The Mighty Monocoupe

Aviation History | History of Flight | Aviation History Articles, Warbirds, Bombers, Trainers, Pilots | The Mighty Monocoupe

Big Legend in a Small Package

by Budd Davisson

Trying to characterize the Monocoupe in only a few words is like trying to explain icons like Jimmy Stewart, George Patton or the P-51 Mustang in twenty-five words or less. In its time, the Monocoupe stood tall as the first truly high performance airplane available to the average man.

When the Monocoupe appeared on the market in 1930, aviation was just beginning to leave its big-biplane roots behind. Even though the stock market crash of í29 had ripped the guts out of the nationís economy, aviation fever was so strong that companies were springing up everywhere trying to capitalize on it. Names like WACO, Beechcraft, Cessna and so many others popped up at what was a seemingly illogical time: how could people buy airplanes if they had no money? But, the lure of aviation was strong that the ìsportsman pilotî literally kept the newly hatched industry of aviation alive and the Monocoupe was right out in front getting much of the glory.

The Monocoupe was a tiny airplane by comparison to the biplanes that went before. The cockpit was two fairly small people across and its long, single piece wing was a wood working masterpiece with its massive spar running uninterrupted through the top of the cabin. The high-aspect ratio wing gave the airplane plenty of lift, but the tiny cabin and fuselage kept the drag to a minimum.

As the engines became bigger, the windshield appeared to become an afterthought as it assumed the proportions of a mailbox slot. When the little 90 hp Lambert radial was bolted to the nose and surrounded by a wind-cheating cowling, the airplane delivered what was considered to be blazing performance: 110 cruise and 130 mph top speed along with 900 feet per minute climb. Compared to its competition óall hulking biplanesóthat was lightning fast.

The Monocoupe appeared on stage just as air racing was becoming a spectator sport second only to baseball. In addition to the hairy-chested special race airplanes, classes were developed for certified airplanes so the local Sunday pilot could rip around the pylons. However, if he wasnít flying a Monocoupe, he didnít have a chance of winning. Enter Johnny Livingston.

Livingston recognized the potential in the Monocoupe and began making his own modifications in the form of aerodynamic fairings for speed increases. His 90A was quickly replaced by a 110hp powered version, then he went one step further and talked the factory into clipping the wings to rid the airplane of induced drag. The resulting 110 Special so dominated the field that the factory eventually certified the ìclip wing ëCoupeî and built seven powered by 145 hp Warner radials. The short-winged 110 Specials became legendary, both as racers and as acrobats.

The 90A ëCoupe went through a number of changes and the factory went through the usual ups and downs of business finally closing their doors for good right after WWII. The final Monocoupes were 90ALís with the lovely round motors replaced by far more efficient flat motors (Lycomings) that lacked the charisma of the radials
Today ìMonocoupeî is one of those words usually said with a hint of reverence and a knowing look in the eye. Itís not just an airplane of the 1930ís because, to many, it is THE airplane of the 1930ís.

Updated: August 22, 2011 — 2:46 PM
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