- The Ercoupe: A Little History
The team at XPFR has been on a roll lately, working for eight months to produce the stunning Society Islands scenery package, and yet in their spare time they’ve been busily creating a (new) version of the Robin DR400. As if that wasn’t enough, “Arno 54” restarted work on one of the more interesting WWII era trainers out there: the ERCO Ercoupe.
Say what? The who?
Is the Ercoupe, well, unfamiliar to you? If so, read this excerpt from Wikipedia, then we’ll pick up the story again down below:
“The Ercoupe contained many innovative design features that produced an aircraft that was safe, easy to fly, and certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) as “characteristically incapable of spinning.” The aircraft was designed by Fred E. Weick, a noted aeronautical engineer, who before coming to ERCO in 1936, worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The first experimental model of the Ercoupe was test flown at College Park airport in 1937. Construction of the production prototype was completed in 1939 and certification by the CAA was completed in 1940. The first Ercoupe, serial no. 1, was owned by George Brinckerhoff and flown at College Park Airport,later purchased and flown by Robert Whipperman who donated it to the National Air and Space Museum.
“Targeted at the non-professional pilot, the Ercoupe was also designed to be spin-proof with no dangerous stall characteristics. A placard, which was the first for any aircraft, was allowed to be placed proudly on the instrument panel reading: “This aircraft characteristically incapable of spinning.” An elevator that could move upward and downward only a limited amount—13 degrees—plus automatic yaw correction, enabled the aircraft to actually fly itself out of a spin. Inexpensive to operate and maintain, the Ercoupe was able to fly into and out of small airfields, and its nose-wheel steering made taxiing almost like driving an automobile. The landing gear was also beefed up to allow for landing in a crabbed attitude in crosswinds since there were no rudder pedals to correct for runway alignment. When the main gear touched town, the side forces were absorbed and the nose would automatically swing forward to align the aircraft with the runway.
“The two-seat ERCO Ercoupe 415 went on sale in 1940. LIFE magazine featured the aircraft as “nearly foolproof” showing a series of pictures with the pilot landing with his hands in the air. Only 112 were delivered before World War II intervened, halting all civil aircraft production. By mid-1941, aluminum supplies were being diverted to war-related production, so ERCO decided to manufacture Ercoupes for military use by using wood as the principal building material. The substitution of wood resulted in a heavier Ercoupe, but the aircraft flew much more quietly because the wood absorbed vibrations from the engine and air flow. Ercoupes were flown during the war by the Civilian Pilot Training Program for flight instruction, and the Civil Air Patrol used them to patrol for German submarines.”
So, actually a pretty impressive lineage! Note that the designer, Fred Weick, would later join Piper Aircraft in the 50s and was heavily involved in the original Comanche and Cherokee designs, so don’t think this guy was some sort of flash in the pan. If you do read more of the Ercoupe’s history you’ll glean some interesting facts about the origins of the program at NACA, back in the 1930s. NACA was one of the forerunners of NASA, by the way.
So, with that brief introductory history out of the way, one of the things you’ll need to wrap your head around from the beginning is the lack of rudder pedals in this aircraft, and you’ll find that yaw response is a little more…uh, sedate…than you may be used to. In fact, everything happens a little more slowly in a Ercoupe… until you want to slow down?!
I Beta tested an early version of the ACF last summer and even then, in this earliest version, I noted that the ACF was indeed impeccably mannered and easy to fly, but kind of slow – like an 80-95 KIAS cruise. Consider this a testament to both the original design and Arno54’s craftsmanship in Blender. Now, here comes the interesting part of this story.
Noted designer/developer Khamsin joined XPFR last fall (and just a reminder: Khamsin is the creative force behind the new payware CVN-68/Nimitz at the ORG; (and see: http://blog.khamsin.org/ for more spectacular images of ongoing work, particularly his B17G). Shortly after he joined XPFR he began lending his own unique expertise to Arno54′s Ercoupe Project, and the styling took on a completely different look. Note the two “retro” looking liveries (above), and the bare metal skinned variant (below); aside from capturing a real slice of the 50s in these images you find an artistic tour de force as well! What Khamsin developed is a kind of stylized 1950s Americana… kind of an X-Plane meets Back To The Future look!
When you first open the file you need to keep your mouth from falling open and hitting the floor, because you’ll know you’re looking at some very special work the moment your eyes take it all in. As of this writing, it’s my opinion that this ACF is now without doubt one of the very best ACF in X-Plane. Period. After my first few hours testing the final Beta I was grinning ear-to-ear. I think you will to. It’s that good to look at, and check that smile to arrive at a fun quotient.
(an early version of Arno’s file, from August 2010)
Well, months later and all the hard work is done now, and the file will be released on 14 January. Well, so why is this a big deal?
