Disclaimer: The information gathered here has come from my collection of books, magazines, advertisements, personal observation, conversations and some personal opinion, so take it for what it’s worth! I assume no responsibility for any errors it may contain…
Birth of the Viking The Bellanca Viking started life as simply the ‘next logical progression’ of the Model 260C (14-19-3C). The -3B was the first Bellanca of the Cruisair/Cruisemaster line that did away with the distinctive “triple tail” for the oversized vertical fin that the Viking sports today.
During this time the manufacturing rights were held by the Downer Aircraft Company. The owner, Jay Downer, wanted to see the plane with a single vertical fin tail and when the order went out for a redesign, an engineering firm in Minneapolis was given the task. They simply added up the surface area of the triple tail’s fins and created a new single fin design with the same area.
Although their method does not follow accepted aerodynamic principles, the resulting large fin no doubt adds to the very stable flight characteristics of the -3B, Cs and the Viking. It also gave the Viking line a standout feature of its own, a feature most any ‘airport bum’ quickly recognizes as the speedy thoroughbred pulls up to the ramp. (BTW: Somewhere along the line the FAA designation for the -3Bs and -3Cs were dropped and all were lumped together as 14-19-3As). Many people consider the Model 260 as the first of the Viking aircraft and although there really is little difference between the 260 and the early Vikings (they were even built under the same Type Certificate), the Viking name was not used until the 300 horsepower engine was fitted.
A “must-read” history of the engineering and development of the Viking was written for my website by Bob Humphreys. Mr. Humphreys was Vice President and General Manager of Downer Aircraft for three years starting in 1965 and was involved firsthand with creating the plane that is known today as the Viking. Company Ownership Ownership and the manufacturing rights are somewhat of a grey area after Bellanca sold the company in 1956 and production of the Cruisemaster was moved to Alexandria, MN by the new company known as Northern Aircraft, Inc. Northern Aircraft was formed by a group from Alexandria, headed by Roy Strong.
In 1959 the company became Downer Aircraft Company, Inc. and Mr. J. K. Downer was president. More than 100 Cruisemasters were built before production changed to the “Downer 260”, with tricycle gear and the 260 hp Continental. The prototype flew Nov. 6, 1958 and the first production aircraft flew February 20, 1959. In 1960 a newly formed company called Inter-Air (short for International Aircraft Manufacturing, Inc.) leased the plant from the Downer Aircraft Co. and changed the model designation to 14-19-3A. In 1967 Inter-Air merged with Downer Aircraft Co. and changed the name to Bellanca Aircraft Corporation. At this time the Viking 300 made its appearance and production of the 260C and the Viking continued at a rate of about 20 per month. In 1970 Bellanca Aircraft Corporation merged with the Champion Aircraft Corporation.
The name remained Bellanca Aircraft Corp. with Bob DePalma as president. The Citabria line of planes was produced in the Champion facilities in Osceola, Wisconsin. In 1977 Anderson Greenwood Aviation Corporation purchased and took over management of BAC. Jim Callier was president, later replaced by Robert Howard. BAC manufactured and marketed the Aries T250 aircraft, designed by Marvin Greenwood, only a handful were ever built. In addition, BAC also manufactured the line of Eagle agriculture spray planes on behalf of Eagle Aircraft Co. of Boise, Idaho.
On July 25, 1980 BAC filed a Petition of Reorganization but the attempt to reorganize was unsuccessful and bankruptcy followed. By April 1981 all operations of BAC had closed. In July of 1981 a group headed by Charles Holm, Gerald Sather, James Miller, Marge Mitchell, John Schiller and Durwood Corley formed a Minnesota Corporation known as Viking Aviation, Inc. They acquired the assets of BAC including the Bellanca trademark and the Super Viking Type Certificate. In April 1982 they changed the name to Bellanca, Inc. and began manufacturing parts for the existing Super Viking aircraft. In 1983 the decision was made to put the Viking back into production and in August 1984 the first new Super Viking was delivered. In May 1987 Kenneth P. Newbern and William Q. Walker bought all existing stock of Bellanca, Inc., but just a few months later Miller, Mitchell and employees reacquired half interest.
