I thought I’d take a shot at describing the two seat Luscombe, maybe some people will be interested… Even if you fly something else for transport, the little Luscombe is really a fun plane for stick and rudder local fun and shorter cross countries. Some of the info is collector level detail, other info is practical data that may be useful in owning and maintaining the plane.
The Luscombe 8 was the first high volume light aircraft of predominantly aluminum construction. It has a 36 ft wingspan to support only 800 or 900 lbs empty weight plus useful load, and a fairly thin wing, so it performs pretty well on low power when you consider the age of the design.
They made around 6000 of them in six different variants, before and after World War II, in three different US factories. About 2000 are flying today, including quite a few imported to UK by an individual in the 1980s. Postwar Cessna 120/140s that led to all the later Cessnas were a direct copy, but enlarged and more industrialized with less handwork in their production methods. Don Luscombe was the company founder, the same guy who was behind the earlier Monocoupes (an early light cabin monoplane used for 1930s air racing). The politics of the company are interesting and if you’re interested there are several books covering company history. European content is that the company was owned for a period by a then-recent Austrian immigrant to the US.
Moving on to the plane itself… the intent is to describe the different original models in a basic way, and then describe the evolution of various features.
A brief summary of the variants is as follows. They are distinguished by letter, except for the first one:
8 (no letter) – the original plane produced pre-war, first produced in 1938 as the ‘Luscombe 50’. Originally had a 50 HP Continental engine and combined that fully-cowled opposed engine with metal construction in the format later adopted for most light planes. Instrument panel was a flat sheet of aluminum. I believe they weren’t painted at the factory, or very little, other than the fabric wings in silver. Here is a very early Luscombe and panel.
8A – The most common variant. Used the very reliable A-65 (65 HP) Continental that was produced in huge volume (for Army liason Piper Cubs etc.) in WW II, and as a result is still practical to maintain today. Pressed aluminum instrument panel in the form most commonly seen today on all Luscombes. Produced both pre and post-war. Originally 8As were finished in polished alloy with blue stripes. Here is a standard 8A panel, this one ‘incorrectly’ painted red. Note the slight longer controls sticks relative to the pre-war plane – they don’t look longer in this photo (just different) but they are. The giant glove boxes had a second purpose as a location to install huge old radios on both sides, so there’s lots of room for that purpose today, using only the pilots side. Some people hide them under the door, making the door removable for flight.
8B – Used the Lycoming 0-145 65 HP engine that wasn’t terribly successful. Rarely seen in original form.
8C – A ‘deluxe’ variant. Used a fuel injected Continental 75 HP engine based on the A65 and had an art deco instrument panel as shown below. Pre-war.
8D – The first to introduce wing tanks, installed in a fabric wing. Same engine as an 8C, very rarely seen today. Pre-war.
8E – Increased power with 85 HP Continental (same as Cessna 120/140) and added electrical system, starter and generator. Prototype had fabric wings, all production planes had metal wings. Originally finished in polished alloy with red stripes. D windows were added behind the doors. Here is a nice looking example of a metal wing 8E with factory wheel fairings and a wood propeller.
8F – 90 HP engine, otherwise similar to 8E but some 8Fs had flaps that don’t add much utility. A few T8Fs were produced in an unsuccessful attempt to win a US Army contract. These have tandem seating and different windows/canopy.
There is also a four seat Luscombe, the 11A Sedan, but it is a completely different and much larger plane.
Performance and Handling
Regardless of engine power they all cruise in the region of 95-105 mph. Climb rate varies substantially depending on power and weight, from about 400 fpm to 900 fpm. Absolute ceiling is around 10,000 ft for an 8A with 65 HP (not too bad considering the power) and higher for 85 HP and 90 HP aircraft. Circuit flying can be done mostly at one speed, 75 mph, slowing down on final. Given the lack of flaps you use the drag bucket instead, slowing on short final into the drag bucket to dissipate energy and prevent float… but not too soon, on 65 HP variants at least you don’t have much power to ‘pull it out of the bucket’ if required. People have started to install VGs on Luscombes and they change this characteristic too. Otherwise VGs on a Luscombe improve control at low speeds quite a lot.
