The Great Lakes Trainer has been kitted by many
manufacturers over the years. Its proportions, designed to make it stable and easy to fly in its full-size
format makes it ideal for free flight, control line, or radio control. Its classic lines and a unique
engine and cowling arrangement makes the Great Lakes Trainer a stand-out in any lineup of biplanes.
This article is a historical insight into the airplane and offers a detailed 3-view that will serve
the scale modeler who needs accurate dimensional and cross-sectional references for judges to use in
Great Lakes Trainer
One of the most popular and aerobatic aircraft in history was this photogenic biplane.
By Don Berliner
A Great Lakes Trainer is an ore barge with dual controls and training wheels.
It is also a wonderful old biplane that has made more of a name for itself in its reincarnation as
an aerobatic mount and as a vintage treasure than it ever did in its first life as a training machine.
While hundreds of thousands have gaped in admiration at the splendid aerobatics of Hal Krier in his
red-and-white Great Lakes with its roaring 185-hp Warner radial engine, a relative few have ever seen
the unmodified "Lakes," which is quite a different airplane. It was graceful, it was agile and it was
underpowered, at least by today's standards.
Although Hal Krier's 185 hp "Lakes" is known to airshow crowds, the Cirrus jobs
first flew in 1929.
Menasco mounting, one of many.
Scale buffs have plenty of intake holes to carve. Inverted engine puts thrust high for
a good trim.
But when the Great Lakes Aircraft Corp., Cleveland, Ohio, introduced its Model 2T-1 in 1929, the
goal v as pilot training, not aerobatics. The boom in aviation interest following Lindbergh's 1927 New
York-to-Paris flight was on everyone's mind, and learning to fly was becoming popular. Schools were
popping up all over the country and they needed good training planes.
And they also needed money, which was in extremely short supply once the Great Depression hit, and
learning to fly airplanes suddenly became a luxury most people could do without, as they scraped for
a liv-ing. In 1932, after producing just over 200 Trainers, the Great Lakes Aircraft Corp. went out
of business. It was not until many years had passed that its airplane achieved the level of fame for
which its developers had hoped.
The prototype Great Lakes Trainer, first shown to the public at the March, 1929, AllAmerican Aircraft
Show in Detroit, Mich., was powered by a 95-hp American Cirrus Mark III, an upright, four-cylinder,
in-line, air-cooled engine built by American Cirrus Engines, Inc., on license from the British developer.
The airplane differed from the better-known later versions mainly in having a straight top wing rather
than the more familiar swept wing.
Tests performed on an early 2T-1 by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics - predecessor
of NASA - showed top speed of 106 mph; sea level rate of climb of 545 ft./min.; landing speed of 48
After four 2T-1s were built, it became apparent that, by placing the top wing far forward and thus
enabling a passenger to enter the front seat with a minimum of dif-ficulty, the airplane had been made
tail heavy. Moving the top wing back would have made entry into the front cockpit awkward, so the center
section of the top wing was kept in place and the outer panels swept back 9 degrees into their now familiar
form. This was the 2T-1A of 1929. Part way through the production run, the vertical tail was considerably
enlarged, and those subsequently produced are known among enthusiasts as the "Big Tail" Great Lakes.
In 1930, a new version of the Cirrus engine - the inverted, in-line Hi-Drive - was introduced on
the assembly line, and resulted in the new profile of the Model 2T-1E, with its higher-mounted propeller.
Some of the 2T-1Es, last of the production versions, were powered by the American Cirrus company's100-hp
This was the relatively simple overall pattern of the Great Lakes Trainer, but modifications played
an unusually important role in the history of the type, even before the post- World War II flurry of
amateur redesigning completely muddied the picture. A few of the early trainers were fitted with the
Menasco B4 "Pirate," an inverted, in-line engine of 95 hp; these were never given a full Approved Type
Certificate by the CAA and were manufactured under a special license. Others carried Kinner engines
and were known as the Model 2T-1K.
The one-and-only Model2T -2 Great Lakes was a racing version of the 2T-1A built for and raced by
Charlie Meyers, the firm's
<click for larger version>
The AMA Plans Service offers a full-size
version of many of the plans show here at a very reasonable cost. They will scale the plans any size for you. It is always
best to buy printed plans because my scanner versions often have distortions that can cause parts to fit poorly. Purchasing
plans also help to support the operation of the Academy of Model
Aeronautics - the #1 advocate for model aviation throughout the world. If the AMA no longer has this plan on file, I
will be glad to send you my higher resolution version.
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Posted October 2, 2010