Assend Dragon Air Force
RB “Doc” Hecker
EAA Technical Counselor # 5453
EAA Flight Advisor # 1905
My wife is a physician, so when she says to me… “You are crazy!”…I have to pause for a moment to listen…for at least a little while...until I remind myself that I am an adult, and that she is a Pediatrician used to working with children. In all fairness to her, I do admit to acting like a recalcitrant child most of the time, especially when it involves decisions revolving around aircraft. To me, it is a matter of judgment…to her, it is insanity. As a physician myself, I believe that we have an honest professional difference of opinion. Sigmund Frued defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This cannot be true in my case as each time I told her that I had purchased an aircraft, the FAA (an officially recognized organization of the US Government) agreed that I legally owned that aircraft. Based upon this, my reasoning that I am of sound mind is impeccable.
“So…” she asked,”…how many aircraft do you own?” I casually admitted to now housing 4 machines that are currently airworthy and flying, and I also volunteered the information that my name was listed on 5-1/3 N-Numbers according to the FAA Aircraft Registration Database. I demurred when she asked how many hangars I owned. I just reminded her that marriage was a partnership and I was protecting her “interests”. Besides, I didn’t want to bore her with the details just at that moment. As a true retired soldier, I elected to execute a strategic retreat.
What started this? I casually mentioned to my wife over dinner the other evening that I had just “acquired” a real war bird, admittedly a very small one, which was a prior US Army 1943 Aeronca O-58 / L-3B that had been in the hangar of a friend of mine for 4 years. Although it had been maintained, inspected annually, and occasionally taxied, its flying history was sporadic. My Army friend of 40 years told me he had “too much inventory”, which meant he was not flying his 1959 Bonanza as much as he used to, and he was very busy working on his “completed” RV-7. He told me that he was ready to clear up some hangar space. As I just happened to have an opening in my storage hangar, I relieved him of his overly onerous burden, and cleverly occupied the open space in that hangar that had been a reproach to me. That 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B looks right at home with the 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D and the 1946 Aeronca 7AC. The working hangar now houses the projects of friends, which include a 1947 Aeronca 7BCM (L-16B) a 1977 Taylorcraft F19, and a 1945 Boeing B-17G spare rudder in for recover. My other projects also manage to fit mostly along the wall…and the (must I say it?) classic 1965 Cessna C210E takes up the rest of the space. Now that all is relatively tidy, I can get back to work on organizing and managing the “Assend Dragon Air Force”.
My aviation madness appeared to present itself when my ex-US Army Air Corps father taught me to fly somewhere around age 12, although I had been manipulating the controls since I was 8. My aviatrix mother long ago told the story of my 1st flight occurring during 1951 while held in her arms when I was a month old, but my memory is more than a little hazy on that flight leg. It is hard to imagine that my early flight “imprinting” experience involved a Cessna 195 powered by a “shaky Jake”, especially when I recall being in the left seat hardly able to see out of the side window, let alone the front windscreen, with my father swinging the control yoke back to his side at the critical moments. Once my age was in double digits, my father’s appointment as a CAP Squadron Commander in the Chicago area allowed me to work on, and fly in, Aeronca L-16’s. My first “legally” logged flight at age 14 was in a Citabria with the departure airport listed as Meigs Field on the Chicago lakefront. As a courtesy of the CAP cadet program. I transitioned into sailplane training that summer. At age 16, I naturally matriculated to Cessna 150 spam cans for my private license as no one in their right mind was teaching young kids in tail wheel aircraft anymore. By age 17, I was working to pay for my college education and recreational flying took a very distant 2nd place. Just prior to my 21st birthday, I was wearing the uniform of the United States Army courtesy of the Chicago Draft Board. I spent the next 26 years getting out of the Army, but was able to get back to flying in a serious manner around 1982 in various Cessna, Piper and Grumman machines. The tail wheel bug bit me again about 5 years ago when I purchased and restored the 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D. To gain currency during that period, I took refresher training in an Aeronca 7AC Champion. I was back to the roots of my flying career. The thought of building an “Assend Dragon Air Force” to share my love of tail wheel aircraft began to form in my mind. The intention was to form a nucleus of interesting small tail wheel aircraft that would be a focus of joy to me and my “like-minded” flying friends.