In the air, Luscombes have more responsive handling than e.g. similar Cessnas and plenty of control authority for almost any circumstance. Many people like that the plane has stick controls, not a yoke like a Cessna. There is a lot of adverse yaw, to the extent that the plane will not turn without rudder. Using aileron alone in an attempt to turn will result in the nose pointing off in completely the wrong direction, so you learn to use your feet.
The flight controls are not well harmonized, but you get used to it. It’s a 1930s design. The rudder is exceptionally powerful and light and the ailerons are heavy. Like many older aircraft it is not particularly forgiving in slow flight, rough handling near the stall will make it spin. There is very little aerodynamic stall warning/shudder but if the ball in centered it plays nicely and has a gentle stall. In most ways it’s a rather direct little thing: it gives you exactly what you ask for, whether you know what you’ve asked for or not Some people like this, some people don’t.
Here’s the view over the nose of final, I think its attractive and the forward view is pretty much like a nose wheel plane even on the ground.
Ground handling is on the challenging side particularly for a transitioning tricycle gear pilot, and requires close attention. Part of the issue is that the elevator and rudder are powerful so it’s relatively easy to get into a pilot induced oscillation. Traditionally, and for that reason, the Luscombe has served as a trainer for people transitioning into the Pitts, an economical half way step. In general, the Luscombe is known as a ‘pilot’s airplane’ in relation to other similar planes.
Fuel consumption is between about 4.0 and 6.5 US GPH, depending on engine power. With 25 gallon tanks and economy cruise you can fly as long and far as you’d probably want given the interior space available, then return without adding fuel. Believe it or not a German once flew a Luscombe across the Altlanic. He was later lost flying across the Pacific in a Bonanza IIRC.
Luscombe Issues & Features
Certification and Engineering Documentation – The L8 was FAA (actually US CAA) certified in a few months and was produced to rudimentary drawings, initially by a mixture of skilled people and student apprentices. At that time, late 30s, there was a growing demand for skilled aircraft metal workers and an economic depression, so the apprentices were close to unpaid. The drawings are still around, having been bought and sold several times and sometimes jealously guarded by their owners. Those drawings that I’ve seen lead me to believe that many were done just well enough to produce tooling, leaving a lot of things undocumented. This was one of the reasons the plane went out of production in the 50s, the tribal knowledge was lost and FAA wanted better documentation for production by new TC owners. However, existing N-registered planes all operate in normal category, with a standard FAA C of A, unaffected.
All variants are on the same FAA TCDS A-694, meaning it’s relatively simple to convert any Luscombe variant to any other and most of the planes are a mixture to some degree or another. On G-registration (in the UK) the aircraft are flown as a non-certified Permit-to- Fly type, which makes them popular. There are a couple in Germany too, one of which was flown to Africa and other distant places under prior Swiss registration (last I knew it was based at Jesenwang, near Munich). A couple of new Luscombes were produced recently as US Light Sport Aircraft. Here’s a photo of some in the UK, where owners seem to have a lot of fun with them. I think the Luscombe speed and range is well matched to touring around the UK.
Aerobatics – At one point, an FAA pilot travelled to the Luscombe factory and flew aerobatics in Luscombes, publishing an FAA (CAA) letter afterward with recommended entry speeds for various aerobatic maneuvers (it was different world in 1947!) Over the decades since, some owners have used this as a guide but there have been several airframe issues, the plane is not really suitable, and the oldest airframes are now almost 80 years old. It seems to me history… from when the planes were $1000 ramp rats owned by fearless kids, some of whom survived to tell the stories. These are not overly strong aircraft, or over powered aircraft despite being able to hold a bunch of people on the wing.
Firewall Shape – If you look at the Luscombe firewall, it’s pretty much round in shape. The theory is that Luscombe didn’t really know if these new-fangled flat engines were going to work out so gave themselves a back door towards fitting a radial engine. With this in mind a couple of planes have been fitted with radials, Warner and Rotec, and they fit pretty well. The plane pictured below had a Warner installed many years ago.
