Dart Opener

Culver Dart: The definition of aero-cute.
Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, '72 (or so),

There is just no other way to describe it: “Cute” is the perfect adjective. I said that when I saw Dave Foulke coming down final and slow to a near stop before depositing his black and yellow Dart in the grass of Aeroflex field. Ashe taxied up, all the local tire-kickers said, almost inunison, “Damn, that thing’s cute.” When Harry Shepard climbed out of it after flying a photo mission, even he allowed as how "cute" was the right description.

 There is something about the way the Dart is put together that looks much more like a model air-plane from an earlier age than an airplane that missed being a Monocoupe by nothing but a twist of fate. It could be the highly dihedraled wings that make the machine look like a rubber-powered scale model. Or perhaps it's the blunt elliptical planform of the wings which, from certain angles, lend a definite bumblebee appearance. Or maybe it's the tiny round engine that snuggles under the exquisite bumped cowl that appears to have shrunk several sizes over the years. Undoubtedly, all these things are stirred together by the mind's eye and become something sweet for our mind to taste. But it's something other than beautiful. This plane is way past neat and not quite funky. Simply, the thing's damned cute.

Dart Turn
The wood wings use big box section spars. At least one Dart was clipped and used extensively for airshow aerobatics.

When Al Mooney (yes, that Al Mooney) first laid down the lines for the Dart in the late 1930s, he was working for Monocoupe and "cute" wasn't part of the equation. The little low-winged machine he was designing as Monocoupe's departure from their traditional high-wing theme was to be a trainer. It was to offer a low-cost and easy-to-fly airplane for the masses who, at that point in the Depression, were probably more interested in where the next meal was coming from than learning to fly. Under the Monocoupe scheme-of-things, the design was to be offered in two flavors: the MonoPrep and the MonoSport. The primary difference between them was one had an open cockpit and the other used upward sliding plexi-doors that kept your date from getting her brains blown out.
The public disclosure of the machine in a 1936 Flying magazine announced it powered by the 90 hp Lambert Radial and proclaimed the plane as the trainer for the future. But its future was not to be as a Monocoupe. Knight Culver stepped in and made Claire Bunche and Monocoupe an offer they couldn't refuse. He walked away not only with the design of what was to be called the Dart, but a flying prototype and a living, breathing designer (Al Mooney) as part of the bargain. Culver set up shop in the old Lane Aviation hangars on Columbus Airport, which are still standing to this day and are still operated by Lane Aviation.
The four or five airframes originally built by Monocoupe were finished and assembled by the new company, Dart Manufacturing, as the Model G with the 90 hp Lambert; the GK with the Ken Royce; the GW with the 90 hp Warner; all of them being tiny radials that would look good hanging on any den wall. Unfortunately, the Dart could use a little extra power so, just prior to World War Two, they fitted a mystery Continental engine called the A-100, which appears to be the 100 horse predecessor of the six cylinder A-125 as used in so many Swifts. It's a mystery engine because even Continental has never heard of it and the engine appears to have never been used in any airplane other than a few Darts. Sometime during the war, Culver sold the design and manufacturing rights to Ray Applegate and Romer Weyant, who began to manufacture the airplane shortly after the war with the A-100 engine only. They also designed and built parts for a little retract version of the Dart, but it never was produced. In fact, Applegate, Weyant Engineering only produced something like a dozen airplanes after the war before they tossed in the towel.
All this information is totally superfluous, unless you enjoy bits and pieces of history as so many of us do; like remembering the Model I Dart with the 165 hp Warner and the clipped wings, or Rod Jocelyn and his 220 Continental clipped wing Dart that looked like a Gee Bee as much as anything else. The important thing is that there are still a number of these airplanes floating around. According to Lloyd Washburn, who's recognized as the nation's Dart maven, there are some-thing in the neighborhood of twenty-eight airframes in existence, but only seven of them are flying, which means there are twenty-one additional airplanes that would easily fit in your garage and keep you busy for a winter or two.