Consider this…what is it about those pilots who fly aircraft with tail wheels? Are they anachronistic beings that are resistant to “modern” nose-wheel configured undercarriage engineering or just a different breed of superman-like aviators flying and thinking “outside of the box”? And…what is it with the minimalistic instrument panels where anything over 6 instruments (airspeed, altimeter, compass, oil temperature, oil pressure, slip indicator) and a fuel gauge seems overly complex and a complete waste of time spent enjoying the flying experience? Oh yes…radios are a plus if you really need to talk, or if you need others to know that you are “low and slow”, although recently a Cessna Citation at Fredericksburg, TX didn’t seem to hear me calling out my final approach while he was entering the pattern until I mentioned I had side-stepped to get out of his way…he did at least thank me….I imagine that from his point of view Jet-A is….sooooo… expensive.
It is amazing that when I fly my “classic” 1965 Cessna Centurion somewhere, I am just another “spam can” thought to be a Cessna 206 being shuffled off to a parking area. However, when I show up in a “vintage” 2-seat tube and fabric tail dragger, I am always greeted by the tire kickers who want to know what year “Cub” it is. Since I do not own a yellow colored airplane with a picture of a plush toy on the fuselage, I patiently explain the difference between Piper Cubs, Aeroncas, Taylorcrafts, Luscombes, etc. The good side of the arrival is that everyone seems interested…and one of the bad sides is that some observers are appalled that the skin is fabric - obviously not a “real” airplane. The most interesting moment is just prior to departure when one or other of these machines needs to be hand propped…which is another lost art in the great sea of pilots. Some pilots observing this ritual demonstrate fear while others seem wistful. To me, I just want a start on the first blade…with chocks in place and a good hold on the tail.
So…why fly a tail dragger? There are a number of reasons that mastering a conventional gear aircraft will make you a better pilot:
Conventional gear aircraft demand precise stick and rudder skills, both in the air, and especially on the ground where the center of gravity is behind the main landing gear. If the airplane is not controlled meticulously, the tail wheel will try to lead…just like the nose-gear in a tri-cycle gear model.
Conventional gear aircraft require constant focus and vigilance from engine start to engine stop and tie down. More ground loops occur at the end of the landing roll at slow speed when the pilot’s vigilance is lessened, and control inputs, especially rudder movements, are relaxed.
You are learning to fly an aircraft as they were originally designed to be flown, and when pilots were expected to be “in-command” of the aircraft at all times. Incidentally, you will be a better tri-cycle gear pilot after mastering the tail wheel equipped machine.
Commanding a tail wheel aircraft evokes the romance known by the original pilots that is hard to assume when flying a video arcade via multiple satellites from point A to point B. Open cockpit tail wheel machines start a whole new trail of adventure.
Tail wheel aircraft have a natural affinity for turf runways that is hard to satisfy in most modern tri-cycle gear models
Gaining and demonstrating proficiency in a tail wheel aircraft gives you the opportunity to receive an endorsement per FAR § 61.3(i) by an authorized instructor.
You might ask what aircraft comprise this so-called Assend Dragon Air Force, and why they were chosen. They were chosen by serendipity and availability. They all have their foibles and high points. I can only give my personal perspective on the models in my possession in the order that I acquired them.
