Flew the Coupe! – Part 9- Not much happening but the waiting

So I thought I’d share an update.  Things here in Seattle have ground to a halt when it comes the Ercoupe adventure.  Weather is not my friend this time of year.  So I am still needing some time with an instructor to get my BFR behind me and that just isn’t happening.  The FBO I have chosen never seems to have a plane available and the instructor I’ve chosen is even harder to book.  Since very few days here this time of year would be days I’d want to fly in I have settled down into a holding pattern.  I’ve looked for things I can do while I wait.  So there have been a few things I’ve either done or tried to do.

So I have named my little bird.  I’d like you all to meet “Woodstock”!

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Seems to fit.  I’m still trying to decide where I’ll be putting the image on the plane.  There is certainly the traditional nose art location but I am also considering the vertical fin.  That may end up depending on how I decide to enhance my airplanes markings.  While my plane really does lend itself to the pseudo military trainer scheme many Ercoupes seem to sport I am also considering staying with a civilian scheme.  The good news is I don’t have to rush to decide.  I am slowly learning more about how the Ercoupe came from the factory.  They really weren’t particularly fancy.  Basically no paint on the fuselage, silver wings.  Some had the Erco logo painted on the cowl, some came with the brass badges.  A wonderful fellow name Andy Pomeroy gave me a pair of those badges and I have already put them on the plane.

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Looks pretty nice if you ask me!

So lets talk more about what I learned about civilian paint schemes for the Ercoupe.  So at first they came with a painted on logo, then they got the badges.  Its still a bit fuzzy as to when the swap happened.  Here is the panted on logo:

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There are even factory drawings that show that as part of the original paint.  So looking at old photos and posters here is what you find.

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So the brass logo but no stripe.  A little red trim in this case.

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So painted on logo, side stripe. paint on both the wing and vertical fin leading edges.  Silver wings?  It also has the center sun screen.

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So here are two Ercoupes in front of the factory.  One definitely has the brass logo plate.  No stripes on the fuselage and no leading edge trim.  Both look to have the center sun screen.

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Nose brass plate logo, no stripe but a little trim on the wingtips.  No center sun screen.  Note the wire antenna from the canopy back to the top of the fin.

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So bare, no logos, no stripes.

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So here is a Macy’s ad.  Hard to tell if there is a cowl badge and I really don’t see a stripe on the fuselage but there is clearly trim on the wing and vertical fin leading edges.  Here is another Macy’s promotional photo:

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What a happy family picnic!  Not sure how they all got there in that plane but sure!  So painted on logo on the cowl, side fuselage stripe.  No sign of trim on the leading edges.

Here is a picture from the Smithsonian:

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No cowl logo, no fuselage stripes.  This plane also has a nose gear faring.  More about that later.

How about a promotional photo with Jane Russel!

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Cowl brass plate logo.  No fuselage stripes.  No sign of leading edge trim.  Cool circular period directional antenna!

So summary is there really seemed to be a lot of randomness in the way the planes were painted new.  So I think I can take some liberties if I decided to stay “civilian”.

So if I decide to keep it “civy” I have to device a coupe of things.  For example do I add a fuselage side stripe?  If I do what color?  Do I use vinyl or paint it on?  Do I add leading edge trim?  How about the “N” numbers in the vertical fins?  Do I move them somewhere else like the fuselage or maybe incorporate them into some trim on the vertical fins?  How about some other vertical fin ideas?  Here are some photos of “coupes” with a “swoop”.

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So I am pondering how to make my new to me plane “my own”.  So while I wait for the weather to improve I can plan out my mods.

I’ll share at least one silly airplane related thing I did.  I made a Christmas ornament match my plane:

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Another thing I’ve been actively looking into is a new interior for my plane.  I set out to just order one from Airtex and have gotten no response.  They seem to have a huge lead time so I’ll start after the holidays and try again.  In the mean time I may have changed my mind about a few things.  The Ercoupe did not come with carpet.  Just a wood floor board and I am tempted to leave mine like that.  Here is my floorboard:

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Nothing special, just wood. I’ll decide what to do about that after I’ve flown the plan a bit.  Maybe OK that way but carpet is easy to do.

I am still trying to decide what to do about the instrument panel.  Mine is far from original and I think something closer to original would be nice but again, I’m putting that off for when I’ve flown the plane more.

Now one thing I can get to almost immediately.  Polishing!  I can see I have a lot of that in my future!  I bought one of these:

cyclopaint

And I’ve talked to some folks that know more about polishing than I do so I think I need to buy at least another one.  Parts of my plane are going to require more than this polisher can manage to bring them back to where I’d like them.  Some places on my plane are going to need to need some attention it seems.  For example:

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We’ll see if I run out of energy once I get into it as the plane looks pretty decent to me.  Who knows?  I do know at least at this point I would like to have a nicely polished plane!

Another thing that was pointed out to me is that my cowl could fit better.  The top piece seems to be a little too wide to fit right.  Someone said I need to possible “shrink” it.  I have no idea whats involved in that.  Maybe I’ll figure that out once I get this fixed.  My nosebowl has a crack.  I have several folks that say they can weld it but I need to take the prop off to get the nosebowl off.  Well the plane is not being flown so now if the time to do it!  Here is the crack:

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I also still need to fix my wingtip strobe light.  Now I know what I have and what I need to do.  So the previous owner took standard Grimes wingtip lights and welded on a mount for a standard Whelan strobe assembly.  My strobe tube seems to be blown so I can buy a replacement from places like Aircraft Spruce Specialist. Here is a standard grimes light and mine:

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And here is what I think I need to fix it:

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The only complication is my light is riveted together so I have to drill the rivets and then replace them with a screw and nut of some sort.  First step is to figure out where my drill is!  Actually my entire hangar needs to be reorganized but the cold is very demotivating!

So other things I’ve found out.  I have Cleveland brakes!  This is a very good thing as I understand it.  Parts for the original brakes are hard to come by and the original brakes don’t work as well.  I do need to clean my calipers but just another project!

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Another thing I’ve learned is my nose gear has something called a “snubber” cable and has had the original faring removed.  I need to fly the plane some to decide what I really want to do but I think at this time I will restore the nose gear to its original configuration. Originally it came with a small metal faring that would move to streamline the nose gear as the weight of plane came off the gear and it extended.  Some planes still have them, many do not.  I think I want to put mine back.  To do that I need to remove the “snubber” cable.  These cables were fitted to newer coupes and many owners added them to their older coupes.

Another thing related to the landing gear.  My airplane may be sitting too tail high.  There are rubber components on the main gear that can flatten over time and make the tail sit too low.  This becomes a problem because the Ercoupe needs the nose wheel on the ground to steer.  So if the tail stays low the airplane can be uncontrollable in a cross wind.  Something I need to check out.

So I can say I’ve made progress on other less interesting things that are part of buying an airplane.  I paid the state of Washington my “use tax”.  That was $1950-ish dollars I would have liked to spent on something more useful for the airplane.  Now I need to send the proof of that to the WA aviation folks to get my WA state registration.  Paying the use tax was pretty straight forward although I discovered that my FAA registration does not list the aircraft manufacturer year so I had to swear to that verbally.  Also whatever blue book they use to verify the airplane’s value seems to not include the Ercoupe!

So that’s about all I have to report as “I fly the Coupe”.  Sadly no real flying to share.  But soon I hope.  I am looking into putting a “Go Pro” in the plane to share more of my adventures with videos.  Not sure about that yet.

So if you have any ideas about how to add some paint/vinyl trim to Woodstock let me feel free to leave your ideas in the comments!  Also if you run across any interesting Ercoupe photos please let me know!  Here is one I ran across I really like!

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Note, painted on cowl logo, fuselage stripes and no leading edge trim.  Very few people know that the Ercoupe was the preferred airplane for bears to fly! 🙂

Here is another, this is the Ercoupe that was the first airplane to ever fly with a JATO.

jatocoupe.png

So painted on cowl logo, side fuselage stripes, red leading edge trim.

So this really it for this installment.  I’ll leave with a suggested site.  If you are familiar with the show Top Gear you certainly know Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond.   They started a social sites for fans of motorsports mostly call Drive Tribe.  I add an aviation tribe there call “Oh To Fly”.  Please give it a visit and consider joining!

 

 

 

 

 

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Flew the Coupe! – Part 8- It’s all the little stuff!

So I thought I’s share some more details of my plane and talk a little more about things I want to change.  Let’s start with things I don’t plan.  No, even though I live on a lake that is one of the busiest seaplane port in the word  will not be putting my coupe on floats.  Sure seems like it could be cool though! 🙂

One of the first things I am upgrading.  My interior.  Here is my current interior.  I expect it may be very much like it came out of the factory.  I think the seat back may be original.  I think the same might be true of the baggage compartment.  I think the seat cushions are likely recovered but in a material close to original.   I expect the same is true of the side panels.  The plane has a wooden floor and no carpet.  Here are some photos of the seat:

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The baggage compartment:

Side panels:

The floor is just wood:

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So there is nothing horrible about any of that.  In fact it is probably very close to how my plane came off the factory floor.  Much of my plane is how I think it was when it was manufactured.  But, I can do better!

So I am going to add carpets, replace the side panels and seats.  I think dark grays will be the pallet.  I believe I can put in all the new interior kit myself.  I also realize looking at the floor picture there is some sort of bracket there I have to figure out.  For folks that wonder I expect the interior will set me back about $1500.  This should include the baggage compartment.  While I like the large baggage compartment upgrade I am not sure I’m going to do that.  I will definitely share that process when I get to it.

Other things I expect to address.  Here is my “hat shelf”:

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You can get a carpet cover for that so I think I’ll get one of those as well.  I discovered something I need to research.  Here is the dataplate for my plane:

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My plane was upgraded to a “D” and and 85HP.  I wonder if this was supposed to be updated?

Another interior item that will be replaced.  There is a cover over the dash that is made out of the same material as the seats.  I will replace that with some matching material with the new interior.  You can see it here:

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So another small detail that I like I am going to reproduce.  It looks like that gas float assembly on my plane is worn and the float not floating so well.  Good news is that I can buy a new one from Univair.  However mine has a sort of fin at the top.  The come as just a wire.  Someone fit mine with a little folded over piece of brass.  Here it is:

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So lets talk about things my plane has plenty of. Antennas! Here are all the antennas on my plane in no particular order.  Transponder and I’m not sure.  The plane had a Loran once.  If you know what that small “V” shaped antenna is let me know!

This I believe is a VOR antenna and the tail position light:

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And now the Comm and GPS antenna:

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I think I have at least one antenna I don’t need and the GPS/Comm antenna does not feel very “period”.  I understand the radios work well but I am thinking some changes are in order.  For example if the GPS comes out maybe I can go to a simple whip for the comm radio.  Something more like this:

whip

I can’t say yet I know where my ELT antenna is.  And I have no idea what the “V” shaped one on the bottom is.

