TechTalk: Waco AQC-6

The Museum's Waco Custom Cabin biplane in its element over the Fraser Valley.
(Photo by Mike Luedey)
First, the Waco name
WACO (referring to the aircraft) is usually pronounced “wah-co” (the first syllable pronounced as in “water”), not “way-co” like Waco, Texas, whose name is entirely unrelated. The name comes from a field near Troy, Ohio - Waco field, which in turn received its name from a local war-cry, which had several variations. Although an acronym, the company was universally referred to as “Waco.” (Remember, Waco rhymes with taco).
Garages and fields across America were filled with eager aircraft experimenters after World War One. Pilots, mechanics, and enthusiasts were sure that aviation was going to be a major new business and they rushed to find some way to participate. The early days of aviation’s Golden Age saw hundreds of shifting partnerships and companies, many advertising undeveloped products using outrageous performance claims.
One such group of enthusiasts, all in their early 20’s, formed the first of the companies that later produced Waco aircraft. George “Buck” Weaver was a flight instructor and barnstorming pilot. Elwood “Sam” Junkin had been a draftsman and worked together with Clayton “Clayt” Brukner, an assembly foreman, at Curtiss and another aircraft company. Constantly seeking development funds, these three combined their talents to try building airplanes. Like many before and since, they learned that designing and building airplanes was much more difficult than flying them and that building a successful airplane company was even more challenging.
Their early efforts would have discouraged a less enthusiastic group. While still in high school, Junkin and Brukner made an unsuccessful attempt at building a biplane powered by a motorcycle engine. Their second design was a flying boat that turned out far too heavy to fly. Their third aircraft, the parasol-design “Waco Cootie,” looked promising, but it crashed on its first test flight, destroying the plane and leaving Weaver with extensive injuries. They continued to advertise it for sale, however, with exaggerated performance claims. The Weaver Aircraft Company, as it was then known, was in constant need of money to fund development. The partners barnstormed using war surplus airplanes, dropped samples of candy and cereal, did odd jobs and sold shares in the company to optimistic investors.
A redesigned “Cootie,” now a biplane design, had more success. It set the stage for their first commercial success, the “Waco Four” three-person biplane. With a small family to support, Buck Weaver left the group to seek other opportunities. Junkin and Brukner each learned to fly and continued testing new designs, now as the Advance Aircraft Company. Their products continued to carry the Waco name, however.
The Waco Nine biplane firmly established “Waco” as a respected trademark. In 1926, it became the country’s most popular mass-produced airplane, costing about $2,500 with a production rate of one per day. About 75 men and boys built the airplanes in a former horse wagon factory. A key to the low price of the Waco Nine was its relatively inexpensive and readily available Curtiss OX-5 V-8 engine. The engine’s low power (90 hp) limited the airplane’s performance, however.
In 1927, the Waco Ten was delivered, still using the OX-5, but also able to accommodate more powerful engines. The Model Ten had major design improvements, such as “oleo” strut hydraulic landing gear, a larger cockpit and a horizontal stabilizer that could be adjusted in flight. Improvements continued with introduction of the famous Waco Taperwing design in 1928. Company employment grew to almost 200 and production was moved from the wagon factory to a new facility built with its own airfield on the outskirts of Troy, Ohio.
The Great Depression, which started in 1929, forced many airplane companies out of business. The popularity of Waco designs allowed the company to survive, although with a reduced production rate. To meet varied customer needs, different Waco models were developed and produced simultaneously, many with fully enclosed cabins. A complex system of letters and numbers was used to identify Waco models in the 1930s. While design improvements continued, most Waco models remained as biplanes with a welded tubing structure, wooden wing spars, and fabric covering. In its hey-day Waco produced 400 aircraft per year compared to Boeings 25.
World War II created needs for different styles of airplanes, emphasizing higher speeds and metal construction. Waco continued as a supplier of various aircraft subassemblies and was famous for producing CG4-A troop carrying gliders. The company that was so nimble in adapting to customer needs in the 20’s and 30’s was unable to adapt its designs to compete in the post-war market. After Waco ceased production the remaining Waco airplanes have been prized by collectors and aviation enthusiasts for their rugged and handsome design.
Of the three early principals, only Clayton Brukner survived to see the full span of Waco history. Buck Weaver and Sam Junkin each died before reaching the age of thirty and without knowing the impact the Waco name would have on aviation history.
Wacos were purchased for many different uses. The Waco Taperwing Models ATO and CTO were known for their outstanding acrobatic qualities and were also used for air racing. Waco won the 1928 and 1929 Ford Reliability Tour also known as the National Air Tour, which was a transcontinental race sponsored by Ford pitting over 25 aircraft manufacturers against each other. Wacos raced in the famous National Air Races in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Chicago and placed first in many events. One Waco was even invited to participate in the Paris International Air Show in 1936 where it placed first in the acrobatic events. Other Wacos were purchased and used for military fighters in Central and South American countries such as Uruguay, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador and Cuba. Many wealthy sportsmen also purchased Wacos such as Howard Hughes, Roscoe Turner, Gar Wood, Powell Crosley, Jackie Cochran, and Henry King, just to name a few.
A. Francis Arcier
Born in London, Alex Francis Arcier was an aviator, scientist, designer and engineer whose pioneering work in aviation design spanned six decades. Among his designs are the Barling Bomber and the Fokker TriMotor.
In 1930, Arcier became Chief Engineer of Waco. He worked for Waco for 17 years in various capacities. Arcier and the Waco Aircraft Company made many contributions to the National Defense Program during World War II, such as the Model UPF-7 primary trainer.
The Waco Company was entrusted with the entire combat and cargo glider program of the U.S. Army Air Forces. This was initiated in an Army Design Competition that the company won and resulted in a program involving the design, prototype construction and, in some cases, production construction of some twelve models ranging from Model CG-3A to the CG-15A. These gliders were built by the thousands under Arcier’s technical direction by sixteen prime contractors and many hundreds of sub-contractors throughout the nation. In 1948, Arcier became Chief Scientist for U.S. Air Force Intelligence at Wright-Patterson AFB until he retired in 1963.