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10 Wooden Airplanes You Can Buy Or Build

And a few you’ll only be able to dream about.

Beech D-17 Staggerwing
Beech D-17 Staggerwing. Photo by Shutterstock

As we progress well into the second century of flight, most of us take to the sky in machines of metal or advanced composites like carbon fiber and Kevlar. The science is solid and techniques well established for flying machines of these materials. But if you step away from the mainstream types most commonly decorating the ramp at your local airfield, you may well stumble across wooden airplanes that survive as antiques, warbirds and homebuilt designs, as well as a few types built more recently. There are even a few designs in current production—one featured below is a throwback to the days of old, while another is a Light Sport Aircraft utilizing a wood wing to stay below the 1,320-pound gross weight limit. 

At the outset of aviation, wood was a logical material for aircraft construction. Lightweight alloys were still anything but common, but wood was widely available and used for everything from bridge timbers and railway coaches to furniture and buildings. Technically, some metal structures did take flight as rigid airship frames before the Wright brothers even started building gliders. But for the first several generations of aircraft, wood was a critical design component. From the early pioneers through the Golden Age air racers, wood allowed for strong structures with a smooth finish that didn’t require rivets disrupting the airflow. It could be used in a number of methods. The earliest flying machines were often a skeleton of wooden frames, with a fabric skin stretched over it. As machines gained speed and a need for strength, plywood skins formed over ribs, stringers and bulkheads made for a strong structure without a lot of weight. Even as aluminum became a popular building material for aircraft, wooden spars, such as on Piper Cubs until early 1946, persisted as a light and affordable component. Many of the lighter Cubs sport spars of spruce or fir. Wood spars continued in new-production Champs, Citabrias and Decathlons until the 1990s.

Even today, wood persists in plenty of homebuilt designs and even a few certified aircraft in current production. Wood is light, strong and, unlike metal, it doesn’t have a “memory.” It either breaks, or it doesn’t. Metal, on the other hand, can be observed failing as you bend a paperclip back and forth several times. With each bend, it deforms more easily, and when it finally does break, it does so with less force than originally needed to bend it. Wood is far from a perfect material, though. Termites aren’t so much a threat as rot—moisture is the enemy. Having a mechanic who is knowledgeable and comfortable with wood structures is key. Let’s take a quick look at 10 types, some old and some new, to see what a broad variety of wooden wonders might decorate an eclectic aviator’s logbook.

10) Avions-Mudry CAP 10B

10) Avions-Mudry CAP 10B

10) Avions-Mudry CAP 10B

For three decades, Daniel Héligoin and Montaine Mallet, a husband and wife airshow team, wowed crowds as “The French Connection,” performing an almost impossibly tight formation routine that was as much ballet as aerobatics. Their mount, the CAP 10B, became an icon of the show circuit, and even the most seasoned of aviators would stop to watch their snap rolls on takeoff.

Powered by an AEIO-360 engine, the CAP 10B was far from the fire-breathing monsters that headline airshows today. And even though they were made of wood, the airplanes weren’t feather-light, either. These airplanes put on a spectacular show through careful energy management—a balance of kinetic and dynamic energy. Speeds and G-limits are largely unremarkable by modern standards, but few pilots who have flown one will speak ill of the design. Instead, expect a smile and a gleam in their eye as anyone who’s been at the controls tells you of the fun they had dancing about the heavens in this specimen of a flying machine. The CAP 10 was derived from the Piel Super Emeraude homebuilt, and it continued to be refined into later designs of single-seat aerobatic aircraft, culminating with the CAP 230 series.

Avions-Mudry CAP 10B

Crew: 2

Height: 8 ft 4 in

Wing Span: 26 ft 5 in

Length: 23 ft 6 in

Wing Area: 116.8 sq ft

Maximum Takeoff Weight: 1,676 lb

Empty Weight: 1,190 lb

Fuel Capacity: 19 U.S. gal

Propellers: 2-bladed Hoffmann fixed pitch wooden propeller

Range: 750 miles

Service Ceiling: 16,000 ft

G-Limits: +6 -4.5

Rate Of Climb: 1,200 ft/min max at sea level

Maximum Speed: 148 kts

Cruise Speed: 139 kts

Stall Speed: 54 kts clean; 46 kts dirty

Never Exceed Speed: 182 kts

Powerplant: 1 × Lycoming AEIO-360-B2F, 180 hp

Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons


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