Hm-m, well read on, because what we have in XPFR’s Ercoupe is a meticulously rendered little ACF conceived to not tax older, slower systems while at the same time providing a perfectly rendered 3D ACF loaded with the latest 3D manipulator technology. Quite a feat, and one sure to be welcomed by many, and I think you’ll find that the design objective has been fully achieved too. There’s simply no performance hit with this aircraft. What does this mean?
Well, if you’ve wanted to have a go at an ACF that encompasses the full 3D experience but held off out of concern about the speed and power of your system… well, fear not, that shouldn’t be a factor now using XPFR’s Ercoupe. They’ve got you covered unless you’re running Windows V1.0 on a twenty year old PCjr. Or consider this: maybe your system is okay with most ACF but bogs down over LOWI/extended or while flying over the Paris Hilton… Well, now you’ve got the perfect ACF to explore Paris and Innsbruck with!
But what about those who have all the power on hand needed to run anything in XP? Should you simply ignore this file and stick with the more complex ACF and scenery files you’re used to? In a word: NO! This little cutie has a ton going for it: it’s a state of the art file, it’s sweet looking, it flies beautifully, and it’s REALLY FUN to fly. Sure, it’s slow, as indeed many fixed gear single engine trainers from that era were. And because you just can’t spin the thing, at least not without really pushing her into one, you might think this one is for wimps! Well, hang on there Batman, and take a look at the following image and try not to let your jaw hit the floor:
(early JATO test with Ercoupe, from Wikipedia)
Yep, that’s an Ercoupe doing a JATO takeoff. As a matter of fact, the very first US JATO tests were completed using the Ercoupe, so scratch your head all you want but consider this aircraft as something akin to “the little engine that could”! Strong, tough, resilient and reliable… these are words that ought to come to mind when you see an Ercoupe, and do consider there’s still an active owners association still humming along after fifty years. That ought to tell you something of the type’s longevity! Nevertheless, you couldn’t have gotten me to JATO-test an Ercoupe for all the tea in China. That dude had big brass ones.
On a personal note, my father’s very first purchased aircraft was a red Ercoupe, which he bought in late 1946. He was already a pilot before the war broke out, and flew SBDs and F4Us in the Pacific. He just had to have an aircraft as soon as he got home and the Ercoupe was affordable…not much more than a good car at the time…so he bought one from a dealer in Great Falls, Montana and flew it home to Texas. That flight has become the stuff of family legend, too, involving a leaky oil line and multiple forced landings, one on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Dad had been sitting in a field miles from the nearest farmhouse for just a few minutes when an old farmer came along in an old Ford, and with a fresh case of motor oil in the front seat. Dad was airborne a few minutes later and never forgot that old farmer; they exchanged Christmas cards every year until one was returned, unopened, almost thirty years later. Time catches up with us all, no doubt about it, but I can still remember that little airplane. I guess it’s in my DNA now…
- XPFR’s New Baby
First things first, and sorry I keep repeating myself, but this aircraft is just cute as hell. Again, you’re not going to believe your eyes when you open it. How can something be so cute, and fly this good, and still be freeware? “But wait,” as Steve Jobs likes to say, “There’s more!” Not content to simply make a first rate trainer, XPFR has issued their Ercoupe ACF in multiple versions, including a float-plane and one with skis.
Okay! Ready? Let’s take a look at this baby now!
(note the footprints?)
Yep, that’s a wooden propellor! Little metal leading edges on it, too, but it’s the cockpit that’s going to knock you for a loop! These are large images so click to enlarge. Time to hang on to your hat, ’cause it don’t get much better than this!
What’s important to note is that even with this complete 3D panel the file remains very frame-rate friendly. No fogging. No chugging. NO ISSUES!
You WILL need to get used to the idea that there are no conventional “rudder pedals” to use in this aircraft (the ailerons and rudders were cross-linked to the stick in the original variants), but in practice you won’t notice too much difference. The aircraft accelerates at a leisurely pace down the runway and rotates between 65 & 70 knots. Why is the speed so high? NO FLAPS! You CAN trim for pitch, however, and the ACF trims up easily and quickly. In the image below the “window crank” that looks a bit like a throttle is used to trim pitch, and look at the image closely because everything you need to operate the aircraft is right there:
A word about the sound file: tolerable. Well, maybe more than one word. The rattles and rumbles as speed picks up on take off seem a little over the top, and the engine sound and prop files seem to need a little more bass, but beyond that these are unobtrusive enhancements.