Now lets look at my panel.  Here are some pictures:

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So a couple of observations.  The panel is certainly not in any sort of standard layout.  And at least one instrument needs some “luvin”.  The artificial horizon needs to be adjusted/serviced.  But this begs a larger question.  Is this panel not really consistent with my “mission”.  So certainly all legally required instruments stay.  And when it comes to engine instruments more is better I think.  But do I need an artificial horizon? These old sperry instruments date back to WWII.  Another question do I need a VOR?  I am not so sure in the age of GPS.  Anyways, I am seriously thinking of refurbish an original panel.  Moving the avionics to one of the glove box locations and ditching all the not needed for IFR instruments.

Other things I’n noticed on the plane.  I have some polishing challenges.  Here is some corrosion I found on the top of the canopy area:

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If you know anything about polishing let me know what to do!

Another thing I decided not to worry about.  My plane is missing the cabin heat “muff”.  Dennie said be found the plane stayed plenty warm.  I may take advantage of the ducting and move it to just fresh outside air.  Here is where the missing heater part should be:

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A simple thing I need to sort out, what to do about the “head clobbering device”!.  The compass works very well but seems to be perfectly positioned for people to hit their head on!

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I need to pad it or something!

So mostly I thought I’d share some details of my plane.  Here are some other photos:

So if you have any feedback please feel free to share!

There should be a future installment will be about the history of the Ercoupe but the next installment is just about passing some time while I get flying my new bird!

Flew the Coupe! – Part 9- Not much happening but the waiting

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Flew the Coupe! – Part 7- I’m the dog that caught car, now what!

So I did it!  I bought a wonderful plane.  A 1946 Ercoupe in great shape.  So lets take a brief inventory of my remarkable little plane.

  • Low total air frame time
  • Polished fuselage and tail
  • Medium time engine
  • Pretty full panel with at least one mystery gauge!
  • Decent radios
  • Average interior
  • “C” model upgraded to “D”
  • 85 HP engine
  • Single leg nose gear
  • Fabric wings in excellent shape!
  • New battery
  • Fresh mags
  • Very simple paint – yellow wings with big “N” numbers and the “N” number on the fins

So most of that is great, now onto the obvious squawks.

  • Mystery gauge – will I solve that puzzle!  Time travel??  Warp drive???
  • Mediocre interior – maybe original even – brown Naugahyde – This picture shows the brown material my plane has:

ercoupe_seat_001-1

  • Paint scheme could use some “pizzazz”!
  • Wingtip strobe light dead
  • Room to maybe improve the panel for what I want the plane for

So what are my plans and priorities.

Fix the wingtip strobe light.  My plane has a very unusual custom tip light that combines a standard Grimes fixture with a custom created housing for the strobe with is a standard Whelen strobe.  I think the strobe bulb has died.  Here is what that looks like:

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I think I can order the strobe tube once I’ve confirmed what I have.  Aircraft Spruce seems to sell them:

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Put in a new interior.  So far I think I am going to do the Airtex kit.  Here is an Airtex Ercoupe interior”

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I’ve ordered their material sample kit and I am in the process of picking the materials and colors.  I am leaning towards grays for the carpet and seats (it doesn’t have any carpet at the moment).  So premium cloth for the seats and vinyl for the side panels.  Still pondering but I think I am close to a choice.

I thought about fitting Cessna 150 seats which I understand is a popular mod but I think keeping it close to original is better.  I also considered adding the large baggage mod but I think I’ll pass on that.

I want to add shoulder harnesses.  Alpha aviation seems to sell a decent solution.  The Alpha Aviation shoulder harness kit:

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They also have another mod I think I will do soon.  They have a modification that adds a solenoid on the main battery line to remove the high current draw through the main switch.

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I am also hoping to have some sort of ground power charging plug added to the plane so I can keep a trickle charger on the batter while the plane sits in the hangar.  Life is too short for dead batteries.

Other upgrades I am considering is upgrading the electrical system to have an alternator instead of a generator.  “Plane-Power” looks to make a decent kit.  I may hold off on that for a little while.

One of the first things I knew I needed was a decent polisher.  I’ve already bought one along with a supply of “Nuvite” polish from “Perfect Polish”.  So I now own one of these:

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I am sure I will become fast friends with this gizmo!  I know I have many many hours using it!  I expect to buy a couple of other polishers as well.  Some sort of smaller one to polish harder to reach places and maybe some sort of basic car type polish for first step polishing work.  If you know anything about polishing airplanes please share!

So lets look at some other places  in my plane I am looking at making changes.  My instrument panel is unusual for an Ercoupe.  Here is a picture of the original panel:

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Not many instruments and a couple of glove boxes!  I’m  not sure how many instruments you really need in an Ercoupe.  Also note that there aren’t any radios.  Ercoupes almost predate radios!  But today you are going to want radios!  So lets look more at my panel.  It has many more instruments and some radios.  Sadly you will see there are no longer glove boxes in my plane. 😦  Here are some pictures of my panel.  See if you can identify the mystery gauge!

 

So lets look at what I have.  King Com and Nav Radio.  A Garmin in panel GX-150 GPS.  A marker beacon receiver.  A transponder.  An artificial horizon.  A turn and bank indicator.  A mystery gauge!  Also note that my control yokes are upside down.  The panel is covered with this sort of “spun metal” finish.  The previous owner considered this an IFR capable panel.  I am going to admit I am not sure I plan on a lot of IFR time in my Coupe!  Also the Sperry “Gyro Horizon” looks to have been used in WWII bombers!  And it seems to see the world with a definite tilt.  It never straightens out. 😦  It needs to be removed and somehow serviced/adjusted.  I am told the clock works really well!  OK, so one thing I don’t have to worry about! 🙂  I should note that as part of the plane prepping to come home the 1946 tachometer decided it had had enough so it does have a new tach.  It has vernier throttle and mixture controls. I am not sure I like those.  Maybe I’ll get used to them.

So I considering finding a more original panel and trying to maybe get it to looking something more like this:

panelMuch more  period looking.  I have considered moving the radios to where one of the glove boxes was in the original panel.  I’ve seen folks do that.  As with everything all you need is time and money.   Does anyone know how the panel goes in and can then be removed?  I haven’t figured that out yet. 😦

Dennie suggested the I get rid of the GPS as he is a huge fan of iPads with the right software.  My friend Olan thinks the GPS that came with the plane is a decent one.  Not sure.  It does need the navigation file updated but that is available. I’d love feedback on the right way to evolve/devolve the instrument panel!  I don’t see it as the highest priority but I think it will be part of my plans.

So how about some things I decided for now to to change:

The nose gear.  At first I though the dual fork gear was a must.  I no longer think so.  So I don’t plan on any changes to my nose gear.  Also the original Ercoupe came with a funny little faring that would line up behind the gear.  That was supposed to be good for 1 MPH! 🙂  My plane has a thing called a “snubber” cable the limits the nose gear travel downward and would prevent the faring from working properly.  Here is what my nose gear looks like (note, not my gear, just a picture I found like mine):

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Another thing I considered was adding a split elevator and basically making my “D” an “E”.  Dennie says my plane lands fine and I haven’t flown it yet so I will hold off on that idea till I’ve decided for myself.  So no immediate plan with the elevator.

I do have at least one minor sheet metal repair to get made on the cowl.  I have a crack in my nose bowl.  This I understand is very typical.  Here is the crack:

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Kind of nasty.  No worries.  I’ll take off the prop and get the nose bowl looked at by someone with the right skills to set it right.

I am also going to add some non-slip walkway material on my wing roots as they get very very slippery!

So another thing I know pilots are thinking about now.  What am I going to do about the upcoming ADS-B transponder upgrade that the FAA is imposing?  I am going to ignore it for now.  I will be leveraging the unlimited power of procrastination!  I don’t need to do it right away and I think there are just too many things improving in that area.  I think there are cheaper and better options in the future.  So I’m holding off on worrying about that for now.

Now to some fun things.  I think I am going to add some trim and even name the little bird.  This presents me with a number of options.  As for naming I am drawn to Woodstock.  Snoopy’s good friend who is an eccentric little yellow bird.  Seems to fit the character of this plane.  Here is Woodstock:

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So now how to embellish my little plane.  So it is very pretty as is but kind of plain.  Yes a plain plane!  At first I was pretty excited about some sort of military theme.  You see a lot of Ercoupes in various military trainer schemes.  There is even one that legitimately has a military scheme.  Lets examine some of the elements of those.  First my plane is going to largely stay polished.  Let look at a popular military trainer with the sort of makings I am considering.  The Ryan PT-22:

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By the way Harrison Ford crashed one of these a little while back trying to land in a golf course after his engine failed. So lets look at individual elements.

  • Yellow wings- Check!
  • Polished fuselage- Check!
  • Stars roundel on wing – add that?
  • Striped rudder – add that?
  • Glare flat paint on the top of cowl – add that?
  • Yellow painted horizontal stabilizer and vertical fin – paint those?
  • Fuselage side markings – add those?

Lets look at some very pretty military painted Ercoupes:

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So none of those planes actually have any sort of military history.  More about coupes in the military in a later blog. But they have been made to be a “tribute” to WWII military trainers. So here is my military paint check list with my current thinking:

  • Yellow wings- Check!  Yup I am keeping those.  By the way my plane has HUGE “N” numbers on its wings.  I like that.  In fact they are the numbers that were assigned when it was first registered with the FAA.  NC2756H.  My plane is old enough to even have an “NC” number which is what they did back in the 40’s and 50’s was assigned the second letter to be the airplanes category designation.  You can see some of the “N” number on my planes wing in this picture:

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  • Polished fuselage- Check!
  • Stars roundel on wing – I think I will add those.  On the top left wing anyways and a big one!  Now what type, you have an number of choices.

Here are the range of semi-appropriate roundels:

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I think I like the first one best.  The start with the red ball center.  It isn’t “period” correct but this isn’t going to be a “correctly” marked airplane anyways.

  • Striped rudder – Yes.  I think I want to do this.  Here is my rudder now:

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So right now it has my “N” numbers.  I am thinking I am going to remove the “N” numbers from the movable surface and either put smaller ones on the fuselage or move them to fixed portion of the fins.  Whatever I do I’ll do to both sides.  The on the movable part I think a vertical blue stripe then alternating red and white stripes.  Something like this:

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So I am definitely thinking something sort of like this.  Maybe with Woodstock image on the fixed portion.

