Wholly-Owned Subsidiary of Magellan Aerospace Corporation
Incorporated: 1928 as Aeronautical Corporation of America
Sales: $31.92 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 33251 Hardware Manufacturing; 336412 Aircraft Engine and Engine Parts Manufacturing; 336413 Other Aircraft Parts and Auxiliary Equipment Manufacturing; 336415 Guided Missile and Space Vehicle Propulsion Unit and Propulsion Unit Parts Manufacturing
Once a maker of a famous line of light planes, Aeronca Inc. has developed into a leading sub-contractor specializing in high-tech brazed and conventional aerospace structures. Aeronca has had a part in many of the largest U.S. aircraft programs, including the Space Shuttle and B-1 bomber. Aeronca’s product line includes engine and nacelle components, aircraft and space structures, and missile control surfaces.
Aeronca lays claim to being the first U.S. company to market a true light airplane. The company’s C-2 model helped popularize flying in the country; it is in fact credited with launching the U.S. general aviation industry.
Before the C-2, writes Jay Spenser in his history of the “Flying Bathtub,” American aircraft manufacturers aimed their products at “professionals” and very wealthy “sportsmen.” There were no flying clubs as in Europe. However, after the introduction of light planes, flying schools began to proliferate.
The revolutionary plane was unassuming in every detail. Its lines have been compared to that of a pelican or bathtub. Its engine, propeller, and wings were relatively small; the plane’s weight was only a little over 400 pounds. However, it was simple to fly and inexpensive to maintain.
French-born designer Jean Roche had conceived the basis for the C-2 as a teenager in New York City. Nevertheless, the search for a manufacturer for his light plane took years, in spite of its patented pivotal airfoil system, which gave it very stable flying characteristics.
The Aeronautical Corporation of America seemed to be the answer to Roche’s dream. Incorporated in November 1928, the company’s board included such eminent citizens as I.C. Keller of the Dow Chemical and Drug Company and Ohio senator Robert A. Taft, son of the former president. Aeronca, as the firm came to be called, boasted assets of $500,000 but lacked a product, factory, and designer. The board soon chose a headquarters at Cincinnati’s new Lunken Airport.
Roche was introduced to the company by his friend Conrad Dietz, an Ohio businessman who had unsuccessfully attempted to sell Aeronca his own design for a bi-plane that the company considered old-fashioned. The fact that Roche had become senior aeronautical engineer for the Army Air Service helped him secure a chance to demonstrate his machine to the company.
Aeronca gave Roche shares in its stock to obtain rights to build the plane. Production began after the company hired a local aviation expert to re-engineer the design for factory production. Aeronca hired factory space from the failing Metal Aircraft Company, then acquired it outright after Metal Aircraft went bankrupt following the stock market crash of October 1929. Roche had contracted Detroit’s Govro-Nelson Company to build the engines, which at first produced only 26 horsepower.
Aeronca first publicly introduced the plane in November 1929. Many imaginations were captured with the idea of a plane that cost only $1,495 (this was reduced to $1245 by June 1931). Aeronca sold 90 aircraft in 1930. In 1931, the company introduced the C-3 “Collegian” or “Duplex” models, which were 36-horsepower, two-seat versions of the single-seat C-2 “Scout.”
By the mid-1930s, Aeronca lead the country in making light planes for personal use. Success had its imitators, writes Spenser; the “flivver-plane movement” soon spawned nearly two dozen competitors.
The company officially changed its name to Aeronca in 1941. During World War II it produced many aircraft under license, including the Grasshopper, a light liaison and observation craft; the PT19 and PT23 primary flight trainers; and gliders. The firm also produced parts for the B-17 bomber and C-46 cargo plane.
The Company Exits the Light Plane Business in 1951
Aeronca introduced several popular small planes for the postwar civilian market, including the Champion, Chief, Super Chief, and Defender. Its Arrow model updated its design tradition by incorporating a low wing and retractable landing gear. Unfortunately, a recession hit the industry hard during the late 1940s. Although production at one point exceeded 50 planes per day, Aeronca left the light plane business in 1951. The company had manufactured 17,408 aircraft of 55 different models in little over twenty years. Ten thousand of the Champion (or Aeronca 7) series were produced in the company’s last five years of aircraft production. (Another company, Champion Aircraft, resumed production of this series between 1955 and 1964 under the names Traveler and Challenger.)
Aeronca had already been developing a new specialty: brazing and bonding heat resistant aircraft components. Aeronca’s high temperature, brazed honeycomb structures shielded the command modules used in the Apollo lunar space program and, decades later, the Space Shuttle.
Diversification in the 1970s and 1980s
Donald A. Bordlemay was named Aeronca president and CEO in September 1976. He replaced Roy J. Benecchi, who was retiring early due to illness. After posting a net loss of $7.7 million in 1976 on sales of 31.6 million, Aeronca edged $1.4 million into the positive in 1977 as sales rose to $34.5 million. During the year, the company decided to stop manufacturing its line of Microtron air filters and to terminate some contracting operations. In 1976, the company had sold its foreign subsidiary at a loss.
