Henry Berliner founded Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) in 1930 to design and manufacture machines for building aircraft. In the late 1930s, Berliner decided, he to design and build his own airplanes as well. To meet this goal, Berliner recruited aeronautical engineer Fred Weick to join ERCO in 1936. Previously, Weick worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA and now NASA), improving aircraft safety and efficiency.
At ERCO, Weick designed the Ercoupe, a small airplane intended to help make flying easier for the general public. The design and controls of many early aircraft provided too many ways for student pilots and distracted pilots to make small, but deadly errors. Weick made small, but radical, changes like redesigning the landing gear to be more controllable on the ground to make takeoffs and landings safer. He also combined the rudder and aileron controls to better coordinate turns. When not properly coordinated, planes could stall or spin, which often led to fatal crashes.
In 1937, Berliner purchased 50 acres of land in Riverdale, MD for a factory and airstrip to produce the Ercoupe, the average person’s airplane. With the property only a mile from College Park Airfield, ERCO used College Park to test the Ercoupe before their airfield was ready. When testing was completed in 1939, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) certified it as "characteristically incapable of spinning." The first production Ercoupe rolled out of the factory in 1940 and College Park Airfield manager George Brinckerhoff bought it. It now belongs to the National Air and Space Museum.
World War II halted all civilian aircraft production. During the war, ERCO produced a variety of military components like gun turrets, drop tanks, and more until Ercoupe production was restarted in 1945.
Unfortunately, after the war, few pilots wanted the easy to fly Ercoupe. Many postwar pilots were veterans who were more accustomed to the high-performance aircraft they flew in the military. By 1947, Berliner decided to leave aviation and sold the drawings, tools, parts, materials and distribution rights for the Ercoupe to one of his test pilots, Bob Sanders. Sanders continued building and selling Ercoupes into the 1950s, but the plane was never serious competition for the Cessnas, Pipers, and other small airplane builders. In all, ERCO and Sanders Aviation sold just over 5,000 Ercoupes.
Portions of the Museum’s ERCO collection is available online through the Maryland Digital Cultural Heritage project. Visit http://collections.mdch.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/erco. For a closer look, set up a research appointment.