Aviation Historian 16
N.Stroud - Willard Custer & the Channel Wing
Unconventional wisdom - Willard Custer’s peculiar but proven channel-wing concept aircraft, the CCW-5.
The prototype five-seater CCW-5, N6257C, up from Custer’s base at Hagerstown Municipal Airport in the summer of 1953, shortly after its maiden flight that July. Modifications were made to the prototype during the test programme, including extending the forward edge of the nacelles and reducing the diameter of their cooling inlets.
Production CCW-5 N5855V comes in for a landing at Hagerstown in 1964. In September that year Kevin Brown, Editor of Popular Mechanics, flew the aircraft: “As the ’plane loses speed, the nose comes up to hold altitude, and power is put back on. It’s like releasing the clutch and applying the accelerator in a stick-shift auto”.
The one and only production CCW-5 in its final iteration, with a revised higher position for the tailplane and a taller fin. Along with the CCW-1, this aircraft also survives today and is under long-term restoration at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The doggedly determined Willard Ray Custer beside the final iteration of the sole production Custer Channel Wing CCW-5 in the mid-1960s.
The starboard channel wing and Continental engine of the first - and only - production CCW-5, N5855V. The channel incorporated a NACA 4418 aerofoil from the root to just outboard of the channel, and the outer wings were of NACA 4412 section.
The nosewheel retracted forward and was fitted with a Goodyear 6-00 x 6 tyre (6in wide on a 6in-diameter wheel).
The short 6-50 x 10 mainwheels retracted into the outer surfaces of the channels, the wheels being exposed and standing slightly proud of the channels.
The rear of the port channel; both channels were more slender on the production example in order to reduce drag. Note how closely the propeller skims the channel’s trailing edge.
The dual-control cockpit of the CCW-5 was laid out conventionally, with no additional controls or instruments.
Custer clearly saw the channel wing as applicable to any type of aircraft, and used this model of a channel-wing-equipped twin-engined fighter-type to promote the concept. The model is seen here with just its channel wings fitted, but another model incorporated a larger wing with outer sections and a solid half­chord inner section.
Custer’s first full-size aircraft, the CCW-1 is seen here under construction in the inventor’s laboratory/workshop/office in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1942. Never one to make life easy for himself, master woodworker Custer created a sophisticated, streamlined ovoid fuselage from spruce and mahogany plywood.
A poor-quality but rare photograph of the CCW-1 during its military trials at Beltsville in 1943. Note the 10° dihedral at which the wings are set. Registered NX30090, the dark-blue CCW-1 survives today and is stored at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration & Storage Facility in Maryland, part of the National Air & Space Museum.
The CCW-1's original empennage, with vestigial tailfins plus rudder, and low-aspect-ratio tailplane with a single-piece elevator. This arrangement was later replaced with a boxkite-type tail during military trials at Beltsville in 1943, although the original was reinstated after the trials.
The cover of the May 1947 issue of Popular Mechanics, featuring the CCW-1 and ‘‘the wing that fooled the experts".
Willard Custer demonstrates the sucking effect of the pusher-configured propellers over the port channel of the as-yet-uncovered CCW-2 with a ribbon. When first reported in the UK, in the January 4, 1952, issue of Flight, the tenor of the article was mildly sceptical: “The claims made by the Custer Corporation are, to say the least, sweeping ..."
The CCW-2, given the civil registration N1375V, mounted on a test stand in the windtunnel at NACA’s Langley Aeronautical Laboratory on May 8, 1952. By the time of the trials the diminutive CCW-2 had been modified with a taildragger undercarriage, the fuselage was covered and a small enclosed cockpit had been incorporated.
President of Custer’s first company, the National Aircraft Corp, Frank D. Kelley sits at the controls of the startling CCW-2, Custer’s second full-size channel-wing aircraft, in 1948.
Willard’s son Harold Custer at the controls of the CCW-2, built purely as an engineering testbed to conduct experiments with the channel wing. Based on the fuselage of a Taylorcraft lightplane, the CCW-2 is seen here without outer wing panels and with its original tricycle undercarriage, in which form it first flew in July 1948.
With the windsock showing zero wind, the taildragger-configured CCW-2 pulls it tethers taut during a demonstration of its vertical-lift capabilities on December 7, 1951. Unfortunately for Custer, NACA’s testing of the aircraft at Langley the following year focused heavily on this aspect rather than its conventional STOL performance, for which it had been specifically designed.