  • Anti-glare flat paint on the top of cowl – I thought I wanted that and now I am pretty sure unless I discover there is an issue with glare I’m leaving the cowl entirely polished.
  • Yellow painted horizontal stabilizer and vertical fin – I like the look but again I am going to leave the horizontal and the verticals with the exception of the rudders as I previously described polished.  Maybe after getting tired of polishing so much I will leverage the awesome invention that is paint!  But for now, no changes.
  • Fuselage side markings – Hmmm.  Maybe move smaller “N” numbers there?  At one point I researched what was done with military trainers.  What I found was there was no universal guideline.  It was largely up to the airbase where the plane was based.  What was usually done was a leading letter for the base designation followed by the airplane serial number.  So I’m from AZ and there are three air bases there that might fit.  Luke AFB, Williams AFB and Falcon field.  Luke would be “X”.  So X3381.  Falcon Field was “BP” and Williams was “Y”.  So OK, that is  possibility but what is the regulations about that on a civilian registered plane.  Well it isn’t clear.  You definitely have to have “N” numbers of a certain size but I couldn’t find any indication you can just put on other numbers if you want to.  But lets look at the one of the  truly military Ercoupes that happens to also be immaculately restored.  Here is that plane back then:

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and now one painted to be the same but is not the same plane:

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Beautiful plane!  Those are about the size of the Roundels I am thinking of adding.  I’m not sold on the red trim or the yellow on the tail feathers.  But there are those rudder stripes!   I also wouldn’t have a fuselage length side stripe like that.  But there is “I25196”.  By the way “I” indicated Mather Field (CA).  The serial number as it was painted originally.  I couldn’t find anything in the regs about that being OK.  You can see the smaller “N” number on the fuselage back by the tail on this picture of a replica I am thinking about.  So “X3381” on mine?  Or “BP3381”.  I do have a hangar at falcon field!  Or no serial number?  I am no longer sure.  The more I look at that original picture the more I’m convinced the new scheme may not be that accurate.  The original photo does not have the upper cowl flat black.  I also don’t see evidence of the wing fairings being painted.  There is something going on with the main gear too.

The original didn’t have hub caps.  The new plane has painted ones.  OK, so here is another picture of the original plane today.  It now has an “E” on the serial number on the nose.  A beauty for sure but a bit of a mystery!  Here are some photos of the original XQ-13 as it exists today:

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ercxpq

xpq13-1

ercoupe99

xpq13-restore

But can I legally do the “tribute” military serial number with airfield designator?  If you know the answer let me know!

So one thing I am doing for sure is adding these side cowl badges:

erco_badge

A really nice fellow at Auburn airport gave a me polished up pair of these!  I can’t find any history on these.  But my cowling sides already have the holes to mount these.  So there is something “official” about them I think.

It looks like Ercoupes started out with a painted Erco emblem that was part of a side stripe.Something like this:

emblem

At some point I believe that Erco did add this marking and a stripe from the factory.  But I have no real idea.  If there a coupe expert that can explain the history of the logos I would love to hear it!

So I have wondered what if I wanted to stay with a civilian scheme.  So I researched as best I could how they were painted new.  Not so exciting.  Most seem to have been polished with the wings painted silver.  I can’t even find out for sure if they were ever painted yellow like mine.  So Ercoupes back in the day came out of the factory pretty plain.  Here is a pair in the early days:

erco_md_ercoupes_factory

Note there looks like there might be those badges on this planes.  No painted logo or stripes.  I would love to learn more about how they came out of the factory.

So a word about the silver wings.  It is common to make the first coats of aircraft “dope” used when covering fabric wings have alumium powder in it to make the fabric more resistant to the sun.  So it ends up a very pretty silver.  So silver wings are basically because they weren’t being painted!

That isn’t to say there haven’t been some interesting civilian Ercoupes!  I thought a bit about sunburst on the wings.  Basically adding some red sunburst.  I think it was Rodney that suggested the sunbursts did not belong on Ercoupes.  He said the only plane that deserved sunburst wings was the Pitts biplane!  Here is a wacky twin Ercoupe with sunburst!

ercoupe-twin

twinercp

Most of the nicer civilian painted coupes that keep the polished surfaces seem to have a side fuselage strip and maybe a little trim on the vertical fins:

ercoupe_01

er222

er11

There was a beautiful Coupe I saw a picture of in TWA markings but I haven’t been able to find that picture again.

Anyways.  Those are the sorts of things I’m thinking about the make my coupe “Mine”.

Lots to think about!  Again, all it takes is time and money!

I’ll leave this for now with some pictures I found of my plane with the previous owner at California fly ins.  Next installment I’ll share some more pictures of my plane and talk about a few things in more detail.  If you have an opinion about some of my ideas for my couple please feel free to add some comments!  Now lets enjoy NC2756H:

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More soon about the wonder of the Ercoupe and of course the wonder of mine!

More about my plane!

 

Posted in Aviation, Creativity, Musings | 1 Comment

Flew the Coupe! – Part 6- I learn I worry too much!

So it was Friday morning.  I was back in Seattle and in my office for another day at work.  My plane was in the capable hand of Dennie in Bishop California.  All working out as planned.  Well, no, nature doesn’t like carefully planned things.  I get a call from Dennie.  The little bird was not happy that morning.  I guess it wasn’t sure it wanted to leave the L.A. basin where it had lived since 1946 for the dreary Northwest of Seattle.  When Dennie went to run it up it was clear the engine was not right.  Another stuck valve!  Bishop seemed to only have one A&P and it turned out he didn’t even get up till 10:00!  So there was my plane and where that was going was not clear.  Here is the plane in Bishop:

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So all I could do was sit and wait.  I learned that Rodney had also been trying to reach Dennie to make sure that he and the little plane were fine.  When he found out the plane was down with a stuck valve the entire Compton gang was getting ready to hop into Rodney’s Comanche and fly out to sort it out!  Have I mentioned how awesome those guys are!  But they weren’t even sure where Dennie and the plane were.  So we all waited by our phones and waited and waited and waited.

While I waited I studied the charts.  I could see that the only reasonable way north from where Dennie was involved a lot of mountains and what looked like a single pass.  Didn’t strike me as very Ercoupe friendly if the motor stopped doing the motor thing.  So I waited and worried.  Images of a shiny aluminum and yellow piles of scrap on some mountainside filled my mind.  And I waited.

Finally news!!  Dennie and the mechanic had sorted out the valve and added some Cam Guard and other stuff to reduce the chance of this happening again and Dennie was now in Fallon.  The plane was flying fine!  I could tell the Compton guys to stand down.  All was good!  Dennie shared that everywhere he went the bird drew a crowd.  He also shared he was heading North via the middle or Oregon and hoped to make the Dalles by days end.

But there was still the ugly weather  lurking in the background to ruin the plan.  So that was the last status I heard and around 2:00 PM Friday.  So I sat and waited and waited and waited……

In the mean time here is what Dennie was experiencing:

But weather.  Did I mention weather?  Well there was that!  So here is what Dennie was starting to deal with as he got closer to the Dalles:

The weather was closing in on Dennie.  Of course I had no idea what he was encountering.  What I did know was the Ercoupe has only so much fuel and I found myself sitting in my office realizing the no matter what was going on the sun was setting and one way or another the plane and Dennie were on the ground!  So I waited and worried as were all the Compton gang.  I think they may have been worried even more!

Eventually I got the call I needed to hear,  Dennie had been closed out by the weather and had not made the Dalles.  He had stopped in Redmond Oregon.  He was on the ground safe and the little bird was performing wonderfully!  I asked him to update Rodney and I went to have a drink with my friend Olan.  I will tell you my vivid imagination was not being my friend!  Until that call I was conjuring all manner of terrible images of what might have become of Dennie and my new little bird! Stupid brain!!  Sometimes its not my friend!

But things were on track.  I let Dennie know I was optimistic he’d be on the ramp in Auburn the next day and I made some plans.  Saturday morning I heard from Dennie.  He woke up to find the little bird’s wings covered with ice!  He wisely chose to forgo deicing chemicals on the fabric wings and was waiting for the sun to do what the sun does and melt the ice!  So he’d be a little later than planned getting back in the air but the weather here in Seattle was looking decent.  He said he’d call me just before he was going to cross the cascades so I’d know when he was coming.  We agreed he’d fly an inspection pass before he landed so I could take some pictures.

So I headed out and bought some snacks and beverages, not to mention a few bottles of champagne to toast the hero’s arrival!   Got the airport, set out the snacks and waited.  Soon I got Dennie’s call and I walked out to watch for my plane’s arrival!!  Around 12:30 I could see what looked like my plane coming in from the North!  Yup, there was my little bird!  My friends and I watched as Dennie flew the runway and then entered the pattern to land.  I had agreed to meet him at the fuel pumps so I could top off the tanks.  Soon there he was and most importantly there was my new little bird!!

img_1487We topped off the tanks and talked about who would taxi it back those last yards to its new home, my hangar.  I felt he deserved the honors!  So I drove back to hangar and he taxied the bird back to where my hangar is.

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Supreme victory! My new plane was home!!

So summary.  I own a beautiful classic Ercoupe!  I made some great new friends in the process.  The world now has a new “Coupe Whisperer” in Dennie.  If anyone in the Seattle area needs a “Coupe capable” instructor Dennie is the guy!

A couple of weeks later I got a chance to talk to Dennie more about the trip and he shared he’d had a great time.  He got to see a lot of the country he’d never seen before and the trip had given him a break he’d really needed from the daily grind.  I was happy I’d found him to help out and he was happy he’d decided to fly it back.  Win Win!!  Do I wish I could have had been part of that adventure?  Sure but I am sure I’ll be making my own adventures in this wonderful plane for years to come!

What we learned about my “Coupe”:

  • it burns about 4.5 GPH in cruise
  • Seems to go about 105 MPH
  • the radio works great
  • there is at least one instrument no one can figure out!
  • it flies straight and true
  • The reduced elevator travel does not make it hard to land
  • oil consumption seems fine
  • the engine seems to make its rated power
  • it draws a crowd!

Right now I’m in sort of a holding pattern waiting for the weather and circumstances to let me get a few more hours in to get comfortable as pilot in command and finish the worlds longest BFR!! 🙂

Then look out world there is going to a wonderful Ercoupe in your skies all the time if I get my way!  This dream has been a long time coming!

Now in many ways my adventure has begun!  In the next installment I’ll share more about the plane and my plans for it becoming even more awesome!  I think this picture that Dennie snapped captures the future I am hoping for!

img_1488The next installment where I talk a bit about my new plane!

Posted in Aviation, Entertainment, flying, Musings | 3 Comments

Flew the Coupe! – Part 5- It’s mine but now to get it home!

130ercoupe

And the story resumes the morning of October 20.  So I’d bought a plane.  Escrow had closed the previous day and paperwork had been filed and payment made.  So mine new coupe was waiting for Dennie and me to get it to its new home S50, or Auburn WA.  The initial plan was simple.  We looked to have a break in the weather and I would pilot the plane with Dennie looking over my shoulder keeping us safe.  I’d get my BFR and my coupe check out all in one!  I’d been studying the charts an particular the complexities of flying around in the L.A. basin.

My clever plan was simple.  I’d snake myself around or under the controlled airspace until I found I-5 then fly IFR all the way home.  That is “I follow roads”!  That would have me leave the L.A. basin via Grapevine.  I thought we’d make our first stop in Bakersfield to look the plane over.  Check that the oil consumption was OK and from then I thought the first day we’d make somewhere at the Northern CA border.  Around Redding maybe.  At least to Red Bluff.  An overnight there then over the mountains via the pass the I-5 goes through.  Stop maybe around Medford to fuel up, then press on to somewhere around Portland.  I thought that was a doable Friday.  The Saturday morning we could easily make it to Auburn with a late morning arrival!  WooHoo, pop some champagne and celebrate!!  I’d be a legal pilot, I’d know my coupe and I would have an adventure for the record books!!

