Model preferences

Very subjective opinions by Ed Burkhead

First, if you are a Sport Pilot or a PP whoís concerned about your medical and may let it expire, you need to know that only the 415-C and 415-CD models are Sport Pilot eligible.

The 415-C and CD models are limited by their type certificate to a gross weight of 1260 lb.  If theyíve never been converted up to be D models and converted back, then theyíre eligible to be flown by Sport Pilots.  Usually, if someone up-converted their plane, theyíd never convert it back.  But now, with Sport Pilot, some sellers are backing out their conversion if they can hide the paper trail so they can sell at the higher market value the Sport Pilot eligible planes are drawing.  Inspect the paperwork, FAA document CD and insurance records of a C or CD very carefully if you need to be flying in Sport Pilot mode.

The 415-D, E G and Forney F1 all have gross weight of 1400 lb.  The Forney F-1A and all Alons and Mooney M-10 Cadets all have a gross weight limit of 1450 lb.

In general, the newer the Coupe, the more desirable it is.  Alons have long been considered a premium model.  Forneys are next, late Ercoupes (E & G) next and the early Ercoupes a not-so-far-back bottom.  The difference between the best model and the worst isnít big.  The difference in the quality of individual planes can be big.

Coupes are most-parts-interchangeable with other Coupes.  The Forney, Alon and Mooney M-10 Cadet have the C-90 engine with a well chosen prop.  More importantly, the Alonís slide back bubble canopy has a better aerodynamic shape than does the windows-slide-down Ercoupe canopy.  Thus, the Alons can out climb and out cruise any Ercoupe or Forney.  The difference is roughly 108 mph for an Ercoupe versus 115-118 for an Alon.

I had an Ercoupe 415-D with a C-85.  To improve my climb, I went to an extreme climb prop and the Alons could still out climb me while the extreme climb prop cut my cruise speed down to 100 mph.

Also, the Alon planes have an improved instrument panel which gives a lot more room and better layout for instruments and avionics.  The down side is that the more stuff you put in the panel, the lower your useful load.  This extra stuff eats up all the increased gross weight that the Alon has (1450 lb.) versus the Ercoupe D, E & Gís 1400 lb.  Many earlier Coupes have been retrofitted with the Alon instrument panel.

The Alon canopy is rated in the owner manual as OK to fly open cockpit up to 100 mph and I knew one Alon owner who did so all the time (in Florida) and lots who did when the weather was OK.  Iíve also know Alon owners who were afraid to ever fly open cockpit since theyíve heard that in one or two instances the canopy departed the airplane in flight.  So far, we havenít been able to confirm those instances.  At the very least, Iíd make darn sure the canopy rail hardware was in VERY good condition, then Iíd go fly with it open while keeping my airspeed down.  Open cockpit flight is wonderful.

For that reason, Iím inclined toward liking the pre-Alon models because of the slide-down side windows which also are your doors.  With these, itís easy and nice to fly open cockpit.  Thereís enough wind-shielding from the front and rear to minimize wind buffeting so itís pleasant.  On long cross country flights, I found I prefer windows mostly closed because the remaining wind buffeting of my head makes me tired after hours and hours of flying.

Also, the various Coupes have wonderful visibility all around and over the top.  I love that and am content with a baseball cap for my sun shade.  For long distance cruising at high altitude, Iíll take some sun screen and gloop it on.  But I love the visibility from Coupes.  But, some of the later Alon planes and the Mooneys had the top of the canopy coated so you only have the windshield, side windows and back to look out of.  Iíd personally avoid those but if an otherwise prime aircraft had it, Iíd probably buy it anyway.

Also, the late manufacturers covered the wings with metal rather than fabric.  The penalties are two:
Metal covered wings
1.  Weigh as much as 40 lb. more than fabric covered wings.  Maybe less.
2.  Have never had their coverings removed for extremely close inspection and repair of the internal structure since they were built.  See the comments below about pre-purchase inspection.

Fabric wings tend to make for a faster and lighter plane.  Modern fabrics are so good, Iíd always prefer fabric covered wings.  If my ideal plane came with metalized wings, Iíd think about changing them to fabric though I might never actually bother if it were an Alon.
Fabric wings:
1.  Lighter than metalized.
2.  Smoother than metalized.
3.  More resistant to hail damage unless itís really bad hail, then itís still way cheaper to fix.
4.  Gets taken off every few decades for a super good inspection and repair of everything inside. (This is a disadvantage, too, since thereís cost involved in this.)

So, the main choices between models are: 
1.  How much do you crave flying open cockpit?  Iím addicted Ė I donít have much interest any more in a plane that I couldnít do that Ė not a plane for fun.  Maybe for a travel plane, itíd be OK.
2.  How important is higher cruise speed?

Considerations for all models

Aircraft, especially 35-60 year old aircraft can vary a lot in condition.  Some classics were owned by poor people who just wanted to fly but could barely afford maintenance and who skimped.  Some are owned by rich dudes who have everything in top shape.  You need to know the condition of the plane before you commit!

Iíve seen a couple of people who bought planes so corroded they eventually gave up on repairs and donated the plane to a museum Ė after spending a bundle on trying to repair it.  Iíve known many who bought a plane without a good pre-purchase inspection who then had to spend a bundle to get it up to good.  The pre-purchase inspection is the most important part of the buying process.

Years ago, I got experts to help and we put together a pretty good pre-purchase inspection.  Itís available on the Ercoupe Owners Club website and on my own website.  Since then, weíve had Airworthiness Directives requiring inspection of the wings and center section for corrosion.  Besides making sure those required inspections were done, at least have your mechanic spot check for corrosion Ė itís too important to trust others.

So, Iíd urge you, when you find the right plane, to print out the pre-purchase inspection check list and go over it with your mechanic.  Pick a mechanic whoís loyal to you or at the very least, neutral.  Do not use a mechanic who is loyal to the seller.  Then, pay the money it takes for good pre-purchase inspection.  You could really regret not doing so.

Still, thereís not a guarantee.  I know one guy who recently did the pre-purchase inspection right but still got a financial hurt when his engine developed problems requiring an overhaul.  My mechanic when I bought my plane, said to buy based on the airframe, mostly.  The metal of the engine is old and can not be counted on to run till TBO.  TBO is both a use counter and a clock, i.e. 1800 hours or 12 years, whichever comes first.

A note for northerners, Iíve flown my Ercoupe down to about 10į below zero and was comfortably warm inside.  In fact, with my heater full on, I couldnít wear my pre-flight parka inside.  I dressed very warmly for the preflight but with a light jacket under my winter parka Ė then just before sliding down into the seat, Iíd shuck the parka and put it in the luggage compartment.  Flying an Ercoupe is a year-round hobby, even in North Dakota.  Consult with your local experts about engine care in cold weather.

Good luck in finding a plane that's wonderful for you.  If itís not, then search till you find the plane that is right for you.  It can be a long search, sometimes, but can reward you with a gem that youíll cherish for life.  Above all, donít skimp on the pre-purchase inspection.