In 1989 Mike Pinckney purchased all stock from Newbern and Walker. In early 2002 all assets of Bellanca Inc. were seized and in late May of 2002 those assets were purchased by a group of six Alexandria residents, five of them former employees at one time or another. The group: Kevin Sather, Craig Smith, Andy Vano, Larry Cihlar, Randy Scott, and Charlie Niska, formed Alexandria Aircraft LLC and currently have set forth an ambitious business plan to revamp manufacturing processes, provide new and improved customer services and once established, get back into the business of making new Vikings!
The folks at Alexandria Aircraft are eager to assist owners with their parts and service needs. They can be reached via email on their website or by calling 320-763-4088. (My sincere thanks to Marge Mitchell at Miller Flying Service for providing most of the company history.) Model Designations The model designations of most Bellancas tend to follow a series of numbers that indicate the wing area in square feet, and the engine size (in horsepower). For example, the late thirties Cruisair Junior had a designation of 14-7 which meant a wing area of 140 sq. ft. and an engine of 70 h.p., the 14-9 sported a 90 h.p. engine, and so on. As horsepower grew, you get into the more familiar designations with the Cruisair Senior (14-13) and the Cruisemaster (14-19) series of aircraft.
As I said before, “most” of the Bellancas follow this numbering pattern but as more and more horsepower came into demand and the engine sizes grew, suffixes were added to the original designations to set them apart from earlier models. The Viking series are designated 17-3…, the earliest examples built under Type Certificate 1A3 are designated 17-30 (for Continental powered), 17-31 (Lycoming power), and 17-31TC (for turbo-charged Lycoming power). These aircraft were built from 1966 to 1970. 1970 saw production of the “-A” model Vikings begin, planes built under Type Certificate A18CE (the same TC used for current production). The engine designations remained the same resulting in models: 17-30A, 17-31A, and 17-31ATC. Production To date, a total of 1,356 Vikings have been produced with the bulk of production taking place between 1968 and 1975 (1019 planes). Production output of the Viking peaked in 1973 with 195 aircraft produced. By far the majority of planes produced are powered by the Continental engine. Continentals powered 1,029 Vikings, while normally aspirated Lycomings powered 172 and turbo-charged Lycoming production totaled 155 units. Available Engines The 17-30 Vikings are powered by the IO-520-D version of the Continental producing 300 h.p. (limited to five minutes) and 285 h.p. for continuous operation. These models can best be distinguished by the rectangular air filter/intake in the front of the lower engine cowl. The 17-30As use the IO-520-K model Continental and have the same horsepower ratings as the -D. The -K air intake is at the rear of the engine and intake air is supplied through the large openings on either side of the upper cowling, thus eliminating the cowl mounted air filter. The factory recommended time between overhaul (TBO) for the IO-520s is 1700 hours. The 17-31 and 17-31TC are powered by Lycoming IO-540-G variants and are rated at 290 h.p. for continuous operations. The -31A and -31ATC use Lycoming IO-540-K engines having a continuous power rating of 300 h.p. Lycoming’s recommended TBO is 1,600 hours for the -G engines (eligible for 1,800 hours under certain operating conditions), and 2,000 hours for the -K powerplants. Since the engines are “turbo-normalized” and not actually boosted, the recommended TBO remains the same for both normally aspirated and turbocharged engines. Distinguishing features of the Lycoming powered Viking include an intake air opening in the lower cowl (a slightly curved intake just inches below the prop spinner) and the addition of faired in “humps” on both side of the upper cowling, which provide necessary clearance for the rocker box covers of the front two cylinders. The twin turbo installation is only used on the Lycoming powered Vikings. As for the normally aspirated variants and which one is preferred…it’s a toss up. Both installations are extremely smooth and reliable. Any speed, weight or performance difference is negligible. Ask a Continental owner and he’ll likely tell you the Conti is the better choice, ask a Lycoming owner and he’ll probably stand by his powerplant. If you’re looking for a normally aspirated Viking, 85% of them are Continental powered. No Lycoming powered Vikings have been produced since 1979. Current production continues with the IO-520-K Continental as standard and an IO-550 available as an option, it is rated at 300 h.p. continuous. Model Year Changes (Viking 300) The basic design of the Viking has remained relatively unchanged from its inception. There have been improvements and refinements through the years, but to the average eye, it’s hard to tell a 1966 model from one currently being produced. The original Viking 300s, the ones manufactured under Type Certificate 1A3 , are designated 17-30 , -31, and -31TC. The certified gross weight is 3,000 lbs. on these models, but there is an available increase to 3,200 lbs. if Bellanca Service Kit SK-1024 is installed. From the first year of production through 1968 only the Continental powered