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Wichita's Wee Wooden Wonders


How Culver & Mooney Became Wichita Airplanes

Copyright 2003, 2008
by Richard Harris
Originally published in InFlightUSA, 2003
Revised for WingsOverKansas.com, 2008

This is the first 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.

Kansas's most famous general aviation plane-makers of today are

Cessna, Beech (now Hawker-Beechcraft) and Learjet (now a division of
Bombardier). But there is another legendary general aviation airplane
manufacturer -- still very much alive today -- that started in Wichita, as
well: Mooney Aircraft.

In fact, the Mooney company started in Wichita twice -- and, in

between, its namesake founder brought another remarkable
planemaker to Wichita: Culver, who would quietly build a thousand tiny
military planes in secret, and over a hundred civilian planes as well.

And all the Wichita Culvers and Mooneys -- extraordinary performers

Albert W. Mooney for their size and power, and powerful trend-setters -- would be made of
(image courtesy of wood. This is the story of the pioneering genius behind them, and how
MooneyMite.com) his remarkable craft came to be "Wichita's Wee Wooden Wonders."
And along the way, many other Kansas aviation names come into play,
in shaping a legendary career.

As a boy, young Al Mooney, on his own, studied aircraft engineering by burrowing into the books of the Denver
Public Library. Raised by a Rocky Mountain railroad bridge-builder, and having spent time building such things
with his own hands, big, husky Al had an ingrained fascination with engineering -- and airplanes were the most
fascinating engineering puzzle of the times.

Four Laird Swallows, in 1920, waiting for delivery in

Wichita. The one in the foreground appears to be the
same model Swallow as the first plane owned by the
'Alexander Aircraft Co.' Note the short wings, which
gave the Swallow a speed advantage at low altitudes
(because of reduced drag), but severely limited its
lifting ability at high altitudes and airport elevations,
like Denver's.

In 1925, he chased an airplane to a local airstrip, where it
landed, and correctly diagnosed a rigging problem that was
handicapping its flight. It was a Wichita-built "Swallow"
Longren barnstorming
biplane [NOTE: There seems to be a bit of confusion as to
poster (Kansas State
whether it was an original 1920 "Laird Swallow" (designed Historical Society photo)
by Matty Laird), or a later "New Swallow" (designed by Lloyd
Stearman and manufactured under the supervision of
Walter Beech). Photos seem to indicate a 1920 Laird

The boy's aeronautical acumen impressed the Swallow's

owner, who asked the bright boy to come to work for him --
beginning one of the most diverse and legendary careers of
American aviation.

The impressed owner of this particular Swallow was Denver

movie-ad tycoon J.Don Alexander. It was the first of a handful of planes that Alexander would try to use to put
his national team of movie-ad salesmen in the air, something never done before by any sizeable sales force. At
this time, in the early 1920s, Americans didn't have TV -- they had the movies, and everyone went to them,
every week, spending a whole afternoon at the theatre watching movie after movie, punctuated by
commercials. Alexander Film Co. had become the nation's leading supplier of those movie ads, and its huge
sales force traveled constantly back and forth across the country.

J. Don Alexander had the outlandish idea of buying several-dozen aircraft (one for everyone in his sales force)
in a time when even the government wasn't placing aircraft orders of that size -- and all the leading aircraft-
makers turned him down, unable to meet Alexander's massive airplane needs in his time frame, or unable to
believe the sincerity and sanity of his "order."

Alexander's Swallow, designed in Wichita (where the elevation was a scant 1,300 feet above sea level) was
simply too short of wing for effective flight in the thin air of mile-high Denver. And in any case the entire
production of the Swallow factory couldn't keep up with Alexander's ambitions.


Alexander decided
to solve the
problem by starting
his own aircraft
manufacturing firm -
- by buying up the
designs and assets
of the defunct
Longren Aircraft Co.
of Topeka, in 1924.

Longren AK / Fibre Sport Plane / New Longren Sport / Commercial, first "composite shell" airplane: its hollow streamlined
fuselage was made of fibres reinforced with vulcanized rubber. Shown with its short wings folded back, and an extra pair
of wheels under the tail, for towing to a garage. This was the approximate state of the art in Longren planes, about the
time Alexander acquired the Longren company's assets. (Courtesy of Aerofiles.com )

Longren was a bit of Kansas history. In Topeka in 1911, Albin K. Longren developed the first flying airplane
built in Kansas -- the first of hundreds of thousands of Kansas-built planes that would someday fly from Kansas
soil. And Longren developed some exotic and pioneering ideas (including the first "composite"-shell aircraft,
today considered the wave of the future).

But after producing a handful of two-seat biplanes (some of them rather remarkable), Longren went bankrupt in
1924, and wandered off into an almost anonymous life as one of the great unsung pioneers of aircraft
manufacturing technology -- a role he would develop at Spartan Aircraft in Oklahoma, then for Cessna Aircraft
in Wichita, quietly creating manufacturing techniques that would someday revolutionize airplane building.