So I’d shared this with Dennie.  While he agreed in principal he was more concerned with weather and felt there was a real possibility that icing would prevent us from getting from Redding to Medford.  He favored a more eastern route that would put us through  middle Nevada, middle Oregon and finally Washington on the Eastern side of the cascades.  I wasn’t so fond of that route as I knew that area and knew there was high terrain and mountains almost all the way.  No, I liked I-5.  A 900 mile runway if something with the plane went wrong.

But OK, I was happy if Dennie liked that route.  So I’d packed light, only a change of shirt and underwear in a backpack and I had my flight bag with a headset and charts.  Dennie was similarly packed with just the minimum.  I quick mention, on the trip down to LA we’d come to an understanding of his fees.  He does this just because he loves to fly and we agreed on an embarrassingly low fee per day.  Things were looking promising!

So Dennie and I waited on the curb at LAX Thursday morning and waited for Rodney to pick us up and get us to the Compton airport.  Yes, my plane was straight out of Compton!  Thug life!!

album-shot

So Rodney got us to the hangar and there was my little bird!  I’d already agreed with Dennie that he’d focus on checking out the plane to his satisfaction and I’d focus on collecting things like the logs and doing the last bit of business with the seller.  Once Dennie was happy he’d take the plane up to be sure he was happy it would make it back up to Seattle.  In the mean time I was discovering a pile of stuff that went with the plane.  Soon Dennie was heading down the taxiway and the down the runway.  Woo, there was my new bird in the air.  She was a beauty!  While he was flying around more and more stuff was being found and collected.  About 30 minutes later Dennie was in the pattern and taxing back to the hangar.  He had a smile on his face and I was contemplating the great adventure that we were about to embark on.  Here is Dennie just before his first flight:

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So soon Dennie was back on the ground it was time for us to load up the plan and head North!  So I decided up front Dennie would be flying at a minimum the first leg.  The L.A. basin is tricky!  I have no ego at this point.  I just want the plane home.  So I start loading the plane with all the stuff that came with it.  Soon the very small baggage compartment is full.  Rodney is offering his advice to Dennie about how we should circle the airport for a specific period time before we should fly away including regular radio reports!  Rodney is telling Dennie about how far he should let the take off roll go before he aborts.  Rodney, you are my hero!!  He was so worried something was going to go wrong!

So lets talk about the worry.  Airplanes need to fly regularly to stay healthy.  This wonderful little airplane had been sitting in this hangar unflown for nearly nine years.  So there was no way of knowing just what might go wrong when we flew this plane. If this had been a plane that was flown daily when I came to collect it I could be comfortable assuming that it would continue to operate as expected.  But we needed about ten hours to know if there were gremlins.  So for the first few hours in this flight I felt we were very much test pilots.  I am not sure I have much of the right stuff!

But just look at Dennie, he looks to be made of the right stuff!!!  This trip would soon show he is!

OK, Dennie was good to go!  I and everyone starts loading the plane up with all the stuff that came with it and after about 20 minutes we are ready to depart!

OK, snag number one. Although I thought the plane had an intercom we could not find a place for a second head set to plug in!  After about 15 minutes we decided I would not have an active head set.

Then I found out there was no way the seat belt would fit me!  OK, I am a meat and potato(e)s American!  So we had to remove the seat and the seat belt and eventually had me buckled in!  Another 20 minutes rolled by.

The airport gang lined up an we finally taxied down to start our adventure.  Rodney, man I love him is having one last talk with Dennie.  “So where is your abort point on your takeoff run?”  WTF??  Are we Lindbergh flying to Paris?  Man I must look fat!!  But sure. I think Rodney had decided I must weight about 390 pounds!!!  Anyways.  We taxi down and line up for takeoff!  I am sort of freaking out but I am ready!  Dennie guns it and we are flying in 900 feet!  Compton has 3500 feet of runway!  We are flying!! I am scanning all the instruments.  The engine instruments look awesome!  The rate of climb varies from  500 feet a minute or higher.  The airspeed indicator is wobbling around 100 MPH.  Lets take a moment to discuss.

The Ercoupe is designed to fly on the wing and everything should happen around 70 MPH. If you want to climb do it at 70.  If you want to land you do it at 70.

So the airspeed indicator is 70 years old.  To register over 100 MPH it rolls around.  I am looking at it and very encouraged,  Even though the needle was wobbling I was seeing 100 MPH and I thought we were on our way.  Dennie, not so much.  He was pretty freaked out and pointed at some of the gauges and said we needed to land!  So he kept in the pattern and turned final.  We landed and taxied back to the hangar.

The airport gang at the hangar was puzzled and I got out of the plane.  Dennie said he didn’t think we could have climbed enough to get over the terrain to get home.  I did not see the same indications but I decided immediately it didn’t matter.  I just wanted the plane back in my hangar in Auburn.  I would have gladly hired Dennie to ferry the plane home on his own.

I did know though I needed to be there to deal with the airport gang.  So wow, what to do?  As soon as I got out of the plane I found the airport gang was agitated!  In fact someone said they wanted to figure out how to shoot us down because I’d never payed for the plane!!??

So Dennie and I talked a bit and it was clear he was not comfortable with both of us flying back together.  He didn’t think the plane “felt right” and we were overloaded.  Sure, all I wanted was the plane home.  So I took everything out of the plane’s baggage compartment and we agreed Dennie would fly it home. As he taxied out I asked him “last chance, are you sure?”.  I don’t think he understood what I meant.  What I meant is if he didn’t feel safe flying it home I’d be happy putting it on a trailer and driving it home.  I think he thought I was making one last plea to take me with him.  Not the case at all. So Dennie set out for Seattle!  Here he was before he left:

dennie

So I go back into the hangar and Dennie taxies away.  The hangar crowd has become quite hostile. While that is happening I am trying to get an airline ticket back to Seattle. So I am using my phone (which is nearly out of battery!) to buy an airline ticket.  In the mean time the airport gang is telling me I must be some sort of cheat as the seller has never been paid!  Gah!  So I leave the Alaska airline site mid ticket purchase and call the escrow company.  While I’m doing that I find Frank, the seller can’t remember how he asked to be paid!  Luckily this was enough distraction for Dennie to taxi away!  Soon I see my plane racing down the runway and heading away!!  Fly Dennie, Fly!!!!

So I get the escrow company on the phone.  Frank the seller had asked for a cashier’s check fed exed to him as payment,  Since the sale had closed the day before the check was in route and I got a fed ex tracking number.  I got the number and even let Frank’s friend talk to the escrow agent.  We even called Fed Ex and confirmed the check had been delivered to Frank’s house.  I went back to buying my ticket home.  A couple of the airport gang came to tell me Dennie was going to treat us to a high speed low pass before he headed out.

I just finished confirming my ticket as I got to see my beautiful little plane buzz by!  The airport gang said they clocked it at 115 MPH!  So I watched as my beautiful little bird set off in the distance.  Frank, the seller practically forced a beer in my hand and I set about putting all the stuff we’d taken out of the plane into my bags. Rodney started freaking out a bit as he was worried he couldn’t get to the airport in time to make my flight.  Someone had told him it was almost two hours later than it was!

So there I was at LAX again boarding a flight for Seattle.  Not too much to report.  They had changed the gate  for my flight and not announced it but I found out just in time to make the flight as they were closing the doors.  I also realized that all the stuff that had been put in my plane for the flight back was easily 30 plus pounds as I hauled i through the airport.

So I was heading back to Seattle via Alaska Airlines and Dennie was flying my little bird via who knows!  I was happy this was the right decision but I was clearly missing out on an adventure of my life.

As I hauled my bags through the airport it was clear we we over gross when we took off.  But we were full fuel and that would burn off.  The airport gang said we were in the air in less than a thousand feet and did not know why we’d come back and landed.  I felt we were doing great!  But Dennie was not comfortable with how he perceived the plane was flying.  In the end we had decided for the first leg at least he was pilot in command.  It was his call and not my place to second guess.

So I got home with no issues and soon I got a text from Dennie.  He had made it to Bishop, CA and was safe and down for the night.  He had chosen the Nevada route.  He’d flown over the Mohave airplane boneyard and was having a great time!!  Here is a picture of his early leg:

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So I was home Thursday night.  Dennie was in Bishop CA. with my new plane.  There was no taxi in Bishop so he had to walk something like three miles to get to a motel! Yikes!  He had never been in the desert so he wonder about snakes and all manner of desert creatures as he walked to town!  He worried about Gila Monsters and was worried about mountains as I drifted to sleep that night. I’d caught desert creatures as a kid but I knew Dennie was heading for some unfriendly topology.

So summary.  I probably took possession of my plane,  I did fly IN it for about 15 minutes.  I had every reason t believe it was on its way home.  I did see it fly very well at gross or more.  I made a note to find out why the airspeed indicator wobbled and decided I needed to buy an intercom.  But progress.

As I write this I’d be lying if I didn’t admit regret missing out on this adventure.  I was 6 months into the journey of buying a plane, a lifetime dream and as I write this I have not flown my own plane for even a moment and still haven’t flown more than 30 minutes as pilot in command in the last 17 years.  I am not on track but I digress.

So day one.  I have taken possession of my new plane and it is closer to my home!   in the next entry I’ll share possibly the most difficult day in my life.

The next chapter – the plane heads home!

Posted in Aviation, Musings | 2 Comments

Flew the Coupe! – Part 4- Ercoupes and the search for mine!

vintage-ercoupe-ad

So I had settled on a plane.  Sadly I couldn’t  just buy a new one.  At one time you could buy a new one from department stores like Macys!

macys

I’d need to find a used one.  There seemed like a lot of ways to find one.  There are some great publications to list airplanes for sale.  These include “Barnstormers” and the old standard of “Trade-A-Plane”.  I had regularly subscribed to Trade-a-Plane for some years but had dropped my subscription by the time I decided to move forward and buy a plane.  I also knew there was word of mouth and the occasional plane for sale at fly-ins.  I started regularly keeping an eye out for that perfect plane.  Here are some of the places I looked to find planes listed for sale:

Barnstormers

Trade-a-Plane

I pretty quickly learned a couple of things.  The first is there isn’t just a single type of Ercoupe.  Over the plane’s lifetime several companies had built them and the designed had evolved.  So it was clear to me I needed to decide what model I thought fit my “mission” the best.  Recap of the mission:

  • Affordable
  • Safe
  • Classic and interesting for fly-in appeal
  • Not likely to required major expenses in the first years of ownership

At first I really didn’t know much about the differences.  As I started looking the first plane I ran across was in “Barnstormers”.  This seemed like a promising lead.  The plane in question was being sold by the founder of a great little Air Museum at one of my favorite regional airport.  Pt. Townsend.  Here is that museum, if you ever get a chance it is worth a visit.

Port Townsend Aero Museum

If you visit be sure to make time to eat the the wonderful Cafe on the airport.  Definitely try the pie!  All the pilots I know that go there love the pie!  Me personally I am a breakfast person so I can also recommend the chicken fried steak!