version was available and on these the landing gear and flaps are both hydraulically operated with both actuating levers being floor mounted, on either side of the aux fuel selector (if equipped). The hydraulic pressure is supplied by an engine-driven pump. The main gear doors were not an available option until sometime during the 1967 model year run, and although most every Viking has them fitted (or retro-fitted), they were always an “option” and installed under an STC, even at the factory. Likewise the standard propeller is a two-blade fan, but you could spend a long time looking for a Viking without the three-blade option. Wing root fairings were also a new addition for the 1968 model. Instrument panel layout is very functional with all flight, navigation, and engine power instruments spread across the top. Vernier throttle, prop, and mixture controls are in the lower center of the panel, engine switches are on the left side of the panel and circuit breakers to the far right. Radios are mounted low in the panel, beneath and to the inside of the control yokes. The Bellanca Viking was PLANE & PILOT’s “Plane of the Year for 1967” and in the late 60’s it was getting rave reviews from every aviation magazine around. The factory had a backlog of orders and further improvements and options were just around the corner. In model year 1969, the first Lycoming models were produced with the Turbo Viking becoming the world’s fastest single engine production lightplane in all of general aviation. Numerous other changes came about that year as the plane neared recertification under Type Certificate A18CE. Additional features added that year were electro-hydraulic gear extension, electric flaps and a reorganization of the instrument panel, which included traditional gear and flap levers now mounted on the panel. Flight instruments were rearranged in the panel and the throttle, prop and mixture controls were raised a few inches higher in the panel, providing additional “knee-room”. The auto-axion gear extension system also became standard equipment on all models for 1969. There were various fuel systems available and depending on the option selected fuel capacity could be either 58, 72, or 92 gallons. All the turbo models came with the 72 gallon system as standard. The fuel selector is mounted on the spar carry-through, between the two front seats and if so equipped the aux tank selector is located just below on the floorboard. Configuration of the fuel system actually determined whether the plane was a Viking or a Super Viking, at least in the early years. In 1968, the fuselage aux tank was removed and additional aux tanks were placed in the wings. This allowed the rear seat to be moved back over three inches providing more rear passenger legroom and creating the “Super Viking”. The new name really caught on and sales continued to soar, soon all Vikings would become known as Super Vikings no matter what fuel option was selected. One interesting note on fuel systems and their size; a sales ad from the late 60’s touted the fact that deliveries of Vikings to France, were made by standard production aircraft without the addition of extra fuel tanks! Model Year Changes (Viking 300A) On October 31, 1969 the FAA issued Type Certificate A18CE and the Viking 300A was born. Aside from refinements already made to late Viking 300 models, the new 300A Vikings had a gross weight increase to 3,325 lbs. (assuming strut pressure placard and operations placard are adhered to). Production for 1970 reached 100 units for the first time, and this number was met or exceeded for the next five years. The factory was a very busy place. Research shows few refinements made in the early 70’s, with the exception of some new color choices for the interior and added soundproofing. With the fastest lightplane in the industry, every aviation magazine singing their praises and a factory swamped with orders…I suspect their main priority was simply building planes! The biggest changes to date came early in the 1973 model year run. The instrument panel was completely revamped and the fuel system was simplified. It’s not exactly known just when these changes occurred, but probably around S/N 73-30515 for the -30A, S/N 32-103 for the -31A, and 31047 for the -31ATC. The panel upgrade brought a more modern arrangement with center stack (well, slightly off-center to the right) radios and standard placement of the flight instruments. The entire panel is a bit higher than the previous design and tends to limit forward visibility in extreme nose-high pitch attitudes. Vertical gauges also became standard for engine oil temp and pressure, fuel readouts, manifold pressure, fuel flow and tachometer, although planes could be ordered with conventional round engine power gauges as an option. The vertical gauges are a slight bit unusual and take a little time to get used to, but once you adjust to them you realize that they give a tremendous amount of information in a very small amount of panel space. Previous Viking fuel system arrangements could have included as many as five fuel tanks being switched via two fuel selectors. The new simplified system that came into production in early 1973 uses two main wing tanks (actually three interconnected aluminum cells on each side) and an optional fuselage aux tank. Each tank has its own level indicator