Chief and Cham­pion

Pilot - - FLIGHT TEST | AERONCA 11AC CHIEF -

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.

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