Spruce Goose Cafe

So the ad basically said the plane was a 1947 Ercoupe.  There wasn’t much details listed other than that.  To be honest I still didn’t know what to look for,  So I made a few calls and made arrangements to have a look at the plane.  I learned the “story” and found over time it was a pretty common story.  The fellow that was selling it really didn’t know much about it.  (this will become a reoccurring experience) He had known the previous owner who was an older gentleman that had a terrible health turn.  He had gone back to Texas and was not expected to live.  So he sold the plane while he still could.  The current owner had the plane put in the museum workshop and gone over to prep it for sale.  He really wanted to make it clear that the plane had nothing to do with the Museum and he was selling very much “where is-as is”.

I also got the feeling he did not believe this was the right plane for me.  He didn’t really have any interest in going through the airplane’s logs with me , he sort of showed them to me and said some lame comment about “do I even know what they mean”?  Kind of condescending.  All airplanes must maintain their histories in log books.  These log book are the legal record of the plane’s mechanical history.  All mechanical work on the airframe and engine must be maintained in these logs.  Not having complete and accurate logs can dramatically reduce the value of an airplane.  As we spoke it also became clear he had no fondness of Ercoupes!  I have found this a lot.  Many pilots really look down on the Ercoupes. 😦

The plane had been cleaned up a bit and polished up.  It was a pretty little plane.  My friend Olan really liked it! Also to be fair I was pretty freaked out at the idea of buying an airplane.  In the end I did confirm that I fit in an Ercoupe.  I had heard I might find them too small.  But honestly I wasn’t even sure what I was looking at or even to look for.

There was a older teenager there helping with the plane (it had a dead battery) He made the odd comment about the plane being under powered because it could hardly taxi up hills!!??  So as I ate a great breakfast at the “Spruce Goose” I planned my next step.  First off I decided not to taxi up hills!

I also  let the seller know I was interested and to let me know if another buyer came along.  When I first talked to him he didn’t think there was a rush on my part.  I found out you can order the complete record set that the FAA has on any particular plane.  So I ordered that.  It comes on a CD in about a week for only $10!  Sadly within a couple of days I came home to a voice mail on my phone.  Someone had bought the plane!  I see now it is registered to someone down in Oregon.  I hope it is a wonderful plane for the new owner!  Maybe we’ll meet up at a fly in and we can compare coupes!

Well, I needed a plan “B”!.  Here is that plane I missed:

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So I missed this plane.  But I did finally get the FAA records on the plane and I learned a lot.  In fact I figured out that I may have dodged a bullet.  The plane had been basically crashed at least once.  Now if a plane is properly repaired that may not be an issue.  But still.  I also learned that I could not accurately determine how many hours this plane had flown.  I also could not verify the time on the engine.  This is important in particular with the engine.  If the engine has run too many hours it will require expensive rebuilding.

Basically this airplane came with a lot of risks.  I would be gambling on just how much work that I might expect to perform to keep it airworthy.  A couple of other things stood out.  The the fabric on the wings was replaced in 1964.   The good news is that the material used can easily be good that long but the paint used may not be good for that long if it spent time uncovered.   There is something called a “punch test” that is supposed to be performed on this covering regularly.  Recovering the wings on this plane could cost as much as $10,000.  I should mention newer materials are used and if the plane is stored in a hangar or under a cover they may last for decades.

I learned some fun thing about this plane though.  In the early 50’s it was owned the newspaper in Everette Wa!  If I had purchased it I think I would have removed the military markings and added some of the newspaper logos from back then.

In finishing this entry in the blog series I looked back at the records on the plane again.  There would some good things.  It had been upgraded to an alternator.  I am considering doing that to the plane I bought and it will cost me around $800.  It also had shoulder harnesses installed, again I need to do this and that will be another $800.  Finally it has the large baggage compartment modification which might be nice and that is another $700.  But it has the smaller 75 HP engine and has the lower gross weight limit.  Again there is the damage history.  Another thing looking at the photo again I see it has the larger rear windows.  Not as “classic”. Here is what that damage repair looks like in the FAA records:

damage

Again there was a troubling thing missing in the FAA records.  There is no record that the engine has ever received major work.  So there is no way to know what the true condition of the engine was.  If it needed a new engine that would easily add $10K to the cost.  It had changed hands a lot and been based in a variety of places.  Shelton, WA., Olympia, WA., Big Sandy, MT.,  Mesquite, NV., Las Vegas, NV., Alderwood Manor, WA., Mt. Vernon, WA., Snohomish, WA., Seattle, WA., Everette, WA. and Vancouver, WA.  The plane had dropped off of registration after some time in 1971.  It looks like the plane was registered in Canada as CF-CLP.  The original “N” number for this plane was NC3262H and it was changed to the current number when it was returned to the US.  The owner in Las Vegas requested N1210H, maybe that was a lucky number or something!  Again looking through the airworthiness records there seems like a lot of stuff missing.  Maybe there was more information in the logs but since the seller clearly had no interest in letting my study them I’ll never know.  By the way the guy selling it may the curious remark I should at least find one with the 85HP engine.  He didn’t seem to know how easily the 75HP engine was to upgrade to the 85HP engine.  Oh well.

So I’d missed a plane but I think I needed to have that experience to get my head wrapped around the process.  I call it the “waffle” theory.  The first waffle is never very good but they get better after that!  So I started asking around.  I was lucky enough to have become part of  a regional pilots group for the Pacific Northwest.  One of those members had a very nice Ercoupe.  Here is his Ercoupe:

moorecoupe

He made some great suggestions.  The first was that he believed there was an Ercoupe on an airfield called Apex Airpark that the owner had lost interest in.  So I decided to see if I could find that plane and drove out there.  Turns out it is an airport community. A runway surrounded by homes with hangars. What a really cool place to live!  It was on the other side of the Puget Sound from where I lived so I got a nice reason to take a drive.  Apex Airpark:

apexairpark

So I drove around not seeing any easy way to get on the airfield and ended up finding a resident that could help me.  Once I explained why I was there she took me to see the Ercoupe in question and shared there was a second one on a hangar that was also likely for sale.  So the first plane has been tied up outside and looked a bit neglected.  I may very well could have cleaned up nice and it may be airworthy.  It wasn’t clear.  The second one was in a hangar with a very small window.  Turned out that the owner of that plane was out camping and I did speak with him briefly on his cell phone.  His plane looked nice but I was told by the neighbor they thought he might want a lot of money for it.  They also said they thought it had an O-200.   In an amazing coincidence it turned out I had met this friendly woman who showed my the coupe and her husband  before at a fly-in event at the Paul Allen museum in Everette, they have a wonderful “straight tail” Cessna 172!  Airplane people are everywhere!  🙂  I hope to see them again someday at a fly in when I can show them my plane!

So I drove home, even got to take the Bremerton ferry home.  It was a nice day out and about and I thought may have a lead on two possible airplanes.  I called the number given to me for the first plane and left a message.  I never heard back from that owner.  I later saw that the hangared coupe had been posted to Barnstormers.  I hope they found it a good home.  That owner did eventually try to reach my by phone but my plane quest had taken another path by that time.

In the mean time the fellow with the Ercoupe that had given me the Apex Airpark lead suggested that he had considered creating a list of every registered Ercoupe from the FAA database and sending them all a postcard when he was looking for his. Basically, see if someone with a Ercoupe was thinking about selling theirs.  Made sense.   Hey, I am a data driven person.  I liked this idea.  So over a couple of days I scoured the FAA database for every Ercoupe in WA, OR, AZ and CA.  I felt these states would be easier to inspect and buy a plane for me since I lived in WA.

Turns out that exercise taught me a lot!  I also found another online database with the records of any accidents these planes have been involved in.  I also learned I needed to once again focus my search parameters.  I was drinking from the fire hose of possibilities and I needed focus.  So here is the summary of the data I collected.  I had 148 planes to search among.  I had a range of types.  The 415-c, 415-CD,  415-D,  415-E and 415-G. Engines ranged from the C-65, C-75, the C-85, the C-90 and the O-200.  I found out the FAA listed a full range of manufactures.  Engineering and Research Corporation, ERCO and Forney.  I had decided at this time that I didn’t want an Alon and maybe not even a Founaire coupe.   I found the Erco coupe to offer the most “classic” experience that I had decided was key to my perfect plane.

I should get one thing out of the way.  How do you say Ercoupe?

You say it like “Errr” Coupe, not “AIR” coupe.  Now the last manufacturer Forney renamed them to be Aircoupes and those you do call “AIR” coupes.

I should also mention that Mooney acquired the rights to manufacture the Aircoupe and modified it to serve as a primary trainer for folks interested in Mooney aircraft.  This was the M-1o or Mooney Cadet.  They changed the tail to look more like a Mooney and fitted a sliding bubble canopy.  I decided against those.  Here is an M-10 Mooney Cadet:

mooney-cadet

So a quick summary of the relative factors, first engines.

When the Ercoupe was originally designed there wasn’t a suitable engine available so Erco decided to build its own engine.  The came up with a great inverted inline four cylinder engine.  Here is what the engine looked like:

erco-engine

Here is what that first plane looked like with this engine:

il116

Pretty cool engine but it was expensive to make. So when Continental came out with an engine about the same HP for a quarter of the price the decisions was easy.  So they redesigned to cowling and the first production Ercoupe came with the C-65.  A 65HP flat four engine.  Here is a C-65:

a65_8

These engines lacked support for an electrical system and are rare to find in a coupe today.  The most common engine for the majority of the early Ercoupes was the C-75 or the 75 HP version.  Soon it was discovered that by slightly modifying the Carburetor, changing the prop so the engine ran faster you could get 85HP!  That was the C-85.  The C-75 and C-85 could support generators and electrical starters.  After some time Contential did a revision of the basic engine and increased the HP to 90HP by increasing the displacement and some other internal modifications.  This was the C-90.  My research found that the C-90 was the best engine for a coupe.  There was a 100HP engine, the O-200 that could be put in a coupe but because the propellor was not ideal the C-90 performed better.  So I decided I’d prefer to find a C-90.  But I knew now what the differeces were.  I should mention there is a hybrid engine that you can find where you combine a C-85 with the crankshafe of an O-200 with some other mods and you end up with something like a C-90.  Some folks believe this is the ultimate engine for an Ercoupe.  Sometimes this is referred to as a “Don’s Dream Machine” engine.  A topic for a future blog maybe!  So engines:

  • C-75
  • C-85
  • C-90
  • O-200

Now the variants of the coupes.  The first production coupes were the 415-C.  These were built by Erco.  There was a very limited run if 415-D coupes.  These features a higher gross weight.  This required reduction of the elevator travel and the result was that some pilots complained that they were difficult to land.  So Erco stopped making the “D” model and came up with the “CD” which was back to the lower gross weight and previous elevator travel.  There are very few real original “D” models but it is common to find “C” models that have been modified to the “D” spec.  Because there was a demand for the higher gross weight Erco developed a “split” elevator that combined with a spring that made the last of the elevator control noticeable to the pilot.  This was the 415-E and had the increased gross weight again. Some people have changed their elevator for this split elevator to “improve” the landing of the Ercoupe.  Erco went on to release a “F” and “G” model that were largely minor differences in trim level.  Here is the “split” elevator:

split

So then came the sad day where Erco left the airplane  business completely.  The rights eventually come to be owned by a company called Fornaire.  Supposedly Forney which largely sols welding equipment  was interested in the coupes to provide transportation to its salesmen!  With that change the Ercoupe became the Aircoupe.  These were the F-1 Aircoupes.  These came with the C-90 engine.  Fornaire basically sold the rights to a company called Alon.  These coupes can be found as the A1 and A2.  The have a number of differences.  They changed to a bubble style canopy the slid back to open and a host of other features like a larger backage compartment and a more “modern” dashboard.  They also came with the C-90 engine to start with.  I believe towards the end they came with the O-200 engine.  So airframes to chose from:

  • 415-C
  • 415-D
  • 415-CD
  • 415-E
  • 415-F
  • 414-G
  • F-1
  • A-1
  • A-2

I should also mention the Mooney Cadet,  they are rare and have a single tail.  I decided early on I wanted a dual tail!  🙂

Still I’m not done naming all the variables.  There is a category of planes call Light Sport.  You can fly these with no FAA medical, this was a desirable thing for some pilots that worried that they may not be able to qualify for a standard medical. The Ercoupes elegible for this category were the 415-C or 415-CD.  If an Ercoupe was ever updated to a “D” model it can never be used for Sport Pilot flight.  I didn’t care about as I had gotten my medical and the way the law recently changed I probably never have to get one again.

