great exploring of the numerous lesser known landing strips in and around the Western Cape.