The Crosley Cobra Engine and the Mooney “Mite”
Posted On: 11/13/2017 - 12:19pm, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
In 1943 Cincinnati industrialist and inventor Powel Crosley, Jr. obtained the rights to produce a lightweight fuel-efficient engine designed by a man from California named Lloyd Taylor. Crosley was impressed with Taylor’s innovative design which was made of steel stampings with copper hydrogen brazed joints and an aluminum crankcase. The engine, referred to as the Cobra (sometimes spelled CoBra for its copper brazing), piqued the interest of the military during World War Two and was produced in large numbers as a generator unit. The generators were used in some Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and in PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats.
Detail from 1948 Crosley advertisement. CMC Printed Works Collection.
After the war, Crosley utilized the Cobra engine in his automobiles for a short period but the engine proved unreliable in automotive use and was eventually abandoned for more reliable engines with a cast iron block. One use of the Cobra engine that is less well-known is its very brief use as an aircraft powerplant.
Aircraft designers Al and Art Mooney of the Mooney Aircraft Corporation of Wichita, Kansas had designed a very small lightweight single-seat sport plane designated the Series 18. It was meant to be a sort of “every man’s” airplane with operating costs similar to an automobile. Certification of the new design was received in 1948 and the company dubbed the new plane the “Mite” due to its tiny size. The Mooney brothers had selected the liquid-cooled 25 hp Crosley Cobra engine to power their design.
The engine had been adapted for aviation use by the addition of a dual ignition system with a second spark plug for each of its four cylinders and a belt-driven reduction system to drive the propeller. The bare engine minus accessories weighed just 59 pounds and the airplane’s empty weight (with engine) was only 450 pounds.
In May of 1948, Powel Crosley, Jr. went to Wichita to witness a flight demonstration of the new aircraft. Crosley saw the plane as the aerial counterpart to his light-weight, low-cost automobiles and told reporters that the use of his engine in an aircraft was just one of many future uses he anticipated for the Cobra.
Front of 1948 mid-year Crosley advertisement with insert about the Mooney Mite. CMC Printed Works Collection.
The airplane’s performance with the Crosley engine was generally good even with the modest power output of the motor. Technical problems with the engines however, including at least one in-flight crankshaft failure, soon led Mooney to decide to replace the Crosley engines with a more conventional Lycoming aircraft engine of 65 hp. The first 12 Mites had been produced with the Crosley engine and the company recalled the planes that had already been delivered to customers and changed out the engines at no charge.
The Mooney design went on (with Lycoming and Continental 65hp engines) to an eight year production run with a total of a little under 300 planes built. Although the effort to use the innovative Cobra engine in aviation started off with great promise, it was not able to deliver the level of reliability required in aircraft use and quickly fizzled.
The CMC Printed Works Collection contains a number of interesting advertising materials from Crosley Motors, Inc. including this fold-out advertising sheet from 1948. The advertising broadside offered a peek at the Crosley line’s mid-year “new look” and also contains an insert touting the new Mooney Mite aircraft powered by the Crosley Cobra engine.
Back of 1948 mid-year Crosley advertisement. CMC Printed Works Collection.