The other consideration was rudder pedals.  The Ercoupe was designed to not need rudder pedals.  They could be ordered as an option but were not needed. You can even add them if you want to for reason.  In Ercoupe the brake was still a single seperate pedal.  In Aircoupes you find the more conventional rudder pedal where the breaks are part of the rudder pedals as well.  So they allowed for differential braking.  I had decided early on I didn’t want rudder pedals.  By the way a woman that was born without arms got her pilots license in an Ercoupe because of the Sport Pilot rules and the lack of rudder pedals!

womanercoupe

There were a couple of other factors.  The windshield of the Ercoupe was originally a flat piece or wrapped Plexiglas.  Later on they came up with a bubble styled windshield.  The rear windows were smaller at first and later on some where fitted with larger rear windows.  Ercoupe wings were originally fabric covered but later on covered with thin metal.  Ercoupes came polished and with very little paint.  Over time many have been painted.  So as I studied coupes here was my dream plane list:

  • flat windscreen
  • small rear windows
  • fabric wings – lighter – more classic – my plane would live in a hangar
  • polished finish
  • Ercoupe not an Aircoupe because I wanted a true “classic” airplane for the fly-ins
  • a C-90 or at least a C-85
  • no damage history
  • hangared – reducing the corrosion fears
  • original styled yokes

So I was still looking at Barnstormers while I was creating my database.   If the plane was one I had the FAA records for I’d look it up.  I also was interested in several planes I saw ads for.  One of the first that caught my eye was this plane.  It is still for sale but I think it might be a sweet plane for a decent price.  I kept it on my short list.  The ad said there was damage history so I was little slow on this one.  I knew I had some work to do to learn this plane’s history if I got more interested.  Here is that plane, I hope its a nice plane and goes to a good owner.  From Barnstomers(it is now listed in Trade-a-Plane):

ercoupe1

I also made one more attempt to contact the owners of the two “apex” coupes with no success.   Here is a picture of the first Apex “coupe” I mentioned from Google Earth:

apex

There were some other planes on the market that did catch my eye.  A former grand champion winner from the Arlington fly-in was for sale for $40,000.  Here it is and now at a slightly lower price:

grandchamp

I felt this was more than I’d spend.  There was a beautiful one in TWA colors that was also pricey in Trade-a-Plane for a similar price.  Again too much money.  I also found someone from that Facebook group I mentioned that seemed to have a wonderful one.  It was painted red and featured a recently rebuilt/upgraded engine.  A crankshaft from an O-200 was used with other internal parts.  A very desirable engine.  Finally he had upgraded the electrical system to an alternator from the original generator.  This again a desirable upgrade.  He was asking a little over $30K and I did think about it seriously.  He was down in Oregon so picking up the plane would be simple.

Here is the very nice one in Oregon that sold very quickly:

06-11-2012-1

So that plane went on my short list.  I also found a very reasonably priced one on Oklahoma.   Seemed like maybe a good value but as I looked into how long it would take me to fly it back to Washington I decided to keep looking.   Here is the Oklahoma coupe:

ercoupe

But my search took an interesting turn.  One nice looking plane in Barnstormers looked interesting.  So I looked up the registration and found out that it had expired.  For some reason the registered owner had not bothered to renew the registration for over three years!  So on a whim I sent an email to the person listed in the ad to ask what the story was.

Well it was a the story I have heard before.  The owner had become ill years back (Parkinsons) and it finally was clear he would never fly the plane again.  The fellow that emailed me back said the plane was in annual and he had just flown it.  He said it was in beautiful shape and flew great!  It turned out to have an amazing for an Ercoupe instrument panel.  So I suddenly got the feeling I may have found the plane I was looking for.  My friend Olan pointed out the the in dash GPS was a good one and still worth $1K + alone.

gx150

I am going to confess that Olan’s comment about the GPS affected me more than it should of, but OK.  So once again the fellow that was managing the sale was not the registered owner and really didn’t know him or anything about the plane.  In fact he didn’t know anything about Ercoupes.  He was part of a groups of folks that hung out at the Compton airport and had agreed to help this fellow sell this plane.  Somehow he’d drawn the short straw!  He confessed he’d just dropped the price by $9K after a buyer had come up to look at it and was interested in buying it but later discovered this plane was a “D” and could never qualify for “Light Sport” status.  There had been some unpleasant exchanges about false advertising and the fellow managing the sale just wanted it over!

But still this one looked nice.

The price was affordable so I scheduled a flight down to LA to look it over.  I was so excited I booked the flight for the wrong weekend!  I scheduled it a week later than I intended.  I also realized I needed to get my pilot chops back.  I hadn’t flow a plane since late 1997.  I had gone ahead and got my FAA medical so now I was ready to get a Biannual Flight Review or BFR to make me legal to fly again.  So I had some work to do!

So I got down and discovered that this looked to be a very nice Ercoupe.  Here is what I found:

img_20160917_153212435

I looked over the logs and answered a few questions.  The engine had been totally rebuilt and upgraded to the 85 HP engine.  The airframe had been well maintained and the wings were covered with a modern Stits fabric.  There had been a little scare as during trying to get the airplane ready for my visit when the engine showed signs of a stuck  valve.  (that would come back later) So a mechanic had serviced the valve guide and that problem seemed solved.  Also the A&P who has maintained the airplane had decided he wanted to see the mags rebuilt.  So when I got to the hangar the mechanic was finishing off installing the fresh mags.  This work was not going to add to the price so I saved $1000 already!  So I taxied the plane around a bit and committed to buy the plane.  The plane looked to have an honest and documentable total airframe time of 1943 hours and 943 hours since total overhaul on the engine.  Very reasonable times.  The fabric looked awesome.  Add a new battery and fresh mags it seemed like a find.  A little of last minute haggling and I was going to buy the plane for $20K.  I couldn’t be sure how long it would take before I could take delivery so I have them a $500 down payment to cover a month of hangar rent.  Rodney, the fellow that was organizing this whole thing basically taped all the logs together and set the other paperwork where it wouldn’t be touched until I came for the plane.  By the way Rodney turned out to an amazing fellow!  He was a Naval aviator and retired TWA pilot!  He also was a very well know powerboat racer!  He even raced unlimited Hydros for a spell. Here is he on the water going very fast:

img_1459

Looking back on it Rodney really was a big part of my decision as it was clear he really wanted to help me decide if this was the right plane for me and once I did how to make it  happen.  As I got further in the sale he really helped pull some things together.  I was still tryng to learn how to buy an airplane and when I got home and looked over the log entries I found that the last recorded radios in the plane were no longer legal!  Yikes, but he assured me that wasn’t the case and helped me confirm it had very nice and legal King radios now!  Panic averted!  He also was extremely helpful getting more details about the details of the plane so I could forward the info to the bank.  Simple put Rodney was awesome!

I took photos of every document I thought I needed to satisfy the bank and the escrow company.   The fellow I was technically buying the airplane from wrote up a simple bill of sale by hand.  I had a beer and a shot of “fireball” with the cast of characters I met there and that evening I was on my way home.  In theory I had just bought an airplane!!  Soon I would learn it isn’t quite that simple!  Here is some of the paperwork I collected:

So this airplane sort of looks almost like that first one I found but she is quite a bit more special!  By the way, that first one was serial # 3887 and this one is serial #3381.  So this plane was built about 500 planes and a year earlier.

So I had ordered the FAA records for the plane.  What I found was very encouraging.  The plane had only three previous owners.  There was also no indication that the airplane had ever been involved in any sort of accident.  The plane seemed to have not been flown for nearly a decade and when the last owner bought it he seemed to have completed a very comprehensive restoration in 1971.  There were some other nice things.  Ercoupes had a problem with wing corrosion so the FAA had ordered all Ercoupes have thier wings inspected.  This one had the wings totally rebuilt with new spars!  Overkill!  Also the owner had re-skinned most of the fuselage.  The airplane had been properly upgraded to a “D” model which meant the gross weight was now 1400 pounds.   So it was now a “D” which is why the previous buyer passed on it and how I got it for $9K less!

The plane was sold new by a dealer in the L.A. basin and had remained there its entire life.  I would be the first owner to move it to an airport out of the L.A. area.  It had legally become a plane September 17. 1946 when it rolled off the factory floor.   At its peak Erco was cranking out 45 planes a day!

ercoupe_factory

Sadly my plane’s “sister ship” N2589H was sold at the same time by the same dealer but looks to have been totalled in 2006 in a landing indecent where it flew into a tree after a go around attempt somewhere in Georgia.

On December 3, 1946 this plane was sold via a mortgage for $4313.56 resulting a monthly payment of $179.74!   That is the equivelant of over $100K in todays dollars!  The last registered owner registered the plane in his name on September 29, 1971.  It was registered in his name till this sale.  It looks like the last time he renewed the registration was 9-15-88.  So the little the plane was flown till the sale was out of registration.  So more early history shows the plane actually was assigned its certificate of airworthiness on October 10, 1946.  Here are the avionics it was first delivered with:

avionics

In 1949 the wooden propeller was replaced with a metal one.

I also came to realize the plane was unique in other ways.  Notice that the top of the cowl did not have bumps.  No, this had the rare short tops plugs and shield cans.   These let the plane keep the original cowl and still have no radio interference from the ignition.  The rare shielded cans:

img_0390

The plane also had a rare sun screen in the center of the sliding windows.  This an opaque panel that slides between the two pull up windows.  You can see it pulled all the way over to the side in the above picture.  It also had some nice details like the combination wing tip position and strobe lights the owner had custom fabricated.  Here are those:

img_0420

So I was leaving Compton pretty happy.  I found a plane, now to just complete the purchase and get it home!