on the panel with annunciator light to indicate the tank in use. All switching is done with a single selector mounted on the spar carry-through between the front seats. The only remaining quirks of a Viking fuel system (all years), is the amount of time necessary to fill the main wing tanks. One needs to be patient and allow a little extra fill time to assure the interconnected cells are actually full. A typical FBO’s quick turn-around may leave you a couple gallons shy of full. The other annoyance is the thermos-type fuel cap used on the mains of the newer fuel system. The rubber dries out and shrinks every couple of years. When they do, you won’t want to fill the mains completely…or the low pressure over the wing will suck the first gallon right out of the tank! I’m not exactly sure what year it happened (probably mid 80’s), but the main fuel caps were redesigned and the thermos style caps were abandoned. The changes in 1974 were minor when compared to the previous year, but they included yet another improvement to the soundproofing and an avionics master switch as standard. The ventilation system was improved by moving the cabin air exhaust from the roof of the cabin to a vent in the baggage area, which was then ducted to the tail area of the fuselage. A triangular shaped access panel was added to the underside of the tail area, providing much improved inspection access to the empennage. Additionally, the cabin heat was improved now with separate controls for the front and the rear seats. “Unique to 1975” seats and paint scheme were the big changes for the following year’s production. But then 1976 saw a return to the familiar Viking scheme with some minor changes. The top cowl color now continued into tapered stripes on each side of the cabin, below the wrap-around windscreen. The paint process was also changed to Randolph’s Ranthane for the top color coats. This polyurethane finish holds up and shines far better than the butyrate dope top coats, but are more likely to crack in the highly flexed fabric covered areas. You often see the “third window” part of the paint scheme vary from model to model, but I don’t know if there was a specific year when this changed. Work on an aerodynamic cleanup to the nose wheel area also began this year. Prior to 1976 the nose wheel scissor (or nutcracker assembly) was on the forward side of the strut. In 1976 it was repositioned to the rear of the strut and two flat plate gear doors were added. With the new “gear doors” the majority of the lower cowling opening is sealed. Although there is still a good sized opening along the back of the lower cowl, and half of the nosewheel still protrudes in the slipstream, it is still an improvement. It should be noted that the strut change and gear door addition only occurred on the 17-30As. Due to their lower oil pan and induction system, this change was never adapted to the Lycoming powered Vikings. This style nosewheel doors are only used on 1976 through 1978 model Continentals. Many changes took place for the 1979 models. The Continental powered Vikings finally got a fully enclosed nosewheel thanks to a redesign of the engine mount. This necessitated the use of cowl flaps for the first time on the Viking. A rather large lever mounted low in the center of the instrument panel controls the flaps. Exterior lighting also contributes to the clean-up as the large strobe was removed from the top of the vertical stabilizer (and incorporated into the rudder mounted nav light) and the wing-tip lights are neatly faired in beneath plexiglas covers. Improved lightweight soundproofing and the wider, square-tipped three blade McCauley propeller make for a smoother and quieter cabin environment. The factory claim was about a 12 mph increase with the 79’s improvements, but my own findings estimate only about half of that to be true. And again, the new nose gear arrangement was only for the Continental powered planes. 1979 saw the last of the Lycoming production and only three Turbo Vikings were built that year (and no -31As). Production after 1980 became very sporadic, to say the least. From 1984 to the present day the best year of production, numbers-wise, only amounted to 9 units. Few changes have actually been made to the plane since 1979, with the exception of the landing/taxi lights being removed from the leading edge of the wing and placed in the newly redesigned main gear pods & the IO-550 engine option which became available in 1996. The Viking has always been hand built, but more so than ever, it can be said that the Viking is truly handcrafted to the buyer’s particular desires. Turbo, or not Turbo? For many of you, that may be THE question and I must confess, I’ve never owned a Turbo Viking myself, so I won’t pretend to know all the intricate details and model year changes, etc. What I can tell you is the Viking uses a turbo-normalizing system, that is, the dual Rajay turbos help maintain sea level manifold pressure well into the flight levels. Because the engines are not actually “boosted”, the TBO remains the same as its normally aspirated brother. And reports from owners confirm that the Turbo Viking powerplant rarely has any problem making it to TBO. A manual wastegate is used on the majority of Turbo Vikings, the plane with “two throttles” as the advertisements of the day would boast. Automatic