Meanwhile, J.Don Alexander hauled off four Longren airplanes and various other assets, and set up shop in
Denver under the banner "Alexander Aircraft Co." The Topeka-designed Longren Flyer "fleet" (four planes)
was reassembled in Denver with the help of former Longren engineer Dan Noonan. They were re-named
Alexander Eaglerock biplanes (for the company's pet eagle, and the surrounding Rocky Mountains). But, alas,
the low-land Longrens, like the low-land Swallow, flew poorly, or not at all, in the thin air of mile-high Denver.
Renaming the Longrens for an eagle in the Rocky Mountains just couldn't make them fly like one.



Alexander turned to engineer Noonan, and

directed him to create a new plane design,
from scratch, using some of the extra parts
acquired with the Longren fleet. It was a
daunting task, made all the more difficult by
the fact that Noonan was only a "shirtsleeves"
engineer, lacking the formal training of a "real"

Further, Alexander was insisting that the new

plane seat four people -- in a time when even
the best biplanes (Swallows, Travel Airs,
WACOs) only seated three. Noonan crafted a
Alexander Eaglerock, designed by Al Mooney. Heavy hauling, even
plane resembling a mix of Swallow, Longren at low altitudes on a meager 90-hp OX-5 engine (shown here), this
and early Travel Air biplanes. But it was too 3-seater was in great demand for serious airplane users. Over 850
heavy to get off the ground in the thin air of of these would sell, nationwide, in just a few years -- even briefly
the mountain country. making Alexander Aircraft the nation's leading producer of
'commercial' airplanes.
With backing from Noonan, 19-year-old Al
Mooney persuaded Mr. Alexander to let him design a better plane – the very effective, stong-hauling Alexander
Long-Wing Eaglerock – starting one of the most successful biplane families of the 1920's. Mooney privately
nicknamed the plane his "M-1" – first of many Mooney planes.

The Long-Wing Eaglerock had a distinctive appearance that set it apart from all other biplanes. The span of
bottom wings was wider than the span of the top wings. It was a bit of clever engineering on the part of young
Al -- who wanted to gain efficiencies of mass production by making the top and bottom wings the same. The
bottom wing appeared to be different because the fuselage sat between the left and right lower wings, adding a
few feet to their span, but not between the left and right upper wings.

Overall, though, the plane had LOTS of wing -- its huge wingspan (40 feet), was easily five to ten feet more
than any contemporary competing design -- crucial to its role as a plane to fly in the high country. And that
wing could lift three passengers and a full load of fuel. (J. Don Alexander was grateful to finally have something

that worked, and let the fourth-seat issue fade away.) The A-1 Eaglerock was the first biplane to really make
flying almost as easy in the mountainous West as it was in the lowlands of the Midwest and East.

A later "combo-wing" Eaglerock --

essentially the same as Mooney's first
design, updated with a big radial
engine and an extra wing panel
inserted between left and right halves
of the upper wing. Shown here during
the 2003 National Air Tour stopover in

As a result, the plane was an instantly in demand with buyers throughout the West. And its extra lifting
capability (even more impressive in the lowlands) made it a hit with commercial flying operations across the
country. Faced with a swarm of customers, opportunistic J. Don Alexander got serious about mass-production.
Around 1926, Alexander Aircraft Co. briefly became the nation's top producer of "commercial" (civilian)
airplanes, in sheer numbers. Even Charles Lindbergh listed the Eaglerock among the planes he sought as
possible mounts for his later, famous, transatlantic solo. Ironically, J. Don Alexander never did put his
salesmen in the planes -- he was too busy selling them, more profitably, to others!

This was the first of the airplanes that Al Mooney would claim as his designs. He privately referred to it as "M-
1," beginning a numbering system that would eventually climax with a legendary public airplane design name:
Mooney M-20.


Young Al teamed with his mechanic-brother Art and skilled metalworker Bill "Mac" McMahon as a talented trio
of airplane craftsmen -- with Al the visionary engineer leading the pack. They would remain lifetime colleagues,
roaming the country in search of Al's dreams. Restless Al took a shot at being "chief engineer" for a start-up
company in the Kansas City suburb of Marshall, Missouri.. There, the Montague monoplane company faded
before Al could get his parasol-winged "M-2" monoplane into production. (Parasol-winged monoplanes have a
single wing perched on struts above the airplane's fuselage).


Al rejoined Alexander Aircraft in Denver (soon moved to Colorado Springs). While leading its design work, Al
mastered new federal "aircraft certification" regulations, ushering new designs through the Washington
bureaucracy. He helped Alexander put two more designs into production. By age 21, he was on his fourth
certified airplane design.

Al's last Alexander plane, his "M-4," was a radical advance: the Alexander Bullet -- a radial-engined, enclosed-
cabin, 4-seater, with retractable landing gear, and a clean "cantilever" (un-braced) low-wing – quite an
extraordinary leap forward for its time. With its clean lines, the Bullet could squeeze 120 mph out of 165
horsepower, it won every race it entered, until a new racing division was created exclusively for it.