At the time, Aeronca’s operations consisted of two segments. One segment included assemblies and sub-assemblies; components and parts for commercial airplanes, military airplanes, and space vehicles; and panels for surface ships, aircraft engines, and general aviation aircraft. The other segment included terminal boxes, air handling, Agitair and other environmental control systems and components.
Aeronca briefly stepped back into the construction of complete aircraft in 1978. That January, the company won a contract from Minneapolis-based Foxjet International to build prototypes for the new Foxjet four-place twin-turbofan-powered business jet. Aeronca had several clients in the business jet industry, including Gates (maker of the Learjet business aircraft), Dassault-Breguet (the Falcon), and Rockwell (the Sabreliner). Delays in production of the Foxjet prototype, which client and builder blamed on each other, resulted in this contract being terminated by October 1978.
Aeronca was headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the 1980s. President and chief operating officer Joe L. Miller was appointed CEO in March 1981. He added the title of chairman in January 1983.
By August 1981, the company was formulating plans to launch a new microcomputer software division. The new unit was dubbed Execuware. Its Next Step database software, introduced in April 1983, was designed to allow business managers to utilize IBM Personal Computers without relying on computer programmers. The software sold for about $345. Execuware soon came out with client management, real estate analysis, and financial analysis software (priced between $90 and $150).
Aeronca’s sales were $43.8 million in 1983. In 1984, Aeronca dropped plans to acquire Continental Scale Corp. of Bridgeview, Illinois, due to a disagreement over price. The company did acquire a four-year-old California operation called Composit Air, which had sales between $2 million and $5 million a year. It developed several new applications for composite materials, such as airline seat components, X-ray tables for the medical industry, and industrial components for the papermaking industry. Aeronca sold CompositAir’s assets to Ferro Corp. in March 1987.
Aeronca Joins Fleet in 1986
Aeronca Inc. was acquired by Fleet Aerospace Corp. in September 1986. Fleet, a publicly-traded company based in Toronto, produced a variety of high-tech components for the aerospace industry. Aeronca had initially fought the takeover. In the process, Fleet filed suit challenging an Ohio law that banned suitors from acquiring more than 20 percent of a company’s shares without the approval of its stockholders.
Aeronca consistently is in the industry forefront in the design and manufacture of lightweight, high strength engine and airframe structures. Typically, our products are challenged by the most severe temperature and operating environments.
Fleet was soon overextended, and began selling off subsidiaries. It sold Aeronca’s California operations to Aerostretch Acquisition Inc. in December 1990. In November 1992, Bill J. Wade, president of both Fleet Aerospace and Aeronca, resigned. Earl T. O’Loughlin, a retired USAF general, was then named president of Fleet, while James O. Stine was named executive vice-president and general manager of Aeronca.
In March 1995, the company received a large order from Southwest Airlines to produce aluminum replacement engine fan cowl doors for the airline’s fleet of Boeing 737s, which were originally fitted with high-maintenance plastic composite cowl doors. The deal was worth C$21 million to C$28 million. The U.S. Air Force later awarded Aeronca a C$10.4 million ($7.5 million) contract for similar work on its fleet of C-141 military transports. In August 1995, Aeronca won a C$16 million ($12 million) contract from McDonnell Douglas to provide fuselage components for the MD-11 aircraft. The program had a potential total value of C$97 million ($73 million).
The name of Aeronca’s parent company changed from Fleet Aerospace Corporation to Magellan Aerospace Corporation in October 1996. Aeronca was also producing components for fighter aircraft and missiles for the U.S. government and Japanese Defense Agency.
In September 1999, Textron Marine & Land Systems awarded Aeronca a contract to produce propeller ducts for an amphibious assault vehicle being developed for foreign sales. Aeronca had already produced ducts for the U.S. Navy’s fleet similar vehicles.
Expansion in 2000
Fueled by a new $29 million jet exhaust systems contract, Aeronca began an $11 million, 60,000-square-foot expansion and renovation of its Middletown, Ohio, facilities in 2000. At the same time, the company was tearing down an existing 250,000-square-foot building, freeing another nine acres for development. Aeronca was investing millions to engineer and develop a new exhaust system for the Airbus A340 and brand new A318 aircraft in collaboration with Hispano-Suiza Aero-structures. Aeronca was also fulfilling a similar $23 million follow-up contract for the Boeing 747 and 767 aircraft. The projects were expected to add 75 badly needed high-tech jobs to traditionally blue collar Middletown after years of downsizing by Aeronca. City and state governments were giving Aeronca considerable tax credits in connection with the expansion.
BF Goodrich Aerospace; Bombardier Aerospace; Hexcel Corporation; The NORDAM Group; Orkal Industries LLC; Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc.
- Aeronautical Corporation of America is founded.
- The pioneering C-2 light plane is introduced.
- The company officially abbreviates its name to Aeronca and enters war production.
- Numerous new models of aircraft are brought out after the war.
- Aeronca exits light plane production.
- Fleet Aerospace (later called Magellan) acquires Aeronca.
- Bolstered by new contracts, Aeronca expands its facilities.
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—Frederick C. Ingram