The very thin pilot's operating handbook for a 1946 Ercoupe. Photo by Chris Rose

The very thin pilot’s operating handbook for a 1946 Ercoupe. Photo by Chris Rose

Student pilot Matthew Orloff is an intern for AOPA Communications.—Ed.

At first glance, the Erco Ercoupe may appear to belong in either a vintage aircraft museum or Evel Knievel’s garage, but surprisingly, it’s a very compatible match for a student pilot, especially if you’re just starting out. As a student pilot with a mere 10 hours of flight time, I can say when I started taking flight lessons in a Cessna 172, I was overwhelmed. I wished flying an airplane was as simple as driving a car, where you just start it up, look out the window and go, as the great learning curve certainly intimidated me.

After seeing the Ercoupe for the first time, the last thing I would’ve ever expected was to praise it for how wonderful it is as a training aircraft. It may be easy to judge a book by its cover and conclude that than an airplane from 1946 is unsafe and ineffective to learn how to fly in. After all, it’s an old airplane, with old technology.

In fact, the airplane flies by the same aerodynamic principles, along with being just as smooth and responsive as a 172 minus all the more confusing bells and whistles.

Not to mention, flying with the canopy down is more fun than just about anything. I would compare it to learning how to drive in a classic convertible as opposed to your mother’s SUV. Speaking of which, the Ercoupe was originally intended to introduce people to flying, so when taxiing, instead of steering with the rudder pedals (which may throw you off if you’re very used to using the rudder pedals for taxiing), you actually steer with the yoke as if you are driving a car.

Since the airplane is so small, it is easier to visualize the aerodynamic principles that you learn about. For example, just by sticking your arm out the side of the airplane, you will see that you begin to turn to that same side. It’s the perfect lesson on how the deflection of air affects all the movements of your aircraft, and it’s also just flat-out cool.

If there is one thing I want to stress to other student pilots out there about this airplane, it is that it’s just so easy to fly. Since the cockpit of the Ercoupe is minimal, the likelihood of “cockpit juggling” is lessened. The checklist (another great source of intimidation) is easily accomplished because there are no fancy gadgets. The flight controls are simple, and daunting tasks such as landing are way easier. Landing an Ercoupe will certainly boost your confidence as a pilot, because chances are, you’ll nail it. Right now, I’m absolutely terrible at landing, but thanks to how small, simple, and visually unobstructed your view is in the Ercoupe, I had made my best landing to date.

If you are ever lucky enough to come across the opportunity to fly in an Ercoupe, by all means take it. Your flying skills are sure to improve and therefore your confidence will strengthen. Look at it as a steppingstone before pursuing more complex aircraft. With the student pilot completion rate being relatively low, the simplicity and sheer excitement of flying the Ercoupe is sure to keep your eyes on the prize. It is also worth mentioning you will probably save a bit of money since it’s such a small airplane, and of course, you will have an absolute blast!—Matthew Orloff

Are you interested in learning to fly? Sign up for a free student trial membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and receive six issues of Flight Training plus lots of training tools and resources for student pilots. Click here for more information.