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Is a bird, is a plane, no it’s…Super Ace!

Here we have that rara avis of British aviation, one of only two examples of the Chrislea C.H.3 Super Ace Series 2  still flying in the UK. These aircraft were built immediately postwar, and despite sharing certain design characteristics (high-wing cabin monoplane, 145 hp DeH Gipsy Major 10 engine) with aircraft such as Austers, they proved to be a commercial failure. The Chrislea Aircraft Company Ltd did many things wrong…it seemed that it was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong product.

Not only that, but the company seemed unable to settle on a fixed design. The prototype Super Ace Series 1, G-AHLG - first flown in September 1946 at Heston - had a single fin and rudder and was powered by a 125 hp Lycoming O-290-3 flat-four engine. However, production machines had a twin-fin and rudder arrangement and the Gipsy Major engine, along with other changes. The fuselage of the prototype was of fabric-covered, steel tube construction, with the wings and tailplane having a wooden internal structure (which was to change to all-metal in production models).

British buyers of light aircraft couldn’t afford a strange new design. Not when hundreds of war-surplus Austers (to which the Super Ace had a passing resemblance), DH 82A Tiger Moths, Miles Magisters and Messengers were flooding the British market, many via the famous 'disposal sales' of liaison/trainer types held post-war at No. 5 Maintenance Unit, RAF Kemble (now Cotswold Airport).

In that particular set of special circumstances, ANY new type would really have to have been special to make an impact. However, the Super Ace had many disadvantages which made them unpopular; they were both overweight, and despite the use of the ever-reliable Gipsy Major engine, they were uneconomical, and they had strange control arrangements, a car-like steering wheel which British customers disliked, linking rudder and ailerons, just like the American-built Ercoupe. The first Chrislea CH.3 Series 2 Super Ace, G-AKFD, made a long circuit of British flying schools and local aero clubs, and when test flown by instructors and experienced pilots was roundly condemned for its 'strange' controls. Cruising speed was 112 mph and range was between 400 and 500 miles, depending on build standard, but the aircraft could be classified as 'uninspiring'. Amazingly, for such a marginal performer, single examples were sold far and wide, to Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Japan, France and Pakistan. A small production run of 28 machines were made. Some of these, however, were abandoned on the assembly line at Exeter Airport, when the assets of the bankrupt company were bought in 1952 by C. E. Harper Aircraft Ltd, and then subsequently scrapped.

Before the final failure, an attempt was made to market a ‘utility’ version of the Super Ace, called the C.H.3 Series 4 Skyjeep, which had conventional controls, a tailwheel undercarriage and provision for carrying either a stretcher or small freight items under a detachable rear decking – despite this, and a more powerful 155hp Blackburn Cirrus Major engine, only three were ever flown.

This example of a be-spatted Super Ace, G-AKUW, owned by John and Steven Rickett, is parked at Keevil, Wiltshire, and is an early arrival at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend; to the left, and partially obscured, is the WW2 Control Tower of the former RAF Keevil. If you look closely, you can just make out the tops of the control yokes - one of the features that British pilots disliked so much. The slipstream-driven generator (like that fitted on Austers) can be seen on the leading edge of the starboard wing, and there are twin venturi - to provide vacuum power to certain of the aircraft instruments - clearly visible either side of the nosewheel. I must confess that I have been lucky enough to fly in this rare bird.

I give you the Chrislea CH.3 Super Ace, ladies and gentlemen - an idea whose time should never have come!

Originally posted to shortfinals on Sat May 11, 2013 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Kossack Air Force, History for Kossacks, and Aviation & Pilots.

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