Aeronca C-3 Collegian

Though neither swift in speed nor elegant in appearance, the Aeronca C-3 produced a mass of devoted owners who loved their ungainly appearance and the sheer pleasure they offered at low expense. Designed for simple, low-cost fair-weather flying fun, the C-3’s walrus-like appearance generated such nicknames as “Flying Bathtub” and “Airknocker.” Yet a student pilot could solo for $35, get his or her license for $70, then fly around with fuel and oil costs barely exceeding a penny a mile. For all practical purposes, the Aeronca C-3 became America’s first truly light aircraft.

In the late 1920s, Aeronautical Corporation of America (Aeronca) in Cincinnati, Ohio, began designing light aircraft for the general population; this was unlike most aircraft designs of the time, which were aimed towards professional pilots and owners. Hoping to widen the appeal of their previous single-seat C-2 model, Aeronca introduced a two-seat derivative called the C-3. Because a tandem arrangement would have exceeded center of gravity limits, the fuselage was widened to accommodate another person in side-by-side seating.

The Duplex version of the C-3 seated a passenger, while the Collegian version was specially designed as a trainer, with dual controls for an instructor. It also offered side panels for enclosing the cockpit in cold weather. Like its C-2 predecessor, brakes and airspeed indicator were offered only as optional equipment. Production of the C-3 began in March 1931, and the aircraft immediately began setting records for its weight class. A C-3 won its class at the 1931 National Air Tour, a 4,850-mile endurance event, averaging 64 mph. Sales increased, and in 1935, Aeronca produced a deluxe version called the Master with an enclosed cockpit, oleo landing gear struts and a rounded fuselage top. The seating configuration made flight training much easier and many Aeronca owners often took to the skies with only five hours of instruction – largely because of the C-3’s predictable flying characteristics. Both the C-2 and C-3 were often described as “powered gliders” because of their gliding ability and gentle landing speeds – it was almost impossible to make a hard landing with an Aeronca because the pilot could easily see the wheels approach the runway.

Aeronca also produced other variants, including a floatplane version called the PC-3 (‘P’ for pontoon). Production of C-3s ceased in 1937 when the U.S. Commerce Department issued regulations banning wire-braced wings without struts and single magneto ignition systems. A total of 439 C-3s were built.

The Museum’s C-3 was donated by Jim and Gwen Dewey of Santa Paula, California in 1983. It is a 1933 Aeronca C-3 Collegian, also known as the Razorback. The airframe has around 1200 hours, and the engine about 50 hours since last overhauled.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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