Parts supply – Parts come from a variety of sources. PMA airframe parts are available from Univair, engine, brake, instrument, tail wheel etc. parts are all standard stuff fitted to other types, and used parts are plentiful because over half of the planes produced have been scrapped, meaning 4000 planes! A quick look around on the net, Barnstormers and so on, reveals that in the US at least Luscombe parts are all over the place.
Wings, Struts and Tail Feathers
There are ‘basically’ three different types of wings, each with its own specific wing strut design… The original fabric covered wings have metal structure with built up hand-made ribs, and were discontinued in early 1946. Struts for these are impossible to find in good condition. Then for a few months (but still a lot of planes given the rate of production) a new type of fabric wing was made that has pressed aluminum ribs. Then the all metal wing was introduced and it has almost no ribs at all, it’s almost hollow and uses mostly top hat stiffeners riveted to the skins instead of ribs. The metal wing strut was changed from steel to aluminum and made into a single streamline ssection. Some later metal wings on 8Fs have flaps actuated by a ceiling mounted lever.
Tail surfaces come either round tipped (early) or square tipped (later) and can be mixed. So you see planes with different combinations of round and square tips on horizontal and vertical surfaces. Here’s how the square tail surfaces look.
Propellers are both wood and metal. The TC is fairly open about wood propellers, so they come from different manufacturers. Wood Sensenich props are common. The metal props are McCauley, originally round tipped but the square tipped current production propeller is allowable.
Control Sticks and Other Controls
Pre-war planes came with short control sticks that allow you to rest your arm on your leg more comfortably. Post war planes have longer sticks, presumably to lighten the aileron feel.
Earlier planes had the throttle mounted high on the panel which provides good knee clearance. One of the test pilots was very tall! Later 8A panels moved the throttle to the base of the panel, which is a little less accommodating of long legs. Some individual planes have custom panels, mostly they aren’t attractive.
Three different fuel tank configurations were installed. Most fabric wing planes have a 12.5 gallon fuselage tank installed behind the pilots head. Wing tanks were available, initially 11 gallons per side for the fabric wing 8D, but almost all tanks produced were 12.5 gallons per side, starting with the metal wing 8E.
Installing 12.5 wing tanks in fabric wings is done and allowed by the TC despite the fact that only the 8E prototype was ever produced with 12.5 gallon tanks in a fabric wings, and the drawing s vaporware. This is where things get fuzzy and if you find such a plane you can do your own assessment of how well is complies with the TC.
One point about the rear mounted fuselage fuel tank is that can’t be used with engines larger than 75 HP. In fact if the tank level is relatively low, it doesn’t supply enough flow for 65 HP and for that reason there is a placard with the fuselage tank requiring carb heat (i.e. reduced power) for takeoff. In real world service people have found that a full tank will generally supply enough fuel for 65 HP full throttle.
For 85 or 90 HP engines you need wing tanks.
Landing Gear and Tail Wheels
The original main wheel landing gear used streamlined brace wires. Fairly late in production, the brace wires were eliminated in the later ‘Silflex’ design. This involved heavier weight gear legs, so it’s a mixed blessing. The holes in the fuselage are bigger for Silflex main gear so you can’t interchange on a given plane. Beautiful aluminum wheel fairings are optional for any of the landing gear configurations.
All of the different ‘standard’ US tailwheels are used on the Luscombe. Early planes had non-steerable tailwheels, but you see none of those today. The most suitable tailwheel is probably the lightweight Scott 2000, which is expensive and hard to find. Maules are inexpensive and widely used but not nearly as good. One additional tailwheel issue is that because the original plane had a non-steerable tailwheel, the design of tailwheel chains in relation to the rudder was never really thought through with the round rudder. At some point cranked arms were introduced to move the chains out of the way of the base of the rudder though its full range of motion. When the square rudder was introduced, the bottom was cut off (see photo above) and this is commonly and legally done on round rudders, especially if they’ve already been been damaged.
