The Mighty Monocoupe
Big Legend in a Small Package
.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 ’29 had ripped the guts out of the nation’s
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 “sportsman pilot” 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 —all hulking biplanes—that was
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 wasn’t
flying a Monocoupe, he didn’t have a chance of winning. Enter
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 “clip
wing ‘Coupe” and built seven powered by 145 hp Warner radials.
The short-winged 110 Specials became legendary, both as racers and as
The 90A ‘Coupe 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 90AL’s
with the lovely round motors replaced by far more efficient flat motors
(Lycomings) that lacked the charisma of the radials
Today “Monocoupe” is one of those words usually said with
a hint of reverence and a knowing look in the eye. It’s not just
an airplane of the 1930’s because, to many, it is THE airplane
of the 1930’s.
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