But like its namesake, the Bullet was more than fast. It
was deadly. Al Mooney had warned J. Don Alexander
that the Bullet was not ready for production, and argued
passionately that an extensive testing program was
needed before such an exotic and radical new airplane
should enter production, regardless of whether the
government certified the plane or not.

Alexander, though, facing a host of economic pressures

and temptations, insisted on pushing the plane forward.

It was the final frustration for Al Mooney, and he left the

company -- at the invitation of a couple of Wichita Alexander Bullet, (sometimes mislabelled the "Alexander
businessmen, who wanted him to come to the "Air Eaglerock Bullet"), aloft over its home turf -- Pikes Peak
Capital City" and add his talents to the city's famous and Colorado Springs. The first retractable-geared
pool of aviation geniuses. Al accepted, and headed to cantilever (strutless) monoplane developed for mass-
Wichita. production -- designed by Al Mooney. Only 11 would be
built. Accidents from design flaws, and inadequate
Meanwhile, Mooney's concerns about the Bullet's testing, left few flying. But before they all vanished, they'd
hazards, due to inadequate research and development won win races, inspired imitators, and pioneered a
powerful new concept for personal aircraft -- retractable-
proved all too right. geared single-engine cantilever-winged aircraft. Today's
Mooneys -- and Bonanzas and Comanches and
Since the greatest killer of pilots, in those days, was an Centurions and Arrows and Malibus and so on -- started
uncontrolled spinning fall -- usually resulting from here. The timeless Bellanca Viking is remarkably similar.
uncoordinated flight at dangerously low speeds -- the
government required all planes to be "spin-tested" before they could be certified for manufacture. The planes
were required to be spun hard, by test pilots, 6 revolutions in each direction during their fall, and then
recovered, under the watchful eye of regulators -- to demonstrate that spin-recovery was possible.

But the Bullet would not spin under any normal pilot-induced flight conditions. Sticklers for the rules, however,
the feds insisted that the Bullet be spun the full dozen times, and recovery demonstrated. Various ballast and
other gimmicks had to be added to prototypes to force them to spin. But when they did, they entered the
dreaded "flat" spin, from which recovery proved impossible.

Some say the weight-distribution (center-of-gravity) shifted too much when the heavy landing gear retracted
aft, changing the plane's inertial characteristics. Mooney's hopes of changing to the more benign flight
characteristics of inward-retracting gear (as most planes are today) were thwarted by Alexander's impatience.

With only 11 Bullets manufactured, four wound up falling from the sky in a deadly, unrecoverable test spin --
two of them killing test pilots who failed to parachute to safety (including one who died as his children
watched). Others Bullets had landing accidents from pilot error -- particularly due to pilots failing to remember
to extend the Bullet's novel "retractable" landing gear.

The Bullet was abandoned by Alexander, but Mooney would revive the design in Wichita, as his next design.


In 1929, restless young Al arrived to attempt starting a company of his own in Wichita, Kansas, the "Air Capital
City" – already home to Swallow, Cessna and Stearman – and 1929's largest civilian plane maker, Walter
Beech's Travel Air.

With the help of a couple of local businessmen who led the Guarantee Title Co. and oil-drilling equipment
manufacturer Bridgeport Machine Co., Mooney opened shop on the northern outskirts of town in the old Burton
Car Works (now Bridgeport's factory). In was the same factory building where Clyde Cessna, in 1916, had built
Wichita's first airplane, and where Lloyd Stearman had revived his failed California company in 1925.

Wichita factory for the Burton (railroad) Car Works, Jones Six
Automobile, Bridgeport oil rigs, and the first Wichita factory for
four great airplane-makers: Cessna (shown here), Stearman,
Culver, and Mooney. Today, it's part of the Johnson Controls /
York / Coleman air-conditioner factory, in north central Wichita
-- still busy after more than a century.

Young Al delighted in the company of Wichita's many other aviation

greats, as he developed the Mooney A-X/A-1/A-2 (his "M-5") – an
improved 5-seat version of the Alexander Bullet.

Swallow MODEL C-165 (1929),

resembling Mooney's Alexander Bullet
and Mooney A-X/A-1/A-2. It was probably
the closest imitation, and built by the
factory closest to Mooney's own -- less
than three miles away.

