Chief and Champion
The Chief and Champ were built by The Aeronca Aircraft Corporation of Middletown, Ohio. Founded in 1928, Aeronca was descended – and took its contracted name – from the Aeronautical Corporation of America. The company is notable for being the first American corporation to design, build and market (as Jane’s put it) a ‘truly light aircraft’. This was its C-2 monoplane, often referred to as ‘the flying bathtub’ and possibly one of the ugliest machines ever to affront the air.
During WWII Aeronca enjoyed considerable success with its L-3 ‘Grasshopper’, and also produced Fairchild PT-19 and PT-23 primary trainers under licence. In 1944 it began work on a new design, the 7AC Champion.
The Champ first flew in 1944, gained certification in 1945 and entered production in 1946. Selling for just over $2,000, it was an immediate success and, encouraged by this, Aeronca designed the Champ’s side-byside sibling, the 11AC Chief. In both design and construction the Chief was very similar to the Champ (commonality of parts is around 75%) the principal difference being the cockpit, which had a large bench seat as opposed to the Champ’s tandem arrangement. The company’s logic was that students would learn on a Champ, but private owners would prefer the more convivial side-by-side seating of the Chief. Curiously, this thinking – although logical – proved to be flawed, the Champ eventually outselling the Chief by a factor of four to one. Nevertheless the Chief still did good business, and at its peak Aeronca was building fifty aircraft (mostly Champs and Chiefs) a week. Imagine that today!
When Aeronca ceased aircraft production in 1951 around 2,000 Chiefs had been built, and its success is not surprising, as in many respects the Chief is wholly representative of a time when – in the US at least - flying was eminently affordable. In 1946 the average American annual wage was $2,600, while a brand-new Chief could be flown away from Middletown for around $2,300.