Cessna: The Postwar Years – Part One

Cessna: The Postwar Years – Part One

Cessna: The Postwar Years – Part One

During the mid-1940s the Cessna Aircraft Company worked overtime to meet soaring demand for modern, all-metal monoplanes.

In August 1945, after more than five years of vicious fighting, the worst war the world had ever experienced was finally over. Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, which he boasted would last a thousand years, was gone after only 12 years. Germany lay in ruins. It had been ravaged from the air by the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command at night, and by America’s mighty Eighth Air Force by day. As for Japan, more than 60 cities important to the war effort had been fire-bombed into oblivion, hundreds of thousands of Japanese had died in massive conflagrations, and the population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had suffered the horrors of atomic weapons.

Far away in Wichita, Kansas, however, the hard-working, patriotic employees of the Cessna Aircraft Company could be proud of a job well done, as could workers at Beech Aircraft Corporation and the Wichita Division of the Boeing Airplane Company. By late 1944 it looked increasingly certain that the Axis powers would be defeated by the Allied nations, and as demand for the weapons of war slowed, airframe manufacturers turned their attention to the design and production of commercial aircraft. In the summer of 1945, with Germany defeated and Japan’s empire in its death throes, the United States Defense Commission had begun releasing wartime materials such as steel, aluminum and rubber, to help manufacturers begin a return to peacetime production.

Cessna’s chief, Dwane L. Wallace, welcomed the return to peacetime operations, but it came at a steep price. The war’s end meant massive layoffs of personnel and the ax fell swiftly on thousands of workers. During the war employment had peaked at 6,074 people before plummeting to 1,000 after “V-E Day” (Victory in Europe), and fell to only 450 following the surrender of Japan in September 1945.

Cessna’s new monoplane was the company’s only postwar design powered by a static, air-cooled radial engine, and proved popular with private pilots as well as business aviation operators. (Robert J. Pickett Collection/Textron Aviation)

It is important to note here that late in 2013 Textron, parent company of the Cessna Aircraft Company, acquired Beech Aircraft Corporation after it emerged from bankruptcy, but it was not the first attempt to bring the two organizations together. In July 1945 the aviation world was surprised to learn that senior officials of the Cessna and Beechcraft companies were discussing a potential merger of the two airframe manufacturers. The two companies had cooperated many times during the war to meet demand for aircraft, and the proposal seemed practical given that both businesses were located in Wichita, had the same auditors and fiscal years, neither had any debts and owned their factories.
In addition, both shared a desire to survive in the uncertain postwar marketplace.

Beech Aircraft’s director and financial advisor Thomas D. Neelands brought senior management to the negotiating table. As outlined by Neelands, Beech Aircraft would trade 233,000 shares of stock worth about $3.5 million for $5 million of Cessna facilities and working capital. In addition, Walter Beech’s company would be entitled to Cessna’s tradename. A series of meetings ensued but officials failed to agree on anything and in August the proposal had fallen flat on its face. A formal announcement was issued stating that all discussions had ceased, and everyone went back to work with no hard feelings.

The greatest challenge facing Walter Beech and Dwane Wallace centered on what kind of airplane to build for the postwar market. Both men knew that when the fighting ended there would be thousands of war-surplus airplanes such as the Aeronca Chief, Piper Cub, Taylorcraft, Interstate Cadet and Boeing/Stearman PT-13, PT-17 and N2S-series biplanes (to name only a few types), available at bargain prices. They also recognized, however, that many pilots wanted new, modern airplanes, not leftovers from the Great Depression and prewar era.

Beech Aircraft’s answer was the Model 35 Bonanza that had first flown late in 1944 and was in full production by 1946. At Cessna, however, Wallace directed his engineers to focus on the design of all-metal monoplanes beginning with an entry-level model and progressing to larger and more powerful aircraft. His directive led to the simultaneous development of three monoplanes: The Model 120, Model 140 and the Model 190. Wallace had hoped that the “Family Car of the Air,” also known as Project P-370, would become its premier, postwar product aimed at competing with the Bonanza, but he was also well aware that back east in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the Piper Aircraft Corporation was designing a four-place monoplane dubbed the PA-6 Skysedan that was capable of speeds approaching 160 mph (Piper eventually canceled the PA-6 design and only two prototypes were built).

As a result, Cessna officials axed the P-370 project to concentrate on another concept known as the P-780. Although the prototype was built and flown strictly as a proof-of-concept design, it embodied as many parts and assemblies as possible from the Model T-50 while adhering closely to the proven layout of the prewar Airmaster. In only six months, the first airplane went from the drawing board to first flight. When unveiled, it looked like an enlarged version of the Airmaster but with a larger cabin, more comfort and power, and it sat on Cessna’s new spring-steel main landing gear.1

The prototype featured a welded steel tube fuselage and sheathed in fabric made taught with dope, but the cantilever wing was all-metal using Alclad aluminum sheet. Powered by a seven-cylinder Jacobs R-755 static, air-cooled radial engine rated at 245 horsepower, the sole P-780 made its first flight in December 1944 (same month as the Beechcraft Bonanza). By 1945 the ship was officially designated Cessna Model 190. Production airplanes would feature an all-metal fuselage of semi-monocoque construction and complete streamlining from propeller spinner to the rudder. A second airplane was built that featured all of these refinements and took to the skies in October 1945 with a 300 horsepower Jacobs R-755 powerplant. Early test flights revealed a maximum speed of 180 mph, and it looked as though Cessna had a worthy competitor to the Beechcraft Bonanza without the weight penalty and complexity of a retractable landing gear.

