Cessna’s Early Cantilever Designs

By:      Norm Goyer

The first Cessnas manufactured were the AW series with a cantilever wing and various radial engines.

The first Cessnas manufactured were the AW series with a cantilever wing and various radial engines.

Our topic this week for “Under the Radar” is the very popular, high performance Cessna 210 Centurion. At its peak the 210 sported a cantilever wing giving its formerly stodgy strut braced wings some class. In fact Cessna always incorporated cantilever wings in special aircraft. The Cessna line up with strutless wings included two of my favorite aircraft, the Cessna Cardinal and the outstanding radial engine C-190 and 195. My favorite was the 195 because of its macho big radial engine and tail dragger stance. Wimpy pilots need not even attempt to check out in this one. The Cardinal and the Businessliner were both post war offerings, but Cessna had played its cantilever hand back in the 1930s with the Airmaster available with different engines. This partially wood and fabric four passenger was the obvious winner in the looks department of early family and light business aircraft.

This photo of a CR shows how small the aircraft actually was.

This photo of a CR shows how small the aircraft actually was.

The original Airmaster, the C-34, evolved into more advanced versions of the Airmaster. The C-37 had a wider cabin, improved undercarriage and electric flaps. The C-38 had a taller vertical tail, curved undercarriage legs and a landing flap under the fuselage. Changes common to both the C-37 and C-38 included wider fuselages and landing gears along with rubber engine mounts to hold the 145 hp Warner Super Scarab engine. The final revisions of the C-34 were the C-145 and the C-165, of which 80 were built. On these models, the belly flaps added on the C-38 were removed and the overall length of the fuselage was increased. The only difference between the C-145 and C-165 was the engine horsepower, with the latter having an upgraded 165 hp  Warner engine. It was the onset of WWII that caused Cessna to concentrate on the needed military models. The welded tubular fuselage, fabric covered body, extensive wood work, wooden wings and radial engines, all characteristic of 1930s-era aircraft technology, became too expensive and slow to produce. The old style aircraft were quickly replaced with aircraft constructed from aluminum with strut braced wings first seen in the Cessna 120.

You know if you go back even further in the Cessna scrapbook you will find that there has always been cantilever aircraft in their lineup. The very first Cessna Model A was a precursor of aircraft to come. This aircraft was available in several different configurations including a small Anzani radial up to a Wright J-5 which also powered the Spirit of St Louis.

The CR-3 was built for Livingston who raced it very successfully. This was one of first aircraft with retractable landing gear.

The CR-3 was built for Livingston who raced it very successfully. This was one of first aircraft with retractable landing gear.

Serious business problems caused Clyde to shut down and regroup as a new company dedicated to building small racing aircraft which looked very much like a small Cessna195 which was to appear many years later. When Wall street collapsed in the autumn of 1929, Cessna and other manufacturers soon found themselves without customers for their products. To spur sales, Cessna slashed prices but to no avail. Faced with the prospect of bankruptcy, in 1931 the board of directors of the Cessna Aircraft Co. voted to oust Cessna and close the factory doors. It seemed as though Clyde’s involvement in aviation was over, but he never gave up.

Undaunted, Cessna and his son Eldon rented vacant facilities in the abandoned Travel Air complex on East Central Ave. and created the C.V. Cessna Aircraft Co. that specialized in building diminutive, custom racing airplanes. The most successful of these was the CR-3 owned and flown by the great air-racing pilot Johnny Livingston. After noting the impressive performance of Roy Liggett’s little Cessna CR-2 at the 1932 National Air Races. Johnny Livingston decided he would have to try to get one of those for himself. He contacted builders Clyde and Eldon Cessna at Wichita, and within a month plans were being made for the construction of the Cessna CR-3 racer.

The prewar Cessna Airmaster was available with different engines and landing gear shape. This restored valuable antique was photographed at Arlington, WA Airshow.

The prewar Cessna Airmaster was available with different engines and landing gear shape. This restored valuable antique was photographed at Arlington, WA Airshow.

The new ship was to be a modified version of the CR-2 built to Livingston’s specifications. The Cessna CR-3 was 17 ft. long, with a wingspan of 18 1/2 ft., and was 4 1/2 ft. high. Fitted with a 145 hp Warner engine it weighed 750 lbs. It was painted bright red and yellow, with red license numbers, and later carried the black number 27 on its flanks Livingston’s certificate number was 1427 which accounts for the racing number 14 on his Monocoupe and the 27 on the Cessna. The Cessna cost $2,700 minus the engine and prop which brought it up to about $5,000. The Cessna racers did not set the air racing world on fire but they advanced the technology of aerodynamics for small aircraft including streamlining and retractable landing gears.

In 1934 Dwayne Wallace joined Cessna as general manager. The company had been founded by his uncle, Clyde Cessna, but was forced to close in the early 1930′s because of the Depression.

Mr. Wallace, a year out of the University of Wichita, with an aeronautical engineering degree and brief experience working for Walter Beech, another light aircraft pioneer, persuaded his uncle to reorganize Cessna and make him general manager at the age of 23.

Two years later Mr. Cessna retired and Mr. Wallace became president, a post he held until 1964 when he became chairman. He retired in 1975, but continued to serve as a board member and a $75,000-a-year consultant until 1983, when he severed his ties with the company after a dispute with its chairman, Russ Meyer – his hand-picked successor.

Specifications Cessna CR-3

  • Length: 17 ft (5.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 18 ft 5 in (5.61 m)
  • Height: 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m)
  • Empty weight: 750 lb (340 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Warner Super Scarab Radial, 145 hp (108 kW)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 222 kn; 410 km/h (255 mph) demonstrated
  • Stall speed: 56 kn; 105 km/h (65 mph)
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