Mooney AX (M-5) - repeating the Alexander Bullet's clean cantilever Sullivan Model K-3 Crested Harpy:
(unbraced) wing, gave this plane amazing speed for an enclosed-cabin 4- another Wichita monoplane resembling
seater in 1929: over 120 mph on a 165-hp engine. (It wasn't the Beech Mooney's Alexander Bullet and Mooney
Bonanza which brought that matched pair of sleek-design features to Wichita A-X/A-1/A-2. Wichita's bullish Jake
and general aviation manufacturing. It was a Mooney!) Moellendick, Swallow founder, is rumored
to have been part of this project.
April 4th, 1930, to garner publicity for his design, Al took off in his new
"Mooney Low Wing" on a non-stop transcontinental record attempt, for his airplane's weight class, from Los
Angeles to New York (Glendale, Calif. to Long Island, N.Y., to be exact). But alas, a broken fuel pump spoiled
the record attempt -- forcing the plane down near Ft. Wayne, IN -- only setting an unofficial record of 1,980
miles covered in 22 hours, 27 minutes. It was, nevertheless, a stout feat for a personal plane of 1930.

Despite inspiring apparent imitators, only a handful of the A-X/A-1/A-2 were built before the stock-market crash
of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression, and the collapse of American industry, including -- most particularly -
- American aviation. Mooney was bankrupted, but Bridgeport's president graciously ate most of the losses.

And lucky Al left Wichita with a special treasure: a wife and child.

Another product went with him, too. Long hours at his factory had been punctuated by tinkering with another
design, a tiny single-seat "sport" monoplane, with a fuselage of shaped plywood, dubbed "M-6," which Mooney
hoped would fly on only 36 horsepower. Only one did. But it would serve as the prototype for a new style of
Mooney airplane: compact, efficient, quick and affordable -- and made of wood.


Al took a job in New Jersey as chief engineer of commercial production for Bellanca, working under a man he
called "The Master" – Giuseppe Bellanca – the Italian-born godfather of 1920's aerodynamics and wooden
wings. Now well-experienced with the Washington, D.C. aircraft-certification bureaucracy, Al ushered Bellanca
design changes through certification – particularly variations of Bellanca's stout, heavy-hauling single-engined
Airbus, including a military version, the C-27 – Al's "M-7."

The Bellanca C-27A cargo aircraft, 1932, in Army Air Corps

markings. Able to outhaul even the Ford TriMotor, these were
treasured tools, until new rules against single-engine airliners,
and the growing doubts about wooden airplanes, made them

While at Bellanca, Mooney again designed a small-but-speedy-airplane. He crafted a Bellanca race plane, the
Irish Swoop -- a low-winged monoplane racer for the 1934 England-to-Australia MacRobertson Air Race -- the
world's longest (and, at the time, riskiest) air race. All engine and wing, with a bit of room for fuel and pilot, it
resembled the "unlimited" racers of the U.S. National Air Races, like the GeeBee and the Wedell-Williams

Bellanca 'Irish Swoop' racer, built for the 1934 MacRobertson

England-to-Australia air race.

Alas, the plane's pilot was forced to withdraw from the race,
just hours before the start, when the "Irish Swoop" was found
to be overweight. Facing a long journey over deserts, jungles,
mountains and ocean, the pilot refused to sacrifice fuel load
to bring the weight down, and withdrew. Perhaps it was just as well. Famed insurer Lloyd's of London figured
that contestants had a 1 in 12 chance of being killed.

When the government outlawed single-engine airliners in 1934, the big single-engine Bellancas lost out to
competing twins and tri-motors. The famed company was suddenly eclipsed by rivals with multi-motored
airplanes, like the Curtiss Condor and the famous trimotors of Ford, Fokker and Stinson.

The wood wings that had given Bellancas so much lift with so little weight were soon to lose their popularity,
too in a ghastly airliner crash near Moundridge, Kansas. A rotting wooden main spar, in the wing of a Fokker
trimotor, broke in flight -- sending the entire planeload of passengers plummeting to their deaths. And among
them was America's most beloved football coach, Knute Rockne. (A nearby memorial on the Kansas Turnpike
commemorates the first airliner tragedy that really horrified the nation.) The infamous incident made wooden
airplane structures unacceptable for large planes, from that day forward.

Bellanca's entire design technology had been focused on an exceptional mastery of wood -- and could no
longer compete successfully in the airliner arena -- nor even much longer in the market for private big-cabin
luxury aircraft. And with military orders at a lacklustre pace, Al was no longer needed in the dwindling Bellanca
enterprise. But Al had learned to make the most of a material that would someday become the only material
available for building personal planes, and his experience with aeronautical wood-crafting would eventually
lead to his definitive signature designs.



Twin Monocoach An experimental Monocoupe- The Cessna T-50 Bobcat -- Cessna's first twin
Lambert "Twin Monocoach" at Wichita Municipal -- bears a remarkable (if only coincidental)
Airport in 1936. The photo of the visitor from resemblence to Al Mooney's preceding, failed,
Robertson, Missouri was taken by a Stearman Twin Monocoach design. But unlike the
photographer. 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 capabilities -- made the Dart a serious "sportsman's airplane," in
reach of many more pilots than most light planes.