NAV/COMM duties in XPFR’s ACF are handled by a single COMMs radio and by “needle, ball & airspeed”. Ain’t no GPS in this puppy. No VOR. No ADF. You do have an altimeter and rate of climb indicator, as well as engine instrumentation, but that’s about it. Navigation in the Ercoupe was always an art, my dad told me, that involved road maps and “local knowledge”, including dips down into the weeds to read roadway signs! I may have to break down and use eFis App’s moving map display simply because the highway signage in XP just ain’t all that great, ya know, but to do so defeats the entire point of this exercise. Flying the Ercoupe is all about simplicity. Flying the Ercoupe is about seat of the pants flying, and lovin’ every minute of it.
- THE FLIGHT MODEL
Take-off, landing, and trimming the aircraft are basic, and easy. The only thing to watch out for is that the aircraft simply does not want to slow down if your rate of descent is greater than a few hundred feet per minute. You control descent on final by getting your speed and altitude down early and keeping a close eye on your angle of attack. Don’t try to land at speeds over 60 KIAS…you’ll skip along eating up runway until…well, you run out of runway.
- Floats and Skis
XPFR apparently wanted this ACF to appeal to a broad user base as they’ve included three very useful variants in the download. I’ve simply never been into “floaties” and never wanted to try one until I saw their Society Islands package, then suddenly all I wanted to do was take off from the lagoon at Bora Bora! All I can say is: “Wow, what a kick in the pants that is!” After I got the Ercoupe up and running I’ve almost grown webbed-feet! It’s just a total blast!
And they’ve included a variant with skis (or skids, depending on what you grew up with); take a look:
My guess is whether you want to operate from a lagoon or a glacier, or good old Chaos Manor for that matter, the Ercoupe will handle whatever you throw at it.
As long as you’re not in a hurry…
My only advice concerning the floats? My comments about speed on final and touchdown apply doubly when talking about landing on water (in whatever state!): you don’t want the floats (or skis) to touch down until the aircraft is about to fall out of the sky. In other words, GO AS SLOW AS POSSIBLE! Passing through 45 KIAS is about right…
- Stalls and spins
I tried to spin her, honestly I did. Stalls were uneventful (well, put floats on and that changes a little bit!) and easy to handle. With power off the nose just slips over and speed picks up for a natural recovery. With a little power on the behavior is a little more exciting, but still very easy to handle. Keep the power on and pull the stick back sharply and watch as your speed drops quickly. When you feel a little pre-stall buffeting pull back on the stick even more… I tried this several times and each time the left wing dipped and the aircraft entered into a tight left gently descending turn. No deep stall, no flat spin, and all very controllable.
It’s hard to think of an aircraft file I’ve had more fun with lately. The Saratoga gave me two memorable IFR flights while testing her, and the An148 and F27/6F have been very satisfying aircraft to fiddle with. The Leading Edge Duchess, the 4Forces Cessna 152 and Javier Rollon’s Mentor all completely won me over this Fall, too.
I have to add the Ercoupe to that short list now. It is without doubt as fun as anything you can do with your clothes on, at least in X-Plane. Flying over lagoons and palm trees around Bora Bora with the treetops just a few feet below, skipping along the breeze like a seabird… well, that was about as good a time as I’ve had in XP in quite some time. Different, yes, but pure, simple and fun. Recommended? My highest recommendation here, an unqualified YES!
- A few words with the Developer, Arno54
XP10reviews: Well, the Ercoupe is finally finished. Now that we’ve had our hands on her, can you tell us about any special tricks you’ve learned while test flying the Ercoupe that we ought to know about?
Arno54: The main point is definitely that it’s a “non-spinable” aircraft. Whatever you do, she tends to go upwards. That’s very nice and secure, but it makes her quite tricky to land, as she always arrives too fast and too high, even if you touchdown at stall speed ! It’s said that “in the Ercoupe, anything may happen… one day!” That is, the aircraft is TERRIBLY slow. The paradox? It’s actually always too fast just when you wanna slow down!
Xp10reviews: Looking back on the development of this ACF, what were the most difficult challenges to overcome? What have you learned from the experience?
Arno54: The idea was to have a lot of “eye-candy” AND a solid flight model, but one that would perform well on any computer, even older, slower systems. Some newer ACF are very nice, but when in 3D mode they impose catastrophically heavy demands on the CPU; in the end only a small percentage of people can fully take advantage of these complex files. XPFR’s Ercoupe was developed on a netbook Asus 904, with overlays and whatever else necessary to make VFR flight enjoyable, yet without any relevant FPS impact. This is the consequence of a very long list of “guess-and-try” attempts about various items, mostly textures, polygones, and manipulators. We learned a lot about full 3D optimization during the development of this ACF.
Xp10reviews: What are you most proud of about this ACF?