So I got home and shared the news with friends and set about getting the deal closed.  I had decided to finance part of the purchase to make sure I had some cash handy if I should find the plane needed some work when I got it home.  I had completed all the paperwork and the loan was in place.  I had used the bank AOPA had refered me to.  That part of this experience was great.  There company I financed this through:

https://www.usalliance.org/

I highly recommend them!!  But as part of financing with them was the need to use an escrow company to facilitate the deal.  No worries, seemed best for both parties.  But here was the unexpected snag.  The plane wasn’t being sold be the currently registered owner.  It was being sold by a close friend of his.  The airport gang was a bunch of extremely nice older folks that had bought and sold many planes but more in the here is a pile of cash, quick hand shake and simple hand written bill of sale.

The idea of an escrow company getting in the middle was not how they did business.  Add to that that the fellow that was primarily making this sale was not “online” in any way.  So electronically signed document, email or even final payment via wire transfer just weren’t going to happen.  So I scanned and sent every document I had collected to the escrow company and they looked it all over.  They pretty quickly said “uhm, nope” you don’t have anything signed by the currently registered owner that says the fellow that you are trying to buy this plane from owns the plane and has the right to sell it.  So a horrible game began, the escrow company fex ex-ed the required docs down with a completed return envelope.  A week went by and nothing.   Eventually I hear that the seller had sent back something via fed ex but to a different escrow company.  Grrrr.

So when the escrow company got what was sent back it was not the forms that the escrow company had sent but another hand writtent bill of sale with no signature from the registered owner!  In the mean time I get a somewhat panicked call from the daughter of the fellow selling the plane worried that I was trying to cheat them out of the escrow fee.  Ugh.  I assured her I was happily paying those fees.  I then got the escrow company to speak with her husband who was a lawyer to explain what documents were required.  So he promised to get the last required document completed and sent back to the escrow company that weekend.  Alright, all back on track.  In the mean time I am working on how to get the plane from Compton to Seattle. Also how to get current and checked out in the plane.

So you learn if you live in Seattle long enough the weather here stays pretty good till late September but starts getting questionable as October progresses.  So I could see my window to get the plane flown back was closing.  So early next week I contact the escrow company and they say no sign of the docs.  By the way they had said the doc could be faxed back.  So I get in touch with the daughter of the seller and she said it was mailed via normal post!!  Grrr.  She also wasn’t sure about the address other than it was the “right” one.  Double Grrr!  They had already sent something to the wrong address.  So I asked them to fax the documents to the escrow company, not sure how they said they could do it given they had been “mailed” but OK.  Two days later I got word escrow was satisfied for me to set a closing date.  So I set up a closing date of October 2o.  Now to get down there and collect my new bird!  Easy peasy, right!  Well, no…

I had realized I had a potential weekend prior to the trip to retrieve the plane to get an Ercoupe check out.  So I scheduled two and a half days with a fellow named “wolf Edmonds” who had a flight school operation with an Ercoupe .  Awesome I thought!  I could go down there (Oregon), get current and learn the quirks of my soon to be new plane.  I had the previous weekend tried to schedule some time with an awesome fellow named Dennie to start working on getting my BFR done.  But the weekend we scheduled had 20 knot winds on the ground and closer to 45 knots in the air!  Yikes, not ideal if you haven’t flown in 17 years like me!!  But I met him and we went up, I did a couple of pattens of the field a couple fo touch and goes and managed to not get us killed.  In fact I think Dennie was pleasantly surprised, relieved may have been closer!  We had to stop as the weather was getting worse but we talked about the trip to get the Coupe back.

He said he was totally up for flying down with me and us flying the coupe back.  In fact he sort of seemed excited.  I could get my Ercoupe check out and BFR as part of the trip!! What could go wrong. Particularly since I was going to spend a couple of days the weekend before the trip learning the coupe with Wolf.  I’d be current and we’d have a great trip home!  A plan with alternatives in case it went wrong!

So it did go wrong!  The weekend I was supposed to go train with Wolf had terrible weather.  Tornadoes spotted in the area!  The day I would be arriving we might have been able to fly for a couple of hours but it was going to get rainy and massively windy.  The day before the trip I canceled the airline tickets and canceled with Wolf.  Grrr.  But no worries I thought, I was still heading down with Dennie and I would train on the way back!  The weather in Seattle was looking bad the day we left but looked to opening up for a couple of days to let us get back.  So we committed and headed down to retrieve my new bird!  Had I mentioned Dennie while a very accomplished pilot had never flown an Ercoupe.  Yeah, well there was that.  But hey, as they say “no guts, no glory!”  Of course there is also that saying “there are bold pilots and old pilots but no old bold pilots!”  The good news was I’d already insured the plane and we’d be covered based on his qualifications and it was covered me taking training in the plane.

So in summary,  what did I get:

  • 1946 classic 415-D (well a C converted to a D) in excellent shape
  • Flat windshield
  • small rear windows
  • polished finish
  • fabric wings with excellent covering
  • mid time C-85
  • Extremely low time airframe
  • no damage history
  • full panel with a decent GPS
  • fresh mags and battery
  • original styled yokes (turns out mine are installed upside down to not block instruments)
  • some new awesome airplane friends!

Almost everything I was looking for!  The new friends were bonus!  Dennie and I found ourselves the morning of October 21 at the curb at LAX waiting for a ride to the Compton airport from Rodney and discussing the journey home!  Adventure was waiting!  I had just had a major birthday and was about to achieve a major life goal.  To take ownership of my own airplane!

The next blog entry will be about the encounter with the airport gang, checking the plane out, flying the plane and the way we all got back to Seattle!  It should make for a fun read!

The next installment!

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Flew the Coupe! – Part 3 – The “Mission” of My Dream of Flight

mission

So in the previous installment I shared the wide range of airplanes I had considered purchasing.  I was really overwhelmed with options and it was clear I needed to focus.  I recognized I really no longer knew  exactly why I wanted to buy an airplane.  I mean I knew I wanted to fly, but that can mean a lot of different things.  Where?  With who? Under what conditions?  Was there an end goal?  How safe did I need to be while I flew?  How much was I comfortable spending to be in the air?  If I couldn’t sort all that out how I could I get the right plane?

What do I mean by  the “Mission”

So somewhere along the way I was introduced to the idea of the “mission”.  I don’t think I came up with myself but I did start to look at the problem with that focus.  So what does that mean exactly?  Its the idea that you understand all the elements of your flight and what the criteria are for success or failure.  It didn’t need to be exact in every detail.  It certainly wasn’t that I’d need to know to the minute or exact details of the flight.  I knew it wasn’t like I was planning to drop a bunch of bombs on someone but there were parallels that could give me focus.  So lets explore the major elements I realized should drive my airplane selection.

Private Planes for Travel

First lets talk about how someone might want to use an airplane.  One of the first of those for a lot of folks is to travel from place to place.  I have had some real experiences with just how much better  flying from place to place in your own plane can be compared to commercial air travel today.

The first was when a friend took me to the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas from Phoenix where I was living at the time.  Normally that is a relatively cheap flight of around an hour.  This was back when travel with airlines was a lot easier, no security checks and you could expect to get on the plane if you made it to the gate as late as a few minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave.  But even then there was still hassles.  You had to park your car in some big parking area and you walked a lot to get from your car to the gate.  If you had baggage to check more delays both departing and arriving.  It wasn’t horrible, certainly nothing as bad as today but it took time and it was a hassle.

So lets look at that first private plane experience was like.  We agreed on a convenient  time in the morning to leave.  I arrived at the private hangar that the plane was kept at.  The owner kept it at a larger commercial hangar that had the plane prepped and fueled when we arrived.  There was great parking there for folks using their business.  So I arrived, parked my car, met my friends, walked less than a 100 yards to the plane, got in and within 20 minutes we were in the air and on our way!  We probably spent less that 30 minutes from the time we got to the hangar to being on our way.  That same experience if we had decided to go commercial we would have been lucky to be in the air in less that an hour after standing in several lines.  So clearly the departure was a much better experience than if we had flown on some airline.

Now lets look at the flight.  We were flying in a Cessna P210 with something called a “Riley Rocket” conversion.  This meant the plane had a bigger engine and some other modifications to make it faster and more capable.  It could hold six folks but on this flight there were only four of us.  This is a pressurized airplane so we flew up quite high.  With planes flying high almost always means fast.  It also means smooth air.  We were probably only 15 minutes longer getting there than an airliner would have taken.  Of course  inside of the plane is smaller and no niceties like in flight beverage service!  But we got to Vegas almost as quickly as if we had flown commercial.  The arrival was easier as well.  We basically had a similar service to the one we had in Phoenix to leave the plane with when we got there.  So within 20 minutes we were in line waiting for a cab to go to the conference.  The fight home was basically the same experience in reverse with particular emphasis on the fact we left when we wanted to leave.  We were not limited to any airline schedule.  My only complaint was that in this particular airplane the cabin heater was not very effective.  So I was freezing on the way home.  This was early January and the outside temperatures at the altitude we flew home at was something like -10 degrees bellow zero!  Brrrrr!  Here is a picture of a plane similar to the one I flew in:

riley

So lets look at the costs for this arguably better experience.  This is about a $200K airplane.  It probably costs at least $250 an hour over all to operate (fuel+hangar costs+maintenance+annual inspect costs+insurance all divided by the number of hours it gets flown every year).  We probably used the plane for 4 hours total.  So the plan cost us $1000 for that trip but there were four of us so it cost us $250 a person.  At that time a round trip ticket was around $15o for a standard ticket and around double of that to fly first class.  So at first glance maybe it was almost the same costs in the end.  But lets see what we needed to make that true.  First we had four folks on the flight.  I am also not including the cost of the pilot.  Lets say you would be flying the plane yourself.  You would easily spend $10K to get the experience and training to fly that plane.  So it is a pretty expensive alternative in the end.  But it was a nice experience for that specific flight.  If we had needed to go to someplace further our flight time will soon be longer than  that a commercial flight.  And a long time on a smaller plane is not nearly as comfortable as a typical airliner.

I am also not considering that if the weather is poor it may be much safer to fly commercial than by private plane.  If you want to be safe flying in poor weather you need to make sure you continue to keep you pilot skills up and you airplane in good condition.  Critical instruments are going to determine if at the end of the flight you are still living or not.

Lets look at my second experience.  If you are like me you hate to fly commercial.  These days you have to plan for hours to get onto the plane.  You are asked to take off your shoes and submitted to all manner of scans and searches.  You will be charged for things every chance the airline can find a way.  Every bag will cost you.  Folks are always going to push the limits of carry on bags.  Also getting onto and off the plane is a long dragged out experience.  It just isn’t much fun.

