Wichita’s Wee Wooden Wonders, Part 4

Twin Monocoach

An experimental
Monocoupe-Lambert "Twin Monocoach" at Wichita Municipal Airport in
1936. The photo of the visitor from Robertson, Missouri was taken by a
Stearman photographer.

Copyright 2003, 2008
by Richard Harris

Originally published in InFlightUSA, 2003
Revised for WingsOverKansas.com, 2008

This is the fourth in our series "Wichita’s Wee Wooden Wonders", about the Wichita roots of Culver and Mooney Aircraft Companies, tracing the career of their creator, Al Mooney


Cessna Bobcat

The Cessna T-50 Bobcat — Cessna’s first twin
— bears a remarkable (if only coincidental) resemblence to Al Mooney’s
preceding, failed, Twin Monocoach design. But unlike the Monocoach,
struggling aloft with tiny 90-horse Lambert engines, the Bobcat benefitted
from big 300-hp Jacobs radial engines, and was a great success.

Al moved on to St.Louis’ Monocoupe-Lambert,
replacing chief engineer Don Luscombe who had left to start his own company.
There, Al created the "first light twin" – the Twin Monocoach (his "M-8"). Cessna’s first light twin, a few years later, would bear
a striking (if only coincidental) resemblance to the Twin Monocoach, and both
would have comparable design characteristics and dimensions.

However, the Twin Monocoach was severely handicapped by its tiny
90-horsepower Lambert engines — which Mooney was obliged to design into the
airplane, since they were manufactured by the same company as the plane. In the
coming years, virtually no light twin would ever succeed with engines of less
than 150-horsepower, and ones of the size of the Twin Monocoach would commonly
rely on engines in the 200-300 horsepower range. Not surprisingly, the world’s
"first light twin" never got far.


Another Monocoupe design had more promise – Al’s "M-9,"the Monosport G,
derived from his little 36-horse Wichita "M-6" idea. When
Monocoupe-Lambert succumbed to the Depression, Monocoupe’s Cleveland dealer,
wealthy Knight K. Culver (son of the founder of Culver Military Academy),
bought the cheap, efficient Monosport-G design, opened a factory in Columbus,
Ohio, and hired Al to convert it into the tiny Dart G sport

The lively Dart, fully aerobatic, with seating for two, galloped up 120mph
behind a 90-horse radial engine. That was a lot of bang-for-the buck in those
days, resulting in fuel mileage better than most of today’s light planes, and
— coupled with really good acrobatic capbilities — made the Dart a serious
"sportsman’s airplane," in reach of many more pilots than most light

Culver Dart

1938 Culver
— Knight Culver acquired this design from Monocoupe, and the
designer, too. This one has modern modifications: bubble canopy, and a flat
engine in place of the original small radial. Known as a lively 2-seater
acrobatic airplane, it was fun sportsman’s airplane, with sprightly
performance — particularly snappy in a time when most acrobatics were
performed in big, slow, lumbering biplanes. (courtesy of mooneymite.com ).

The Dart’s exceptional
acrobatic qualities attracted a minister-turned-acrobatic-pilot named Leonard
Roosevelt "Pete" Peterson. Peterson’s claim to fame was NOT the
wildness of his stunts (though they were daring, indeed), but their
extraordinary precision. While other aviators were purely showmen, Peterson was
a top pioneer of high-speed precision acrobatics — knowing, meticulously, the
precise timing and amount of control deflection to achieve a specific maneuver
with mathematical and geometric perfection — an approach that would soon
become a standard of excellence for competition aerobatics.

With this precision, Peterson knew better than anyone where the edge of a
maneuver was, and went right up to the edge, time and again, astonishing
audiences. His most daring trick — doing loops that included touching his
wheels on the runway during the bottom of the loop — was done one time too
many, and he finally touched the runway too hard, breaking the landing gear,
sending the plane cartwheeling to his death.

But most acrobatic aviators survived the Dart, and became superior pilots
from the experience. Among those was William K. Kershner, whose famous flying
textbooks have been used to train hundreds of thousands of pilots — probably
more than any other writer. Like fellow Dart pilot Peterson, Kershner’s unique
approach to flying, too, has been his preoccupation with mathematical

By most measures, the Dart was a substantial — if not glorious — success,
and did much to vindicate Al Mooney’s notion that small and sporty was the way
to go.

Culver Cadet

Culver Cadet viewed
from the side, shows the clean lines of this retractable-geared, compact,
personal 2-seater. Note slots visible on the underside of outer wing panel.


Demand grew, but approaching World War II led to a military confiscation of
most metal, diverted to weaponry. In 1940, Mooney redesigned the Dart — still
using anachronistic all-wood construction, but with the advance of
"retractable" landing gear, first ever in such a tiny production
airplane — and company owner Knight Culver renamed the company (for himself).
The result was the Culver Cadet – the first popular
retractable-geared light airplane.

WingsOverKansas webmaster Carl Chance, with 90-hp Culver Cadet, 1941

WingsOverKansas webmaster Carl Chance, with 90-hp
Culver Cadet, 1941

almost entirely of wood, the sleek, sporty, pocket-sized tail-dragger used a
compact (low-drag) tiny-but-modern, four-cylinder, 75-hp "flat"
engine (cylinders horizontally mounted). That reduced drag. But the retractable
landing gear reduced drag even more. In all, the plane could squeeze over
110mph (some say 120mph) out of it’s cheap, thrifty 75hp engine.

Culver Cadet

Culver Cadet viewed
from above, its distinctive elliptical wing and horizontal tail are apparent,
as are the slots in the outboard wing sections. This one is Bill Poynter’s,
rounding a pylon in a 1968 Halsmer, Indiana race, where he took 2nd in the
under-100hp class — just behind a later Mooney design, the Mooney M-18 Mite.
(courtesy of Bill Poynter)

The Cadet also featured
another new idea: an elliptical wing. When viewed from above, its rounded shape
resembled an ellipse — about the time that the same idea was being applied,
famously, to Britain’s Supermarine Spitfire fighter. Elliptical wings offered a
good mix of aerodynamic efficiency, good flight manners, and structral

To further refine the Cadet’s manners, at slow speeds, slots were designed
into the leading-edges of the outer wing sections, to ensure good airflow over
the ailerons at all speeds, maximizing pilot control of the plane. Alas, the
plane was no longer considered suitable for aerobatics, and was not certified
for them — though pilots nevertheless were known to cavort with them as if
they were.

The Cadet drew many admirers — and imitators. Aeronca attempted to build a
near-clone of it, named the Arrow, but their prototype was demoished when a
propeller broke.

More successful was
"Pop" Johnson, whose sheet-metal sport plane, the Globe Swift, was
initially sparked by his experience with the Cadet (legend has it that he
borrowed one from a dealer, flew it to another airport, got out a tape measure,
and began measuring it meticulously, before returning it. Shortly thereafter,
he began developing a very similar plane, which would eventually — with the
help of a former P-40 Warhawk designer — evolve into a metal sports plane
resembling a cross between the Culver Cadet and the P-40 Warhawk. Swifts remain
prized (though controversial) aircraft, to this day.

Globe Swift

Globe Swift
(FAA Alaska Div.)

Over 350 Culver Cadets sold. With growing demand, the factory was outgrown.
Wichita aviation investor Charles "Pappy" Yankey (a Beechcraft
financier) invited Culver and Mooney to move to Wichita, and set up shop in
Mooney’s old plant, with Yankey’s backing. The resulting Culver Aircraft Co. would quickly gain a new customer for its lively little wooden wonder