The 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D (ATC 696-2) depicted in the heading photograph is a side-by-side improved version of C. G. Taylor’s Model BC-12 (Model B, Continental powered, and 1200# gross weight) that was introduced at the end of WWII. A total of 3,911 machines were constructed in 1946. My aircraft NC43306 was manufactured in February, 1946 with the new stamped metal wing ribs. The February, 1946 production figure was 234 aircraft which is roughly 25-30 per day. Taylorcraft manufactured more of this model than any others since the introduction of the Model BC-65 in August, 1938, and was bankrupt by Friday, November 8, 1946. With a top speed of 105 MPH (cruise 95 MPH), it was a “flyer” but did not have the panache of tandem seating. Its standard 65 HP O-170 (A-65) engine was typical of the time. The Deluxe model with 24 gallons of gasoline gave it a great range, but at the expense of payload. The quite efficient NACA 23012 asymmetric airfoil allows the aircraft to perform well on 65 HP. This aircraft is quite responsive and light on control inputs. Its airfoil demands attention to landing speeds (stall speed 43 MPH) as it will “float” if airspeed is not well controlled. I modified this aircraft with a STC for a skylight that improves visibility looking upward and in turns. This aircraft is named “El Comejen”. The aircraft wears a modified 532nd Squadron, 381st Bomb Group (H) nose art patch honoring my father, a B-17 pilot during 1943-1944 in England. The Taylorcraft became one of the most popular light planes in the post-war period, and the “T-Crafters” who maintain and fly these machines are probably the most staunch and faithful supporters of any type in the country. The Taylorcraft Foundation fosters a lively discussion forum that is quite helpful in supporting this line of aircraft.
Specifications: ATC696-2 (8-24-1938)
Gross Weight: 1,200 lb
Max Weight: 1,200 lb
No. of Engines: 1
Powerplant: Continental A65-8 or A65-8F
Horsepower: 65 hp @ 2,300 rpm
Range: 250 miles (12 gal fuel / 0.8 power @ 2,150 rpm / 4.2 gph)
Cruise Speed: 95 mph
Max Speed: 105 mph
Stall Speed: 40 mph
Ceiling: 14,500 ft
The 1946 Aeronca 7AC (ATC 759) was a newly designed 2-seat tandem aircraft intended for training that was approved in October,1945 to replace their pre-war 65-TC “Tandem Trainer” (ATC 728, 6-15-1940). It has the distinction of being the first light plane certified for the post-war period, and was introduced in November, 1945 as the “Champion for 1946”. My aircraft NC2241E was manufactured in October, 1946. Depending on your perspective, the 7AC was variably described as either homely or cute, but quickly became familiar to pilots as the “Champ” or “Airknocker”. This model began a whole line of aircraft with improvements and higher horsepower through the 7EC, with approximately 10,000 aircraft being produced through 1951. The 7AC has a NACA-4412 airfoil and cruises at ~ 80 MPH with a max speed of 100 MPH and a stall speed of 38 MPH. With a gross weight of 1320#, the utility of the aircraft for cross country travel with a 13 gallon fuel tank is somewhat limited and additional fuel tanks are detrimental to useful load and payload. The aircraft is heavy on the controls and sinks easily with power reduction. The large Plexiglas windscreen gives an excellent forward view. The Champ is noisy, and cabin climate control marginal (hot in summer and cold in winter). This is a great airplane to play in. I have named it the “Miss Kelly Ann” after my wife. The aircraft wears a modified 532nd Squadron, 381st Bomb Group (H) nose art patch honoring my father, a B-17 pilot during 1943-1944 in England.
The National Aeronca Association vigorously supports the type and parts are readily available.