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,
1938 Culver Dart -- Knight Culver astonishing audiences. His most daring trick -- doing loops that
acquired this design from Monocoupe, included touching his wheels on the runway during the bottom of the
and the designer, too. This one has loop -- was done one time too many, and he finally touched the
modern modifications: bubble canopy, runway too hard, breaking the landing gear, sending the plane
and a flat engine in place of the original cartwheeling to his death.
small radial. Known as a lively 2-seater
acrobatic airplane, it was fun sportsman's
airplane, with sprightly performance -- But most acrobatic aviators survived the Dart, and became superior
particularly snappy in a time when most pilots from the experience. Among those was William K. Kershner,
acrobatics were performed in big, slow, whose famous flying textbooks have been used to train hundreds of
lumbering biplanes. (Courtesy of thousands of pilots -- probably more than any other writer. Like fellow
mooneymite.com ). Dart pilot Peterson, Kershner's unique approach to flying, too, has
been his preoccupation with mathematical precision.

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.


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 Culver Cadet viewed from the side, shows
popular retractable-geared light airplane. the clean lines of this retractable-geared,
compact, personal 2-seater. Note slots
visible on the underside of outer wing
WingsOverKansas webmaster Carl Chance, with 90-hp Culver Cadet, 1941

Built 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.

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 structural strength.

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 Culver Cadet viewed from above, its distinctive
elliptical wing and horizontal tail are apparent, as
prototype was demolished when a propeller broke.
are the slots in the outboard wing sections. This
one is Bill Poynter's, rounding a pylon in a 1968
More successful was "Pop" Johnson, whose sheet-metal sport Halsmer, Indiana race, where he took 2nd in the
plane, the Globe Swift, was initially sparked by his experience under-100hp class -- just behind a later Mooney
with the Cadet (legend has it that he borrowed one from a design, the Mooney M-18 Mite. (courtesy of Bill
dealer, flew it to another airport, got out a tape measure, and Poynter)
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 GC-1B (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…


When World War II grew in scope and intensity, the military wanted some cheap light planes which could be
fitted with remote controls for use as target drones, to train aerial and anti-aircraft gunners � but which could
hold a pilot for ferrying and other flights. Twenty companies were asked to bid. The cheap, fast, wooden Cadet
was perfect, and the government ordered some for tests. They were so pleased that they placed an order for a
staggering 2,500!

Culver PQ-14 B piloted drone -- the Culver Cadet, reduced
neatly to a slender, single-seat fuselage, made a lively and
Beech JRB-1 (Twin Beech) 'mother-ship' for
challenging target. This model has the extended wings and
Culver drones (1940). A modified Beech Model 18
larger engine that turned the PQ-8 into the speedy, fast-
(Twin Beech), with an extra observing cockpit for
climbing PQ-14B. (US Air Force photo) mooneymite.com ).
the person remotely controlling the drones.

The Port Columbus facility wasn't big enough for such volume, and elderly Knight Culver apparently wasn't
ready for the financial, legal and management pressures of such big business. When approached by Wichita's
Walter Beech (yes, that Beech) and Charles G. Yankey (leading Wichita attorney and aviation investor), Knight
sold out. Culver Aircraft Co. moved to Wichita back into the old (now abandoned) Bridgeport factory -- where Al
had first set up shop under his own name, a few years earlier. With cheap, "after-hours" skilled labour --
provided by "moonlighting" workers from local plane manufacturers Beech, Cessna and Stearman -- the Culver
Aircraft Co. was quickly back in business.

Things were a bit rocky for a moment, as Al Mooney suddenly found himself in unfamiliar hands, with Yankey
as Culver president and Beech as V.P. But things soon smoothed out, and the money flowed, as Al shrunk the
Cadet into a single-seat, compact flying target.

At the government's insistence, the plane was shortened, giving up some of its stability, but saving cost and
materials. Since the drones were usually operated from smooth, paved military airfields, tricycle gear was
fitted, to simplify landing. Radio-controlled from a nearby Beech or Cessna twin, the drones had exciting (often
short) lives. (When Al followed one in a drone-control plane, during a ground-gunnery training exercise, he was
nearly hit by the anti-aircraft blasts which rocked his big twin).

(Another near-casualty of the Culver experience was Al's marriage. His bachelor
habits of heavy drinking and living at the factory, even sleeping with his work at
the expense of his family finally exasperated his lonely wife. She suddenly
divorced him, and promptly married another acquaintance. Through a series of
melodramatic misadventures, Al eventually had the chance to win her and the
kids back, and seized the opportunity, with determination and luck. Thereafter,
Al claimed, he never missed a family dinner again, even if he had to return to
work later which he resisted.
Single-seat Culver Cadet
drones aloft: A lot of flying for
SEND IN THE DRONES the military's money.
The military designated the first Culver drone design as the PQ-8. Pilots would
fly it in front of student anti-aircraft gunners (on the ground or airplanes) during "dry-fire" excercises (shooting
blanks), and some were flown -- by remote control -- into real bullets during "live fire" excercises. Made from
wood, and using the some of the cheapest, smallest engines of the war, the Culver drones were "expendable"
airplanes, and also a challenge to early radar operators. The addition of tricycle landing gear made them much
easier to take off and land by remote control. A few survived the war to become prized war-surplus personal
hot-rods for private pilots.

