The Wing Derringer: a “sports car” of the aeronautical world

Multi-engine piston aircraft generally share certain characteristics. Compared to their single-engine counterparts, they are heavier, more complex, and require significantly more maintenance. Fuel consumption and oil consumption are, as you might expect, double that of a comparable single-seater.

They also tend to be larger planes. With the exception of a few lightweight twins like the Piper Seminole and Beechcraft Duchess which are primarily used for multi-engine training, the majority have six-cylinder engines and seat four to six people. Maximum takeoff weights range from about 4,000 pounds to over 5,000 pounds.

In exchange for the increased weight, size, and complexity, twins provide redundancy. When paired with a trained and competent pilot, this equates to a safer aircraft, suitable for flight over water beyond gliding distance from shore and for flight over terrain inhospitable. Provided the owner is not discouraged by the higher cost of owning and operating, the trade-off can be compelling.

But what about an owner who usually travels alone or with just one passenger? In order to enjoy the benefits of a twin, these individuals must fly more aircraft than necessary, with unfilled cargo space and unoccupied seats increasing fuel burn and operating costs without corresponding benefits.

In 1960, entrepreneur George Wing observed this conundrum and devised a solution. Taking inspiration from John Thorpe’s small single-engine Sky Skooter, he teamed up with Thorpe to create a compact two-seater twin. After experimenting with various engines, the team finally certified and produced this aircraft, the Wing Derringer.

The most notable feature of the Derringer is the size. The wingspan of 29 feet and 2 inches is four feet less than that of a Cessna 150, and it has less wing area than a Piper Tomahawk. Weights are nearly identical to a Cessna 182, with an empty weight of 2,070 pounds and a maximum weight of 3,050 pounds.

Tiny as it might be for a twin, Wing made sure it would be a comfortable and spacious performer. The 44-inch-wide cabin is 2 inches wider than a Cessna 182, and the huge luggage compartment behind the seats has a weight capacity of 250 pounds. The unique canopy lifts and moves back to allow access to the cabin. After closing the canopy, the pilot activates an air pump which inflates a seal to minimize cabin noise.

A single canopy extends up and aft to reveal a compact yet tidy cockpit. [Photo: Jason McDowell]

To maximize cockpit space, the traditional throttle and propeller levers are mounted on a central quadrant, while the mixtures are controlled by vernier knobs mounted on the right side of the panel. Sufficient space is provided for avionics.

With two 160hp Lycoming IO-320 engines, the Derringer can cruise at 182 knots while burning 15.8 gallons per hour. With the fuel tanks filled to their capacity of 87 gallons, this provides 5.5 hours of endurance, delivering a theoretical, windless fuel economy of 11.5 nm per gallon

As fast as the Derringer is, it is considered simple to handle. The stall speed is 63 knots in landing configuration and the blue line (best single engine rate of climb) is 110 mph. In 1981, FLYING‘s Peter Garrison found that when flying at the blue line, “the asymmetric thrust produces so little slip that one can comfortably fly the aircraft with the aileron alone.”

Unfortunately, as is often the case, commercial difficulties prevented the Derringer from entering full-scale production. Ultimately, only 12 examples were built, seven of which are still on the FAA’s registry today. With so few parts built, owners are forced to get creative when Derringer-specific airframe parts are needed.

Derringer owners treasure their rare aircraft and work together to keep them airworthy. [Photo: Jason McDowell]

When an owner finds themselves in need of such a part, they seek bids from manufacturers to recondition a handful from scratch. They then contact the other Derringer owners, and the rest of the group take advantage of the quantity discount to obtain and store the part for future use. They also stay in touch and exchange expertise to help keep the fleet seaworthy.

Over the years, several entities have attempted to resurrect the Derringer, with no success. The most recent type certificate holder is Emerald Enterprises LTD. As of July 7 of this year, the FAA announced its intention to designate the type certificate as discontinued and make related technical data available upon request, a move that could help owners manufacture replacement parts.

While Wing’s original vision of widespread Derringer production never materialized, this small group certainly enjoys the aircraft. Many use it as intended, as an economical means of transport with the redundancy of two engines. And it’s unlikely any of them could resist a look back at the sports machine as it pulls away after a flight.

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