Specifications: ATC 759 (10-18-1945)
Gross Weight: 1,320 lb
Max Weight: 1,320 lb
No. of Engines: 1
Powerplant: Continental A65-8 or A65-8F
Horsepower: 65 hp @ 2,300 rpm
Range: 250 miles (0.8 power @ 2,150 rpm / 4.2 gph)
Cruise Speed: 80 mph
Max Speed: 92 mph
Stall Speed: 38 mph
Ceiling: 12,600 ft
The 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B (ATC 751) was one of several special military versions of their Model 65-TC “Tandem-Trainer” (ATC 728, 6-15-1940) built as observation (O-58) and later liaison (L-3) airplanes that soon became the nucleus of the famous fleet of “Grasshoppers”. The 65 HP Continental powered “B” model was an improved Aeronca Defender “A” model with 2-way FM military radios and a wide expanse of greenhouse windows. The “C” model was delivered as a non radioed trainer mainly to civilian flying schools under military contract. The military production run was approximately 1400 aircraft through 1943 when Aeronca converted the O-58 line into an engineless three place training glider known as the TG-5. The type certificate for the O-58 series was approved in September 1942. My aircraft NC47185 was manufactured in September 1943 (SN O58B-11123) as USAAF 43- 26975 and was released from government service as obsolete surplus in September, 1944. Its government service was completed in Ohio stationed at Patterson AAF (now Wright-Patterson AFB), but the aircraft is currently displayed in Pacific Theater “White Tail” livery. The NACA-4412 airfoil was originally powered by a Continental 65 HP (Military O-170-3), and due to military specifications, had a gross weight of 1325”. My aircraft has a STC for an 85 HP C-85-12F with a gross weight of 1300#. Although some publications list a gross weight of 1800#, this most likely represents a misreading of 1300#. This aircraft is relatively slow with a max speed of 87 MPH and a cruising speed of 79 MPH and a stall speed of 43 MPH. The aircraft feels more like I am wearing the airplane when compared to the Aeronca 7AC, but it is much more stable and firm in its controls. It is a joy to fly, but the 12 gal main fuel supply and the added 4 gal reserve aux tank allowed for military models in the right wing limits its range. Again, the National Aeronca Association supports this model. As this aircraft has an electrical system, starter, intercom system, COM radio and a transponder/encoder, it allows me greater utility to appear at fly-ins and military themed air shows than my other aircraft. I have named this aircraft “Fearless Fosdick” in honor of my father’s 381st Bomb Group (H) Headquarters’ Piper L-4 “hack” of that name. The nose art depicts the hapless detective ever striving forward into danger with his M1911 0.45 caliber handgun ready for action.
Specifications: ATC 751 (9-4-1942)
Gross Weight: 1,325 lb (as manufactured); 1,300 lb placarded
Max Weight: 1,300 lb
No. of Engines: 1
Powerplant: Continental O-170-3 (A65-8)
Horsepower: 65 hp @ 2,300 rpm
85 hp @ 2,600 rpm per STC
Range: 199 miles (0.8 power @ 2,150 rpm / 4.2 gph)
Cruise Speed: 79 mph
Max Speed: 87 mph
Stall Speed: 43 mph
Ceiling: 12,500 ft (7,750 ft with full military equipment configuration)
Maybe I am crazy like my wife says, but my craziness is a sublime form of bliss. May you also suffer from this affliction as it keeps us looking skywards towards something new and exciting in our lives? We are a lucky breed of human. I am glad to be a member of our unique community who try to live without regret.
Ref: Joseph P. Juptner, U.S. Civil Aircraft, Volumes 6 (1974) and 7 (1978), Aero Publishers, Inc., Fallbrook, CA
Chet Peek, The Taylorcraft Story, Three Peaks Publishing, Norman OK, 1992.
RB “Doc” Hecker (EAA 789419) is a FAA Senior AME (20969) who retired from the US Army Medical Department in 1997 after 26 years of service. He holds a Commercial/Instrument Pilot Certificate for ASEL, AMEL and ASES along with an A&P Mechanic Certificate. He has logged over 2,500 hours and prefers small, intimate airparks. He has restored a 1965 Cessna C210E (N4904U), a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D (NC43306),a 1946 Aeronca 7AC (NC2241E), refurbished a 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B (NC47185) and a 1947 Taylorcraft BC12-D (N43928). He is currently restoring a 1947 Aeronca 7BC / L-16 (N119TX). His other projects include building a RV-8 (N51TX) and he is assisting in the restoration of a 1976 Taylorcraft F-19 (N3556T). He has previously owned a Cessna C-172 (N61785), a Grumman AA-5B (N74447) and a Mooney M20C (N10AD). In his free time, Doc practices medicine in San Antonio, TX. He is a member of EAA Chapter 35 of San Antonio, TX, EAA Chapter 92 of Orange, CA, and is an EAA Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor. In addition, he is a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force and affiliates with the Tex Hill Wing (Hondo, TX), and crews with the Gulf Coast Wing (Houston, TX) as a Flight Engineer and member of the maintenance team where he does sheet metal and fabric repair work on that magnificent 1945 B17-G war bird “Texas Raiders” (N7227C).
January 21, 2012