A later version, the PQ-14, with only a 125-hp Franklin, flew
fast (up to 185 mph), and high (17,000 feet) a perfect target for
fighter pilots and B-29 gunners. When kamikaze pilots
threatened the U.S. Pacific fleet, several PQ-14s were rushed
to Okinawa, where naval gunners practiced downing the swift
little drones.

In all, over 3,000 units of the PQ-8 and successors were built
by Culver the military's only drone-supplier. The Army and
Navy were delighted with their versatility and efficiency, and
with Culver (and Mooney's) flexibility in adapting the plane to
any need. By war's end, the Bridgeport plant was employing
over 600 employees, yet the War Department insisted that the Culver V - Retractable gear wasn't enough to
entire operation be kept secret the only Wichita plane maker make this classy-looking, but overweight, 75-hp
under such strict secrecy (not even Boeing's Wichita plant, weakling outrun the fixed-gear Cessna 120. One
wonders what 90 horses might have done.
which built most B-29's, was so hushed up). The military
considered the drones a particularly unique asset.


At war's end, many Culver drones were bought as surplus by civilians, who stripped off the military hardware
and insignias, and got them recertified as hot little personal planes. With the end of military contracts, though,
"Pappy" Yankey and Walter Beech withdrew from the company, and let another investor, Mr. VanGrant, take
the lead.

At VanGrant's insistence, Mooney designed a new commercial version

of the Cadet: the 2-seat Culver "V" (for "Victory"). Intended as an
improved Cadet, it was not as safe or satisfying. Like the Cadet and the
drones, it was made entirely from wood; but it was painted in elegant,
stylish paint schemes that often left one suspecting that plane was a
work of modern sheetmetal.

With unusual slightly-upswept outer wing panels (adding diehedral for

roll stability), and a hump-like cockpit, it managed 125mph on an 80-
85hp Continental, hauling two folks up to 650 miles. In theory, it was a
Culver V , circa 1948, with retractable good, low-budget, wide-ranging personal shuttle for the postwar
tricycle gear -- very new to general businessman. And in a time when most personal aircraft were rag-wing
aviation taildraggers, the sleek, modern-looking Culver V was elegant and
sophisticated by comparison.

The "V" had many features Mooney considered important for economical, safe, easy-to-fly personal planes: A
Beech-Roby dual-pitch adjustable prop; electrically-retracted, tricycle landing gear, with rubber "doughnuts" for
shock-absorption; and a one-piece slotted flap
extending underneath the fuselage.

The Culver V displays its wide-span flap, stretching

from wing to wing.

For safety, Mooney linked the flaps to elevator-trim -- in a system Culver's ad-man dubbed "Simpli-Fly": when
flaps were cranked by a wheel in the panel, a mechanical linkage prevented any pitch change with a
corresponding elevator-trim change, keeping the plane flying even. This reduced the chance of getting into a
stall. It created a strange sense for the pilot that he was mostly managing a trim wheel during climb and
descent -- rather than a control stick and flap handle.

But the "V" was a more challenging plane to fly than Mooney had anticipated. During a demonstration flight, in
front of Mooney (who was supposed to be riding, but had given his seat to his senior mechanic), the prototype
crashed, killing the test pilot and the mechanic. On his deathbed, the dying mechanic assured Mooney that the
confused pilot was to blame: he'd tried to show off and made a mistake. But the disaster didn't help sales of the
plane, nor investors' confidence. And it didn't help Al's feelings about the project, nor about VanGrant, who had
forced it. The "V" was Mooney's last Culver. He quit.


The hand-made, wooden "V" was expensive to build (and thus

to buy), with a price of $3,950. It faced stiff competition from
30,000 new planes like the mass-produced Piper Cub Cruiser
and Vagabond, heavy-hauling Stinson Voyager, and sleek
Beech Bonanza along with hordes of other postwar light
aircraft, and 30,000 war-surplus planes (including hundreds of
Culver drones). But the "V"'s greatest challenge was the
Cessna 120/140.

The Cessna 140, Cessna's $3,250, long-winged, fixed-gear,

all-metal puddle-jumper, used a similar engine to the Culver An elegant Culver V, with owner Larry Dale at the
V's, producing similar performance -- without the peculiar and controls, near Colorado Springs. The factory-
suspect handling of the Culver, and without its complex issued Beech-Roby adjustable wooden prop has
systems. The Cessna 120 -- a stripped down 140 without its been traded for a fixed-pitch metal Sesnich prop.
electric starter and mostly-useless flaps -- could be had for only (The stretch-cord on the side is not a normal
$2,650. fixture.) All wood, and yet surely one of the most
stylish planes of the early postwar years.
Cessna's 120 and 140 had a lower landing speed (41mph vs. the Culver's 60mph), and conventional,
taildragger fixed landing gear -- permitting easier landing on the short, rough fields still commonly used by
lightplane pilots. The hot, tricycle-geared Culver used up runway quickly, and was vulnerable to whacking the
props in bumpy fields. The gentler, more-conventional Cessna was also the preferred way to go for the hottest
market: postwar trainers. It was roomier, too.