Wheels & Brakes
Most planes had brake pedals only for the pilot but some had pedals on both sides. All had heel operated pedals, which is awkward. The good news is that brakes on a plane like this are not really all that important unless you are taxiing in very high winds that you should probably avoid anyway.
Most of the ‘standard’ US wheels and brakes were used on the Luscombe, and they are largely interchangeable. Cleveland mechanicals are probably the best when in good order but like Scott 2000 tailwheels the availability and pricing of parts other than linings is problematic. You can usually find the stuff used, but its not widely available. The good news is that the Cleveland mechanical brakes will go for decades without any significant service. The only issue is a 100 hr inspection of the magnesium wheels, mandated by AD. In case you’re interested, Cleveland brakes was founded when Van Sickle was bought out by a company in Cleveland Ohio. So these little mechanical brakes were originally Van Sickles. The today universal hydraulic Clevelands evolved later. Here’s a Cleveland mechanical brake freshly overhauled for the first time after decades in service. You can also see the streamlined landing gear brace wire mentioned above.
The Goodyear mechanical disk brakes are the worst, needing frequent adjustment and service. Grove Aircraft has developed replacement hydraulic brakes but IIRC has not yet finished the PMA.
I could go on to describe more details, but I think that’s enough. You can buy one for 15 -30,000 of your favorite currency unit. Somewhere in the middle buys a pretty nice example.
What a wonderful article.
Yes – a wonderful writeup!
Have to say, however…. that pic with 28 ladies could not be replicated today, due to dimensional changes over the decades
Excellent writeup – thanks.
Silvaire the write up sets a high standard for what is an excellent type – the Supermarine Spitfire practical vintage tailwheel to the Piper Cub/Aeronca Champ’s Hawker Hurricane. The last time I flew one was in the early 1990’s and it was quite benign, although the stall break was sharper than in a Cub.
This is a feel good book where a Luscombe plays a major role.
They have even put a small turboprop on a couple of them.
Flying magazine once had a pilot report by their UK contributor where he put the type through its paces and discussed its aerobatic ability.
Great write up! I can’t wait to meet one in person to see if I fit :-)
I’ve always lusted after a Luscombe 8E. Unfortunately they don’t have the power to tow gliders, otherwise I’d probably have one.
Great write up, thank you Silvaire. That is a mighty fine and impressive polish. How many have you owned?
I think that the white Luscombe, 5th from the right in the line-up of the G-reg Luscombe’s is the one I have a share in (built October 1946). That one still has the bracing wires rather than the Silflex, a maule tailwheel and a 90-HP fitted in the last 10 years.
I only have about 25 hours since last April on her so am still getting to know her but Luscombe’s are a real delight. I would have more hours in her but for work, weather and having to get a Cleveland wheel shipped from the US. For the shipping cost, it might have been cheaper and quicker to fly out and hand carry back. Here she is after a morning flight early last summer darting between the clouds.
A photo before I joined the group:
More nice photos
I’ve only owned one but my (re) initiation into flying was in mine, and as a result I met other people with them, and pretty soon I was surrounded by them on all sides. They built so many Luscombes they’re a bit like weeds, if you closely in any direction you see one Mostly I fly another plane now, but Luscombes get under your skin.
@mh, test flying on the original ‘50’ was done by a guy named Ig Sargent, and if you see photos of him standing next to a plane he was very tall. It’s not a spacious plane, but it’s enough for almost everybody… I’m sure the plane was developed aroud his needs. The main issue with fitting large people today is that over the years people have fitted thicker and thicker seat cushions. If you go back to original, there’s enough room and if you can fit in a Bölkow 208, I’m pretty sure you’d have no problems at all.
This is an excellent book with factory photos and detailed info that feel a bit like time travel if you’re so inclined. Maybe the most interesting thing overall is that 1946/47 production was not a cottage industry, it was a serious industrial situation for about two years. Another is that earlier, the first prototype test flight was in December of one year, and certified production was underway by August! Almost 6000 deliveries to customers followed.
Really cool plane. Not many of those around here. Did they sell mostly in the US? as opposed to Cubs that are everywhere. Is it even comparable to a Cub?