Rearwin Aircraft and Ken- Royce Engines

The best-looking and well-known Rearwin was the Speedster. Spin-recovery problems delayed production until it was no longer marketable.

By        Norm Goyer

Older aviation lovers, like me, will remember the Rearwin name. The firm was started in a garage in Salina, Kansas, by businessman Andrew “Rae” Rearwin in 1928, with his two sons, Ken and Royce, along with some hired engineers. Rearwin was not a pilot and had no aviation engineering or manufacturing training, but thought he and his sons could build an engine for the hoped-for boom-in-aviation that everyone expected. Lindberg had just flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the media, such as it was back then, was publishing anything pertaining to aircraft. He would have had to have a sense of humor to invest money in an aircraft business during the great depression with zero experience in the field. Rearwin named their first airplane, and later their first engine, Ken-Royce. This was an obvious play on words, using the well known Rolls-Royce English engine manufacturer. Their first “Ken-Royce” aircraft was a biplane with a 170-hp Curtiss Challenger radial engine. It was faster than many current designs and flew well.

The Rearwin Sportster was a very successful primary trainer. It used a five-cylinder Ken-Royce (LeBlond) engine. It was sold worldwide.

The Rearwin Junior, a small high-wing monoplane, came next. It was inexpensive and easy to fly. It looked like the then-popular American Eaglet. The most well-known Rearwin was the Speedster designed in 1934. In later years, this Rearwin became a great favorite with RC model builders. The plane had an inverted Cirrus in-line engine with a narrow fuselage seating two in tandem, it was a great looking aircraft, but the full size aircraft had a serious spin problem; it failed to recover. Production of the Speedster was held up several years while engineer Bob Rummell attempted to solve the problem. But it simply took too long and when the Speedster was finally ready for certification, the market had moved on. Only 11 of this great little aircraft were ever built; however, thousands of models kept its fame alive. In 1938, Rearwin purchased LeBlond Aircraft Engine Corporation, giving Rearwin a well accepted five-and a seven-cylinder radial engine to attach its Ken-Royce name.

The small radial Ken-Royce engine, a play on Rolls-Royce, was available, either as a five-or seven-cylinder radial engine. Horizontally-opposed engines of equal horsepower eventually replaced radial engines.  Ken and Royce were sons of Raymond “Rae” Rearwin.

The Speedster was followed by Rearwin’s two most successful aircraft, the Sportster and the Cloudster. Both were high-wing tandem monoplanes. The Sportster was exported to South America, Africa, Thailand and Australia, mainly due to its 24-gallon fuel capacity supplying long-range capability. In 1938, a licensed version was also produced in Sweden. The Cloudster was a very good trainer with more cabin room than the Speedster. This is the aircraft used by the Rearwin Flying School, TWA and Pan American Airways in their training schools. Juan Trippe, who founded PAA, owned both a Sportster and a Cloudster. Iran bought 25 Cloudsters in 1941 for their expanding aviation programs.

The last Rearwin was the side-by-side Skyranger with a horizontally-opposed engine. It was first built by Rearwin then by Commonwealth Aircraft.

The last Rearwin to be produced was the Rearwin Skyranger. Flight schools and pilots liked the Skyranger due to its very easy-to-fly manners and super-stable flight characteristics. In 1942, Rearwin sold out to Commonwealth Aircraft who continued production of the Skyranger until 1946. Skyranger aircraft, with serial numbers starting at 1500, were built by Rearwin; those with serial numbers 1600 and above were built by Commonwealth Aircraft. Production of all Rearwin designed aircraft ceased in 1946.

This entry was posted in Bird of the Week. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. […] Click Here to View Past Birds of the Week and to read the remainder of this article […]