90 Years of General Aviation
Powered by the Continental A-40 Engine
Mark W. Stewart
The Continental A-40 engine changed everything in General Aviation when it was introduced in 1931. Few people know of the A-40 engine nor of its immense role in General Aviation, but it is this little engine that launched General Aviation as we know it today. Prior to the A-40, flight schools were few and far between, because they were not profitable. Flying heavy and expensive radial engine powered planes was only for the rich, especially in the early 1930’s and the Great Depression. The light weight and low-cost A-40 engine changed all of that, along with the introduction of light weight aircraft like the Taylor Aircraft Cubs by Piper, the Aeronca C 3 and the Taylorcraft Model A. Now, for the first time flight schools could be profitable and the average person could afford flying lessons and then could afford to buy their own airplane.
Not only did the A-40 make flying affordable to general public, but it started a whole new engine design platform, the horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine. Think of the 100,000’s of horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engines that have been built in the past 9 decades and they all owe their start to the very first horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine, the A-40. Manufacturers like Piper, Beech, Cessna, Aeronca, Mooney and many more all used the flat 4-cylinders horizontally opposed engines on their aircraft from engine makers like Continental, Lycoming, Franklin, and Manasco. Whether 4-cylinders, or 6-cylinders, or even the 400 Hp, 8-cylinders horizontally opposed engine, the A-40 is the grandfather of them all.
Several aircraft makers used the A-40 to power their planes, but none more than Piper. Piper, including the Taylor Aircraft Company airplanes, built over 1,800 aircraft with the A-40 engine from 1931 to mid-1938. Taylor started the Taylorcraft Company and produced 606 Taylorcraft Model A’s powered by the A-40. In total, Continental manufactured over 2600 engines which launched the light weight aircraft industry that we know today.
Stop in the Vintage Hangar and see a cut away of the A-40 engine and learn more about its history. Also, be sure and walk through the first row of Vintage Aircraft antique parking and inspect 14 A-40 powered aircraft from the 1930’s, Cubs, Taylorcrafts and Heaths, all flown into Oshkosh for your enjoyment.
1935 E2 Piper Cub