In the interest of protecting the public health of our staff and visitors, the Museum is temporarily closing to the public starting Saturday November 14th.
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.