A Brief History of the People Who Created the Light Aircraft Industry in the U.S. – Part 4

by Martin Maisel
(photos used with appropriate permission)
Clarence Gilbert Taylor
& William Piper

Clarence Gilbert Taylor was born in Rochester, New York in 1898 (according to his New York Times obituary, though some biographies state that he was born Nottingham, England, but grew up in Rochester). In 1911 Taylor was fascinated by the sight of Calbraith Perry Rodgers in his Wright EX on his historic flight across the United States. As a teenager he built his first (unsuccessful) airplane design in the attic of his home. He later learned mechanical and fabrication skills at various jobs and when working with his father and brother Gordon at the Tool, Die and Specialty Company in Rochester.

In 1926 Clarence and Gordon purchased a surplus Curtiss Jenny and embarked on a barnstorming venture. The brothers formed the Arrowing Company in 1927 and designed and built a two-seat, radial-engine powered, high-wing monoplane that they called the A-2 Chummy. The company slogan was “Buy Your Airplane Taylor Made”. In 1928 the company was renamed the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Manufacturing Company.

Unfortunately, while demonstrating the Chummy at an exhibition in Detroit, Gordon was killed in a crash. In spite of that tragedy, Clarence decided to continue his work in aviation. However, the cost of the airplane was nearly $4000 and the Chummy did not sell well. By late 1929 the company was rapidly sliding toward bankruptcy.

At that time, Clarence, known as “C. G.” Taylor, had the good fortune to receive an attractive offer from the city of Bradford, Pennsylvania. Bradford was in an oil producing area, but the city leaders were seeking to diversify their industry base, in case the oil business would decline. The businessmen of Bradford offered a large facility to build airplanes and substantial investment capital to get the company back on its feet.

In 1930 C. G. Taylor embarked on the production of a two-seat tandem low-powered aircraft, with wings mounted high on the fuselage, an open cockpit, fabric-covered tubular steel fuselage and wooden wings. It was originally powered by a 20 horsepower Brownback “Tiger Kitten” engine. Since the young offspring of the tiger is called a cub, one of Taylor’s employees was inspired to name the little airplane “The Cub”. The severely underpowered engine was later replaced with a 40 horsepower engine that yielded adequate (but modest) performance. The re-engined airplane, designated the Taylor E-2 Cub, received a Type Certificate from the U.S. Department of Commerce for manufacture in June 1931.

But even with new and improved designs, the relocated Taylor Brothers Aircraft Manufacturing Company did not fare well. At the onset of the Great
Depression the market for light aircraft did not exist and by 1931 the company was facing bankruptcy again. At that time, one of the local businessmen who promoted bringing the Taylor company to Bradford purchased the remaining assets of the company for $761. That investor was 50 year-old oilman, William T. “Bill” Piper.

The company was reorganized as the Taylor Aircraft Company with Piper, having the controlling interest, as the secretary-treasurer. C. G. Taylor was retained as president and continued to lead the design and development of the Cub.

One of the most successful products of the Taylor Aircraft Company was the J-2 Cub, an upgrade of the E-2 with 550 rolling out of the factory in 1936 and deliveries continuing to increase in early 1937. However, things were about to change.

During a time when C. G. was ill and had to take a lengthy leave of absence, Piper instructed a young junior engineer, Walter Jamouneau, to modify the contours of the J-2. When Taylor returned to the company he became irate that his design was changed without his approval. Taylor fired Jamouneau for his indiscretion, but Piper, saying that Jamouneau was following his orders, hired him back.

After a series of clashes, the rift between Piper and Taylor led to C. G.’s departure from the company. Piper agreed to pay Taylor $250 per month plus life insurance costs for a period of three years.

In March 1937 a devastating fire destroyed the Bradford aircraft factory. William Piper was offered an empty former silk mill adjacent to an airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and rapidly converted it into an aircraft factory. Along with the move, the company was renamed the Piper Aircraft Corporation, thereby removing all traces of the Taylor heritage.

When production started again the factory turned out the Piper J-3. The basic design of the J-3 was Taylor’s, but the graceful and balanced lines of the aircraft can be credited to Jamouneau.

The J-3 and its variants were to play crucial roles as artillery spotters, liaison planes, or as primary trainers during World War II. By war’s end, 80% of all U.S. military pilots had received their initial flight training in Piper Cubs. With over 20,000 built, the J-3 would hold the fifth position in the list of the most produced general aviation aircraft.

Jamouneau stayed with Piper Aircraft throughout his career and was responsible for the design of many of Piper’s successful line of single- and twin engine aircraft while serving as the company’s chief design engineer.

Bill Piper, the oilman who foresaw the potential market for light aircraft as America was emerging from the Great Depression, learned to fly at the age of 60. He relinquished his presidency to his son in 1968 and died in 1970. He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980.

When C. G. Taylor left Bill Piper and the Taylor Aircraft Company he vowed to build a new personal airplane superior to the Cub in all respects. Taylor formed his own company, Taylor Aviation, and initially set up shop in Lock Haven in a rent-free facility offered by the city to encourage new local industry. A year later he moved his operation to rented facilities at the Pittsburg-Butler Airport, where the first airplane of his new design was manufactured.

In July of 1936 aircraft production was moved to Alliance, Ohio. A new partner, William C. Young of Alliance, joined the business and it was renamed the Taylor-Young Airplane Company. With Young onboard the company was able to raise sufficient capital to begin aircraft production with the sale of over 35,000 shares of company stock to local citizens. After 1938 the company was again renamed as the Taylorcraft Aviation Corporation.

The initial product, the Taylor-Young Model A, became known as the Taylorcraft A. The general configuration of the A resembled the J-3 but provided side by side seating instead of the J-3’s tandem arrangement. Piper threatened suit against Taylor allegedly for infringing his rights, but the case was not pursued since Taylor was producing a newly designed plane (that was actually his seventh new design).

Under Taylor’s presidency Taylorcraft Corporation eventually grew to 750 employees producing eight planes a day and became one of the major industries of the city of Alliance. Over 600 of the Model A type were built by the end of 1938.

Taylor then introduced the Taylorcraft B series with upgraded powerplants. The Taylorcraft BC-12 was first sold in 1938 priced at $1,495. The last version of that aircraft, the Taylorcraft-Ruckle F-22, rolled off the production line in 1991 with a list price of $34,110.

The demand for light liaison and observation planes during World War II was met by the expansion of the Alliance facility in 1941. Over 2000 of the L-2 and O-2 models were delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force.

While C. G. was capable of leading an aircraft design and manufacturing team, his company management was continuously beset by financial difficulties. As new executives joined the organization, Taylor’s control and financial interests diminished. By the time he left in 1942, he owned only 13% of the company.

Following World War II demand decreased as many Piper, Taylorcraft and Aeronca light planes were offered to the public at cheap surplus prices. A fire in the Alliance Taylorcraft factory in 1946 put a halt to production and the company was placed in bankruptcy. Since that time Taylorcraft continued to operate intermittently under different ownerships with limited success.

After C. G. Taylor withdrew from the company he worked as a consultant in the aircraft industry. He became coordinator for nine companies building Waco CG-4A Gliders during World War II, including the Gibson Refrigerator Company at Greenville, Michigan (where over 1,000 gliders were built) and the Ridgefield Manufacturing Company, in Ridgefield, New Jersey (where 156 were built).

After the war Taylor was involved in several diversified ventures, but returned to Alliance in 1956 to again design and remodel small planes. But, in time that activity failed.

Clarence Gilbert Taylor died in 1988.