A factory-fresh Cessna Businessliner was photographed outside the factory in the early 1950s. The Model 190 was built in far fewer numbers than its stablemate, the Model 195, but both airplanes proved to be popular with private, sportsman and business pilots throughout the early to mid-1950s. (Textron Aviation)

Development continued and a third pre-production prototype was built featuring a seven-cylinder Continental W-670 radial engine rated at 240 horsepower (first flight was June 1946). Both the Jacobs- and Continental-powered ships possessed good performance, and it was decided that both types would be manufactured – the Model 190 (Continental engine) and the Model 195 (Jacobs engine). The Civil Aeronautics Authority issued Approved Type Certificate 790 for the Model 195 in June 1947 that also applied to the Model 190 that was approved one month later. During the 1947 sales year 84 airplanes were delivered, followed by 205 in 1948 and 186 in 1949.

That year the United States Air Force was seeking an airplane to perform flight duties in the frigid Arctic region. Eventually, the Model 195 was selected and Cessna won a contract for 15 airplanes designated
LC-126A. In January 1950 the airplanes were delivered along with floats and skis to increase their utility in the field. The only difference between the military and commercial versions were special radio gear, an escape hatch, exterior paint and utilitarian cockpit and cabin appointments.

One year later the Air Force bought another five airplanes for duty with the Air National Guard. These ships were designated LC-126B and were identical to the LC-126A except for upgraded communications equipment. In 1952 the United States Army bought 63 of the Model 195 classified as the LC-126C. These ships featured an ambulatory interior capable of accepting two patients on special stretchers and featured a much larger baggage door to facilitate loading/unloading of patients. All 63 aircraft were delivered to the Army between May and October 1952.

Meanwhile, commercial sales of the Model 195 remained strong during the early 1950s, Cessna engineers upgraded the airplane by doubling the chord of the flaps, redesigning the cabin interior, adding a spinner to the propeller, changing the shape of the elevators slightly, and changing the engine to a Jacobs powerplant rated at 245 horsepower. These changes led to the new designation “Model 195A,” and the popular Businessliner – as Cessna named it, was approved by amendment to its original Type Certificate in June 1950.

Sales continued to be strong with 190 units delivered in 1950, but then declined to only 96 in 1951. In an effort to boost sales, horsepower was increased to 275 for the 1952 model year and the designation was changed to Model 195B. The more powerful Model 195A and Model 195B outsold the Model 190 that was terminated in 1953 because of lackluster sales. Customers preferred the more powerful Cessna, but the Model 195B also disappeared from the factory production lines in 1954 after two years of slowly declining sales. By that time the advent of a new family of Cessna monoplanes powered by opposed piston engines had become the way of the future for the company. The Model 190 and Model 195 hold the distinction of being the only postwar Cessna designs to be powered by a radial engine.

Including the 83 airplanes delivered to the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army, a total of 1,183 Model 190/195, 195A/195B were built beginning in 1947 and ending in 1954. Of these, the Model 195, 195A/195B accounted for 866 sales compared with only 233 for the Model 190. As of 2018, it is estimated that about 500 of the venerable Cessna monoplanes remain worldwide, with the majority registered to owners in the United States.

General specifications for the Cessna Model 190/195:

  • Wingspan: 36 feet, 2 inches
  • Wing area: 218 square feet
  • Airfoil: NACA 2412 (modified)
  • Length: 27 feet, 2 inches (Model 190); 27 feet,
    4 inches (Model 195)
  • Height: 7 feet, 2 inches
  • Gross weight: 3,350 pounds
  • Payload: 633 pounds (with 80 gallons of fuel)
  • Cruising speed: 150 mph (Model 190); 159 mph (Model 195)
  • Range: 700-725 statute miles
  • Production era: 1947-1954
  • Engine: Jacobs radial, 245 horsepower (Model 195A)
  • Price: $13,250 (Model 190); $14,950 (Model 195)

For more information about the Model 195, go to www.TheCessna195Club.org.


Famed designer and air racing pilot Sylvester “Steve” Wittman pioneered the use of chrome-vanadium spring steel landing gear on his experimental monoplanes of the 1940s. During an interview with Dwane Wallace in 1984, he told the author that Wittman sold the manufacturing rights for the gear design to Cessna, which also bought rights to Wittman’s four-place WD “Big X” monoplane that was under negotiations to be built by Fairchild Aircraft, Inc. Cessna’s acquisition of the “Big X” eliminated any potential competition the airplane may have offered against the Model 190/195 then entering production.

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