Another issue was weight. Like Culver, Cessna had built small wooden planes for the war, saving aluminum for
combat aircraft. But unlike Culver, Cessna had also subcontracted with Boeing's Wichita Division to build the
modern, aluminum tail assemblies for over 1,500 B-29 bombers, and with Douglas to build the complex, curved
aluminum cowlings for over 3,000 A-26 bombers. Aluminum construction had come a long way, suddenly,
during the war. Now wooden planes were decidedly heavier than aluminum planes of the same power,
capacity and speed. Though the Cessna and Culver had about the same gross weight, the full-fuel payload of
the "V" was only about 340 lbs., to the Cessna's 400 lbs.

Cessna 140 , the simpler, cheaper, alternative to the Culver V,

with comparable performance. This efficient, practical, mass-
produced, two-seater wiped out much of the struggling
competition in the early postwar years. Though this one is
painted, most were sold with shiny bare metal, advertising
their modern construction.

The Culver offered 650-mile range, compared to the small-tanked Cessna's 450 miles, and 115mph against
Cessna's 105mph. But it wasn't enough to offset the Cessna's virtues, including its shiny, modern, rot-resistant
aluminum skin and frame. With Cessna's war-funded factory, equipped to efficiently turn out modern,
aluminum aircraft by the thousands at low prices, smaller competition (including Culver) had little hope of
competing. Only about 100 Culver "V"s sold before the company faded away along with most other lightplane
manufacturers in the postwar boom-and-bust of 1946-1947.


This would not be the end of Al Mooney, though. He remained infatuated with the idea of a compact, personal
retractable. And he had good reason. By the hundreds, men were buying up war-surplus single-seat Culver
drones, and fixing them up into certified civilian personal planes. Al sat down to chat with his most recent
favourite backer, old "Pappy" Yankey. Al believed he could make a compact single-seat, tricycle-geared
retractable fly with just a cheap 25-hp Crosley Cobra, a tiny engine designed during the war to run generators.
Shaped like a tiny imitation of the German Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter, Al's "M-18"would mate plywood
wings and tail to a tiny aluminum-skinned, steel-framed forward fuselage, with the fuselage aft of the pilot
made entirely of a lightweight monocoque plywood shell.

If Al Mooney's calculations were right (as they usually

were), this design could be priced lower than any other
brand-new airplane, yet fly over 100mph, for only a
penny a mile! And with his safety features changed to
meet his own specifications, the plane would be far
safer than the Culver V, or the converted drones. What
more perfect personal transportation could there be?
Pappy Yankey rounded up the money, and this time
the Culver factory was reopened with an old name
resurrected above the door: Mooney Aircraft Mooney M-18 (later named 'Mite '), with original 25-hp
Corporation. This time, the name would not fade from Crosley engine; note radiator under fuselage

In the months to come, Mooney's M-18 Mite, the tiny wonder with the "backwards tail" would undergo some
painful design changes, but survive -- and evolve into an even more important plane -- the 4-seat M-20 whose
speedy wake would rock the wings of general aviation's Big Three, and set a global standard for speed and


SOURCES (Any errors are mine, not theirs. Thanks, folks!):

 Dale, Lawrence "Larry" P., Colorado Springs, CO; Culver V, Mooney Mite and M20 owner/pilot; former
President of the Mooney Mite Owners Association.
 Bender, Jim, Wichita, KS, former neighbour to the Wichita Culver factory.
 Mitts, Dawson & Judy, formerly of Wichita, KS; Mooney M20 owner/pilot and spouse (thanks for letting
me fly your magnificent airplane, guys!)
 Schiff, Barry, one of the world's leading pilots, author of several aviation books and hundreds of
magazine articles, including pilot reports reflecting his experience with over 300 airplanes, like the
Culver Cadet.
 Aerofiles.com (the American aviation historian's technical reference).