Arno54: To make the aircraft known in Europe! You Anglo-Saxon guys all over the world will find it difficult to believe, but this plane, which was one of the most widely used GA designs globally in the 50′s and 60′s, is absolutely unknown in Europe. Having achieved such a precise flight model and with it being such a nice thing to look at, and that can fly at high FPS for everybody – and for free, well, that really makes me smile.
Xp10reviews: Are there any special features on the aircraft you’d like our readers to be aware of?
Arno54: A lot actually, but if I have just 3 things to mention, it’ll be first, RTFM ! Second, fly it from “Cold&Dark” and with no keyboard shortcuts assigned. Joystick and mouse only – that’s all you really need. Third, RTFM !
Xp10reviews: When did Khamsin join the program? What did he contribute to the Ercoupe?
Arno54: November the 8th, 14:55 zulu ! That’s the moment he sent a private message through the XPFR forum saying, in short “I may be of some help on this one…” If you’ve ever had a look at his work ( http://blog.khamsin.org/ ) you understand it’s a proposition I could not refuse ! So yes, actually, he has given much to the project. First of all, he was in charge of the whole visual business (3D model and textures). He also was very professional as for the workflow and the project did really benefit from his experience. He is of particular help when it’s about being efficient and time-saving.
Xp10reviews: XPFR is also working on the Robin DR400. What’s the status of this program?
Arno54: The last Beta of the 2D version was very positive. As there were hardly any negative points returned, it’s now on it’s way for the 3D version, so please be patient!
Xp10reviews: It’s hard not to talk about the Society Islands project. Can you tell us about it? What were the hardest parts to get accomplished? How has the response been so far?
Arno54: I was not personally involved with this one. But I will tell you one single character : 46. That’s the number of pages the thread about the Island’s textures has grown to in the XPFR forum! I know for sure there were hundreds of hours of work “simply” to have clean and homogeneous textures, not to speak of mesh corrections. You should speak to Joloize, Beber, etc., about it… I guess they still have nightmares about clouds shadows on the mountains, translucency of shallow water and so on… The response has been massive and positive. Massive enough to strangle the XPFR webserver, pushing our host to install download mirrors so not to leave the wires smoking. It’s been said it is the “best scenery ever”. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but the vast majority of Xplane users seems to think so!
Xp10reviews: What’s next for XPFR? Any projects in the works you would care to talk about yet?
Arno54: There are lots of works in progress. Have a look at our “workshops” page (www.xpfr.org > aeroplanes > workshop), but understand these are only the “official” projects. I do personnaly have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to perform. I have 3 planes on the go, and at least half-a-dozen that I’d like to do… For instance, have you ever heard of the Erla5?
Xp10reviews: Arnaud, thanks. I know it’s been a fast-paced few months wrapping up this project. And now, a word from Khamsin:
One last thing to consider before we sign off, and that’s simply to give a word of thanks to XPFR. Think about it, will you? Think about the stated design objectives of this ACF. Then think about all the work for months on end, all to bring a very nearly perfect ACF to market, and for free. Then remember the recent Society Islands package. Then the AlphaJet. The Flamant. The Parisian sceneries, including the city itself as well as two of the very best airport sceneries in X-Plane, LFPO and LFPG. Over a hundred airports in France and Spain, and that number growing every week. Look at what these guys currently have in development, what they’ve done and what they’ve got in the works. It’s almost overwhelming, and it’s always FREE! They do it, I suppose, because they enjoy what they’re doing and they care about the future of X-Plane. Again, please think about that for a moment.
I think wanting to give back to the community is a pure motive, and I’m thankful to all the men and women of XPFR, and their families, for all they’ve given back to our community. They’ve brought a lot of happiness to tens of thousands of people, and in this day and age that’s indeed a rare accomplishment.
And consider this final thought from Arno: “With the Ercoupe now everyone can have a real 3D ACF that’s also serious “eye candy”, and that is also a serious VFR training aircraft, and this whatever the hardware. In this sense, it’s really a new approach to modeling in X-Plane. What we have learned while working on this aircraft will allow us to model much larger aircraft, such as the B17G, and with full 3D functionality, and this will be available for everyone. The Ercoupe 415 has simply been our laboratory! The release of the Ercoupe announces a new generation of aircraft for X-Plane, much lighter, running much quicker, thus allowing us to push the graphical settings of XP.”
Quite a Mission Statement, isn’t it?
Again, our deepest Thanks to Arno and Khamsin and all the Team at XPFR. Your efforts continue to make X-Plane a great SIM, and an even better community.
- The 66.8 Mb file will be available at the main XPFR site on 14 January 2011. We’ll past an announcement when the file is up and running!
- The file will be available at the ORG soon thereafter
- more images here: http://awaken07.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/xpfrs-ercoupe/