Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The Very First Aeronca Sedan


A Testament to its indomitable spirit, serial #001 is alive and well


aeroncaIn 1947, the Aeronca Company was in trouble. A successful series of two-seater aircraft didn’t distinguish it in the slumping post-World War II aircraft market. Many manufacturers with new airplanes and thousands of surplus airplanes flooded the economy. Aeronca decided to put its eggs in the four-seat basket. The Sedan was its first and only entry into the larger airplane market. It reached production in 1948 and looked poised to take off.
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The Very First Aeronca SedanIn 1947, the Aeronca Company was in trouble. A successful series of two-seater aircraft didn’t distinguish it in the slumping post-World War II aircraft market. Many manufacturers with new airplanes and thousands of surplus airplanes flooded the economy. Aeronca decided to put its eggs in the four-seat basket. The Sedan was its first and only entry into the larger airplane market. It reached production in 1948 and looked poised to take off.

The Sedan wasn’t the only low-end four-seater; Piper had the Pacer, and Cessna was producing the 170. The Sedan was simple, rugged, easy to maintain and fly, and relatively cheap. If you had $4,795, you could fly a brand-new Sedan out the door. In its three-year production span, 561 Sedans took to the skies.

The Sedan did have a few characteristics that distinguished it from the pack. It had huge internal volume—with only the pilot aboard, there was 100 cubic feet of space. The big metallized wing produced enormous lift, qualifying the Sedan as a short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft. It was STOL before STOL was cool. Rugged and flexible, it was pressed into service as a bush airplane, flying loads into and out of the backcountry on skis and floats all over the continental U.S., Canada and Alaska.

A capable airplane, this darling of bush pilots was soon employed in an unusual academic research program in the early 1950s. Two University of Alaska students outfitted a Sedan with radio gear and flew the airplane 300 feet above the ground all over Alaska. Logging over 20,000 miles, they produced a conductivity map of the entire state. Their study served as the foundation of research on magnetic storms, which affect everyone on Earth.

A few years ago, another unusual story about the Aeronca Sedan surfaced. It seems a 93-year-old aviator was delivering newspapers out of the window of his Sedan. Being used on a newspaper route can only enhance the Sedan’s reputation as a docile, easy-to-handle airplane, but don’t complain about late papers.

Sexy and fast aren’t monikers used to describe Aeronca’s designs. Capable, reliable, cheap and fun to fly describe them much better. All told, Aeronca built 17,408 airplanes over 55 models. Thousands are still flying. When the Aeronca Company closed its doors in 1951, Champion Aircraft Company bought the rights. Bellanca succeeded Champion, and today, the American Champion Company is making new versions of the original Aeronca Champ.

A lot of folks are still flying and restoring Aeroncas. Organizations like the National Aeronca Association and the Fearless Aeronca Aviators try very hard to keep it that way. The Fearless Aeronca Aviators figure there are 208 Sedans still registered in the United States. Some flying on floats in New York state, some on skis in Canada. Other, more capable aircraft have replaced the Sedan as money-making bush airplanes, but it’s still going strong as a fun machine. In fact, the first one built graces the skies of Wisconsin on a regular basis.




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