So every year I attend the Reno Air Races.  These days I usually choose to drive there.  One year a friend was attending and he was going to fly his own plane.  A Beechcraft Debonair.  His was a very nice example and he is a very competent pilot.  So this a high performance single engine airplane.  It is capable of flying on instruments but is not pressurized.   So its were limited to altitudes below ten thousand feet for the most part.  So my friend had flown up himself and offered to let me fly back with him to Seattle after the event.  I jumped at the chance.  I had flown in the plane before with him and was very confident it would be a great flight.  A side note this was a couple of years ago when there were massive forest fires in the region.  So lets look at that experience.  Here is a picture of this type of plane:

debonair

I met met friend around 8:00 in the morning at the Reno airport where he had had his plane tied down with an FBO on the airport.  I returned my rental car on the other side of the airport and I got a ride to the FBO where his plane was.  My friend checked in at the FBO and paid the tie down bill.  He also made arrangements to have his plane fueled.  His plane easily held enough fuel to get us back to Seattle.  Prior to that my friend had filed a flight plan to allow us to fly an IFR route (basically saying you were flying a more precise route using instruments).  We didn’t need to but it allowed us to take advantage of some air routes and have the safety of having additional radar tracking of our flight.  By the time my friend settled up his bill and we got fuel we were in the plane and in the air 30 minutes after we had gotten to the FBO.  Very hassle free.  My friend quickly had us at our planned altitude and we headed home.  His plane had a beautiful very comfortable leather interior and we had noise cancelling headsets.  We could see how extensive the smoke was from the fires.  It was a very pleasant flight and around four hours later we were landing at Renton airport.  I grabbed my bag and I was at my desk at Microsoft around 2:00 in the afternoon.  This was probably sooner than I would have been back at work if I had flown commercial.  A great flight and a wonderful experience!

So what did this flight cost.  I am not totally sure I have the exact numbers correct but here are my best guesses.  This is a $100K airplane.  I know people that own boats or motor homes that cost more.  His plane over all probably costed $175 an hour.  He probably had to pay $500 for the tie down at Reno.  So total flight was something like $1200. Divide that by two and we get $600 a piece.  A little over double of a commercial ticket.  But so much more pleasant.

The point of looking at those two different flights shows that a private plane can be a very good way to travel.  I have other examples I can think of where friends flew their own planes places with really great results.  I am convinced that having a plane to travel can be a wonderful thing.

Shortly after I moved to Houston I went to  an airshow at Galveston airport.  A great airshow, I hope they still hold it! One thing that really impressed me was a fellow had flown there from Scottsdale, AZ in a home built airplane called a Questair.  They made a slight break in the event for him to head home.  This is a two day drive by car!  This was middle afternoon and I realized he was going to be home in time for dinner!  I was a little home sick and I thought how wonderful that seemed.  There had been another departure break earlier in the day for another airplane and that produced a slightly different result.  It was fun but I’ll save that for later but I will also say it left an impression!  Here is what a Questair looks like:

questair

I love them and would love to have one.  300 MPH!!  You can buy one for less than $100k.  Writing this I want to buy one again!! 🙂

So for quite some time while I dream of finally taking the plunge and getting an airplane I thought about that convenient traveling experience.  I thought that was the “mission”.  But I never found myself in a financial position to feel I could afford a plane for that.  So I never really moved forward with a plan and over time I seemed to lose the dream of flight.  Ot at least as a pilot anyways.

Fast forward to me slowly thinking of flying again.  I was still attending aviation events every chance I got and still thought about a plane but I was mostly letting other things in life distract me from the dream.  But over the last couple of years a good friend slowly brought that dream out in me.  I’d fly with him whenever I got a chance and we largely would fly someplace for breakfast or lunch.  Sometimes regional aviation events too.  Even once in a while we’d even camp out at the events.  It was really fun.

A pattern emerged.  I realized I really enjoyed flying “low and slow” to our various meals.  His plane was not particularly fast but the flying was every bit as fun as the meal!  I realized how much I loved seeing the classic planes we’d see at various fly-ins.  I also started really thinking about the cost of flying.  Finally while I did really enjoy flying in planes that were capable of serious travel I also realized I just don’t have any places I’m needing or wanted to fly to.  The speed of the plane wasn’t big of a factor for me.  I also realized most of the time I’d be flying by myself or on rare occasions a single passenger.

I wasn’t going to be trying to use my own airplane as the primary way to go on trips that had to be in specific dates.  I didn’t need the hassle of being able to fly in IFR conditions.  That my flying would be in good weather and just for the fun of it.

My “mission” would be the following:

  • Low and slow is fine, even desirable.
  • The journey was going to be as important as getting to the destination.
  • I wanted to fly regularly so I needed to be able to afford it.
  • I wanted to regularly  attend fly-ins with a “classic” airplane that might even “stand out”. (I remember going to a fly-in with two friends.  One had an amazing $100K plane that was a newer production plane.  My other friend had a pretty ragged older plane but it was a “classic”.  I was flying with the friend in the newer plane.  We were directed to parking with a hundred similar planes.  My other friend in the “classic” was  directed to a very premium place!  I realized I wanted to be in the “premium” place with my plane!)\
  •  I would mostly be flying by myself.
  • I was going to almost entirely flying during daytime in good weather.
  • It would be a bonus if my plane had a “story”!
  • didn’t want to take on the challenge of finding exotic parts to stay in the air.

So with all that lets build the equation to select the plane.

The criteria for my perfect plane:

  • No need to be particularly fast.
  • Two place is all I need.
  • Classic to be fun to bring to a fly-in.
  • Easy to fly – hey I’m not getting any younger so I don’t want to need razor fast reflexes to keep from bad outcomes.
  • Safe – I’d like to live way past 100!
  • Affordable – Low price to acquire and low cost to maintain and fly.  I didn’t want a plane where I didn’t know if I could afford the annual inspection!
  • Able to operate off of grass on occasion as some classic fly-ins are on grass.
  • Available – I had some rarer planes on my list and I didn’t want this to turn into a life long quest to find the right plane.
  • Maintainable – A rare plane I couldn’t get parts for could end up spending too much time on the ground while I chased some odd part down.  Or a plane I can’t find a mechanic for.
  • Quirky – OK, being honest I tend to enjoy quirky things more.
  • Electrical system – I wanted radios, transponders and I did not want to have to hand prop my plane to fly it.
  • I needed to enjoy flying in it and that meant seeing the world as I flew.  So visibility mattered.

So in the previous installment I called out a lot of possible planes.  Lets look at the ones that came close to meeting all the criteria:

Cessna 120/140

c140

The Cessna met all the criteria and I kept these on the list to the end.  The only negative I saw was I kept seeing the same excellent examples showing up to the fly-ins and sucking up all the attention and awards! 🙂  A great plane I decided wasn’t the “perfect” plane.  Also the visibility out of these while while flying is not ideal.

Short wing Piper’s

These really met most of my criteria.  The Tripacer was briefly in the lead after I met some owners after the last Concrete fly-in.  They made a really great case for the Tripacer.  I also will always love the Vagabond after a family friend flew one to our R/C flying sites when I was a kid.  I decided Tripacers have less fly in appeal than I wanted, Vagabonds are a little harder to find and I have heard too many stories about them being tricky tail wheel planes to fly.  May have been a solid choice.

Triple tail Bellanca

3-tail

Man I wanted one!! I finally decided a little too much money and a little more worrisome due to the tail wheel.  I hope there may be one in my future.  I have also been sad to see them not get the attention at fly-ins I think they deserve.

Globe/Tempco Swift

swift

Money and complexity made me give up on these.

Stinson 10A Voyager or (L-5)

voyager

Looked for one of these right till the end.

DH1 – Chipmunk

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I decided outside my budget.  I hope there is a richer “me” in a parallel universe that has one!

PT-19 through PT-23

pt19

Maybe too expensive and I admit I read enough to make me think a little more tricky to fly than I wanted.  I also worried the engine could be hard to get parts for and open cockpit could be cold some times of the year where I currently live.

Curtis Jr.

curtiss-wright-junior

Just couldn’t find an original one.  I did find a couple of replica’s. 😦

Rearwin/Commonwealth Skyranger

skyranger

Looked at these till the end.

Funk

funk

I thought about these till the end.  I heard visibility could be an issue. They seem be hard to find. Maybe this is what I should have bought?   I will always wonder.

Luscombe

luscombe

Prices were all over the map and I wasn’t sure I knew why.  I was also a little scared by the reputation of being tricky tail draggers to fly.  I should mention a really awesome friend/pilot I know ground looped a Super Cub and caused a major amount of damage.  So maybe I am too worried about how I might screw up flying tail draggers.

Navion

navion

Too expensive and more “airplane” than I need for my “mission”.  Cool planes though!

The Reveal!!

So I am going to finally admit I’ve tricked you.  There is one plane I have not talked about.  It was a design that was built to be simple to fly and above all safe.  It featured a lot of elements no planes in the general aviation category had ever featured till it was introduced.  A number of them had been built by several companies over the years.  Parts were still available.  There was a very active owner community.  When they were first introduced you could get a pilot’s license in half the time than other planes because they were considered so simple to fly.  In fact they were designed to be more like driving a car than flying an airplane!  And bonus, there are enough of them to be available and affordable!  Finally they even have some “warbird” cred.  They were even the first airplane to ever be flown with a “JATO” rocket booster!!

So what is this “wonder plane”?  The Ercoupe!!  Here is an Ercoupe:

ercoupe

 

It is a low wing airplane with tricycle landing gear.  It has the rudder controls linked to the ailerons so you steer it like a car.  The elevator travel is limited to make it impossible to stall or spin.  It has great visibility and you can even open the side windows in flight!  A nice one will get attention at a fly-in.  An Ercoupe was even the Grand Champion at the Arlington Fly-in a few years back!

They are affordable to own.  The are so simple that the dreaded “annual” inspection can often be in the low “hundreds”!  Insurance will be as cheap as any plane you can own.  No special training will be required for the most part to safely fly one.  They are faster than many of the other classics.  A good one will reliably do 105 MPH while burning very little gas.  When I thought about it the Ercoupe checked all my boxes!  So when I thought about what I really wanted to get out of an airplane this was clearly the best choice!!

So although there were a lot of possible choices I realized I had finally picked the best type of plane and now I needed to commit.  To help with that I had a chance to talk to a couple of folks that owned Ercoupes and all I heard just let me feel confident that the Ercoupe was the plane I needed!

Now I needed to find one!  The next blog entry will talk about the process of finding a plane.  What I did to find one and the plane I eventually ended up with.  After that I will share some of the amazing things I learned about the Ercoupe and some of my plans for mine once I get it home to my hangar!

By the way, remember when I mentioned a second break in the Galveston Air Show for another plane to depart.  That second plane was an Ecoupe!  The plane left on a much shorter flight.  Back north to its home base at David Wayne Hooks airport.  There was a  headwind so strong (30 MPH) we could see the plane for almost 45 minutes after it took off!  The pilot of that plane may have taken nearly as long to get home as the faster plane flying back to Scottsdale!  At the time I thought maybe that was a bad thing but now I’m not so sure.  🙂 Ercoupes aren’t fast!  But if the journey is the real point of it all then with an Ercoupe all the more time to enjoy the journey!

As a bonus one more Ercoupe picture:

coupes

So be sure to check out my next installment!

Flew the Coupe! – Part 4- Ercoupes and the search for mine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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