 Bissionette: The Wichita 4: Cessna, Moellendick, Beech & Stearman, (from interviews with Matty
Laird, Lloyd Stearman, Olive Ann Beech, Dwayne Wallace, Rawdon, Burnham, and other principals).
 Flying Magazine, "50th Anniversary Issue", September 1977 (432-page comprehensive history of
aviation, with particular detail on general aviation, written by major industry writers, leaders &
 Kansas State Historical Society, 2007, Albin K. Longren: A Kansas Portrait , online at:
 Phillips, Edward, H. Travel Air: Wings over the Prairie, revised ed., Flying Books International,
1982/1994, Eagan MN (coverage of Laird/Swallow, Travel Air and early careers of Cessna, Stearman &
 Rowe, Frank J. & Miner, Craig. Borne on the South Wind: A Century of Kansas Aviation. Wichita Eagle
& Beacon Publishing Co., Wichita. 1994 (comprehensive history of Kansas aircraft manufacturers and
Kansas aviation)
 Schamburger, Page and Joe Christy, Conquest of the Sky: A Pictorial History of Aviation, 1968, Castle
Books/A.S. Barnes & Co., NY, (exceptionally thorough history of U.S. aviation from Civil War balloons
to start of World War II, with vignettes written or dictated by pioneer aviators, and extraordinary
collection of rare and historic photos; by two famed aviator/writers; exceptional coverage of general
aviation history, and Wichita's companies in particular).
 Szurovy, Geza, Wings of Yesteryear: The Golden Age of Private Aircraft, 1998, Motorbooks
International (summary history of Golden Age private aviation and many of its leading aircraft and
personalities; richly illustrated with modern photos of vintage aircraft)
 Taylor, Richard, I Love Kansas: History Made, History Remembered, 2001, Leathers/Squire, Leawood,
KS (Includes definitive study of planes -- and person -- of Kansas' first aircraft manufacturer, Albin K.
Longren, later V.Pres. of Cessna, whose designs included the first Alexander Eaglerock and first
composite/monocoque aircraft; Rev. Taylor is the acknowledged expert on Longren and his aircraft.)

also see specific companies below:


 American Aviation Historical Society, " Culver V ", AAHS Journal, Vol. 50 No.3 - Fall 2005
 Ball, Larry, Those Remarkable Mooneys, Ball Publications, Indianapolis, Ind., 1998
 Baxter, Gordon, with Al & Art Mooney, The Al Mooney Story: They All Fly Through the Same Air,
Fredericksburg, Texas: Shearer Publishing, 1985 (Al Mooney's memoirs, as dictated to Gordon Baxter
of Flying Magazine).
 Clifford, Frank J., from his "Giants of the Industry series, #4": "Al Mooney: The Man behind the Mighty
Mite" FAA Aviation News , circa 1967, online at: http://www.mooneymite.com/articles-
 DC3Airways.com The MacRobertson Air Race, 1934: England to Australia , online at:
 deVries, John A., Col., USAF (ret'd), Alexander Eaglerock: A History of the Alexander Aircraft
Company, Century One Press, Colorado Springs, 1985 (Al Mooney's first designs were Alexander
 Downie, Don, "Pilot's Report: Mooney Mite," Skyways, August 1949 , online at:
 Gorj�o, Carlos (Culver V owner, Brazil), Culver V - Mooney 17 online at:
http://www.geocities.com/aeromodelismoemportugal/mooney17.html (commentary by Culver V owner,
with data from aircraft manual).
 MooneyMite.com website, Mooney Mite History , online at: http://www.mooneymite.com/articles-
flightreports/downie1949report.htm (Adapted from an article by M.B. Groves in American Aircraft
Modeler magazine.)

 Mooney Aircraft Corporation, Mooney Aircraft Corporation: Product Historical Roadmap , online at:
http://www.mooneyevents.com/mooneychart.pdf (Mooney company official product history timeline
chart, 1949-2002, with location and ownership notations).
 National Museum of the United States Air Force, CULVER PQ-14B Fact Sheet , online at:
http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?fsID=291 (Official remarks and data from
National Museum of the USAF).
 Pikes Peak Library District, Alexander Industries Records, 1904-1976. MSS 0056 , Special Collections,
Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, CO, online at:
http://library.ppld.org/SpecialCollections/manuscriptcollections/mss0056.asp (The library's official
overview of the history of Alexander Industries and its history, and summary of the company archives
retained in the library's Special Collections section.).
 Sargent, Sparky Barnes, " Dashing and Darting Through the Sky," VintageAirplane , April 2007, v35,
no4, PDF file online at: http://www.vintageaircraft.org/featured/2007%20-
(owner's flight review of Culver Dart/Cadet Model LCA).
 Stahlberg, Kathy, " An Interview with the Mooneys ," IMS LOG , March-April 1975, International
Mooney Society, San Antonio, TX., online at: http://www.mooneymite.com/articles-
 Wilkinson, Stephan "BRIEFING: Bullet Redux," Aviation History, July 2002 (Summary history of
Alexander Bullet, with technical notes, and news of replica being developed by Mary Senft Hanson, of
Arizona, and her husband Bob)


 Christy, Joe; revised by Brian J. Dooley, The Complete Guide to Single-Engine Cessnas, 4th.ed., 1993,
TAB/McGraw-Hill, NY
 Denau, Gerald, An Eye to the Sky, 1962, Cessna Aircraft Co., Wichita, KS (semi-official company
history, with exceptional detail and unusual candor about some products)
 Phillips, Edward, H. Wings of Cessna: Model 120 to the Citation III., Flying Books International, 1986,
Eagan MN