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Culver’s Travels

June 8, 2008 by Carl Chance

The “Spirit of Wichita,”
a Culver which, appropriately, is based in Wichita

By Daryl Murphy

Al
Mooney always numbered his designs with an M- prefix, and when he moved to St.
Louis in 1935 to work for the Monocoupe Corp. he was ready to lay the lines
down for the M-10.

It
was based on his earlier two-place M-6 design that never got built, and was
called the Monosport. The next year, his twin-engine Monocoach was planned, but Monocoupe, who also owned engine
builder Lambert, fell on hard times and was bought out by a man named Knight
Culver, who proposed building the M-10 in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio and
under the name Dart Aircraft Co. It would later become the Dart at Culver, the
famous Cadet, and a target drone during WWII.

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Al Mooney

Certification was received in April of
1938 and it was introduced as either the Dart G, powered by a Lambert R-266; or
with Ken Royce engine it was the Dart GK; with Warner Scarab Jr., the
GW. Acceptance of the airplane was heartening, but
production was modest.

In
1939, the company reorganized as Culver Aircraft Co. Fifty airplanes were built in Columbus,
then, with encouragement from Walter Beech and other local
businessmen, they moved to Wichita.

In
1940 the Culver Cadet debuted, and it took the market by storm. With 75 hp Continental or 80
hp Franklin or Continental, it could reach 130 mph. It was the
best high-speed bargain in aviation.

Walter
Beech and aviation investor Charles Yankey acquired control of the company and
reorganized it late in 1941.

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Culver PQ-8 (M-13) target drone
was radio-controlled or man-carrying

As
the war in Europe began to get America’s attention, a need for target aircraft
arose. Target sleeves were towed by airplanes and small target-drone aircraft
were being developed. Because of its apparent adaptability, a redxesigned Cadet
became one of the first radar-controlled, man-carrying aerial targets-a fast,
elusive airplane for ant-aircraft gunners and fighter pilots to shoot real
bullets at the R/C version, gun cameras against piloted aircraft.

Fitted
with tricycle gear and a 90 hp Franklin, 200 were ordered as the PQ-8 in 1941, another 200 with 125 hp Lycoming in 1942. Other powerplants were
available, as well. Thousands of he most famous variant, the PQ-14, had a 150
hp Franklin.

The last Culver

The
M-17 was ready for the prospect of a burgeoning postwar market. Advertised in
advance as the “Victory” model, it had been in preparation since 1942.
Introduced in September of 1945, the public was excited, but a flood of orders
was supplanted by only a flood of inquiries.

Designed
for the amateur pilot and the novice, the V had a patented system of flight
control called “Simpli-Fly” so a pilot could get to a mode of flight simply by
turning dials or setting levers on a panel console. The problem was that it was
too simple. Experienced pilots looked at it as an insult to their skills.

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The
Culver V

As
it debuted, it had too much weight for its wing area and the complicated nature
of “Simpi-Fly” seemed more trouble than it was worth. The Model V-2 was
designed to correct those faults, but it was already too late. While the
company did enjoy some postwar business, it started to falter and inevitably
failed.

Al
Mooney had already bailed out. He and his brother, Art, would stay in Wichita
and work on the next project—the M-18. Even though they wouldn’t own the
company that would build it, their names would be on it and it would be known
as the Mite.

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