The Aeronautical Corporation of America Inc., later called Aeronca, began producing high-wing, fabric covered, monoplanes during 1928, first at Luken Airport, Cinncinatti and later at Middletown, Ohio. The early Aeroncas (particularly the C.2 and C.3) were hardly what you would call handsome; anyone who has seen one of these rare ‘flying bathtubs’ can attest to that! During WW2, the Corporation, now call the Aeronca Aircraft Corporation, built thousands of two-seat tandem, high-wing aircraft called the TC-65 Defender, almost identical in appearance and performance to the Piper L-4 and Taylorcraft L-2 which had gone to war with the Army Air Corps. Sadly, the Aeronca, called by the Army the O-58, didn’t get an invitation to the ‘big dance’. Instead she trained thousands of would-be pilots through the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and fed them into the Service training schools.
Post-war, Aeronca sought to re-enter the civilian market. One new design was the Aeronca 7AC Champion, and this time they got it right. The resulting aircraft was very handsome, and despite the traditional tandem seating, sold well in post-war America (and not at all in Austerity-racked Britain, as we had no US dollars left to pay for imports!) The engine was the ever-reliable Continental Motors Corporation A65-8, driving a two-bladed propeller and putting out around 65 hp. Designed in 1944, and entering production in 1946, the original 7AC was a very simple aircraft. Only 6 main instruments on the front panel, no electrical system (the A65 had to be hand-swung), and simple cable-operated controls. It sold like ‘hot cakes’ – 1946 price, $2,295 – and over 7,100 were built before production stopped in 1951.
If you were buying a new light aircraft in 1946 America, you had to ask some searching questions if you were NOT going to buy a Piper Cub, the ‘brand leader’ since 1938. Aeronca were cunning and tackled the Cub’s weak points – high thrust line, and low pilot position, rather difficult taxying characteristics, single pilot operation from the rear seat, draughty doors. All these were improved in the 7AC, thereby making a more attractive machine, although one with slightly less than the stellar handling of its rival, the Cub. Here we can see a very fine 1946 Aeronca 7AC Champion, G-BVCS (formerly on the American Civil Register as N69BD), parked at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire. It was put on the British Register in 1993, and has had four owners since then. The current owner is Adrian Lines of Leicester, and although, theoretically, Mr. Lines ought to have considered a locally-produced Auster, I am sure that he is more than happy with his Aeronca!
There are a few maintenance snags to look out for on a 7AC. Either ‘disc’ or the earlier ‘drum’ brakes can wear quickly, and should be checked regularly. Unlike many of its contemporaries (which had rubber ‘bungee’ cord suspension for their undercarriages) the Champion has a simple oleo arrangement. However, this has to contain EXACTLY 8.5 fluid ounces of the correct grade oil. If it drops much below this figure, bad ground handling, heavier landings and damage to the oleo struts can ensue. The steel wing struts can be subject to corrosion, but fortunately less than in other makes of high-wing aircraft. The plywood skinning of the rear fuselage may warp, under certain conditions, and this can prove costly to rectify. Having said all that, the Aeronca 7AC Champion is a survivor, and if the worst comes to the worst, Univair Aircraft Corporation of Aurora, Colorado, has a complete inventory of all the standard Aeronca spares, including improved (and FAA approved) ‘new’ versions of some of them!