wastegate systems were used from 1976 through 1979, which marked the end of the Turbo’s production run. What you can expect is slightly higher maintenance costs for most routine under-cowl repairs as well as increased labor times at annual. Because the engine oil also cools the turbo units, more frequent oil changes (25-hour interval) are also recommended. You can also expect to cough up an extra couple thousand dollars at engine overhaul time for turbo overhaul and hose replacement. What you get in return is one of the fastest general aviation planes around that can maintain a 1,000 fpm climb through 15K feet and can cruise at 225 mph. If you feel that the higher operations capability of the Turbo Viking is what you need, I’d recommend more than ever that you get a thorough pre-buy inspection performed by a competent Bellanca specialist. Improper pilot technique can lead to many hidden problems with the turbo system and its components. It would be money well spent to find them all before you buy! If buying a Turbo Viking or any Viking for that matter, I strongly urge you to join the International Viking Owners Group (formerly the West Coast Viking Owners Group). Gary Robinson operates the club, and Gary has gathered a tremendous amount of technical info on the Viking and in particular the Turbo Viking. He is the most knowledgeable Turbo owner I know. Speed Mods There are very few “after-market” add-ons available for the Viking line. Globe Fiberglass, Ltd. manufactures a cowl modification for Vikings with Continental powerplants. The kit fits -30A Vikings through 1975 and it fully encloses the nosewheel, but the last time I checked the cost of the kit alone was nearly $3500! Worth a read is RJ Lint’s experience as he was fitting and installing the Globe Cowl. In reality, the Viking is quite fast “as is” if the aircraft is not out of rig. Probably the biggest speed mod available for the Viking is the main gear doors. Unfortunately, they can also be the biggest speed robbers. The curved, airfoil shape of the gear pods tends to pull them open as the air flows around them. Once cracked open the ram air tends to pry them open even further. It’s a good check to make whenever you’re flying formation with another plane. Check them in flight and make sure they are shut securely. Checking them on the jacks is not always good enough. On jacks, they should be so tight that you can’t pry them open even the slightest bit. They should actually even crunch and creak a little as they close! The fact is, if they are even slightly open in flight, they’re doing more harm than good. Typical other speed enhancements performed by owners include; removing the step, removing the tail fin strobe, removing ADF antennas, using internally mounted nav/com antennas (factory option not highly recommended), fairing in the wingtip lights, and shortening the exhaust pipes. Any and all of these will certainly contribute to a bit more speed, but they can’t make up for a plane that is simply out of rig. It’s been my experience, that the Viking will give you book speeds consistently when “in trim” and the gear doors completely closed. Airworthiness Directives The entire Bellanca family of aircraft actually have very few Airframe ADs when compared to any of their aluminum clad competition. In many cases, if not most cases, the ADs can be permanently satisfied by the replacement of a specific part to an updated redesign. I would strongly urge anyone considering an aircraft purchase to familiarize themselves with the text of these ADs (which are all on the website, in their entirety) and study the logs for yourself. For most models, there will be at least three recurring ADs to deal with; the annual wood inspection, the fuel cap/scupper drain inspection, and in my opinion the most important of all…the exhaust ball flange inspection (this is not applicable to the turbo models). None of these inspections are very difficult to perform or time consuming to accomplish. Because the engines are not Bellanca-specific and because of all the different engine variants used, I have not tried to publish a list of engine ADs. But one can expect about the same as any other comparably powered aircraft. Typically there is a very long list, with very few if any actually applicable. Where to find a Mechanic! Although it is not an absolute necessity to have a “Bellanca Expert” take care for your bird, it is recommended. At the very least, you should find a mechanic that is open-minded to the uniqueness of a Bellanca and willing to research and investigate areas with which he is not familiar. After all, it’s really nothing more than an overgrown Cub, right? That said, I would only suggest the above if you yourself plan to be very involved with the care and feeding of your Viking, learning all you can about its inner workings and doing so alongside your friendly A&P. But, if you are not personally involved in the maintenance and understanding of your plane then I would strongly recommended that you leave it in the hands on the experts. It’s one thing to learn alongside someone that shares in your interest, but it’s a whole other thing to leave it in the hands of the inexperienced. You’ll not only pay for the repairs, you’ll be paying for their education. For example, there are horror stories that circulate about unfamiliar mechanics that have condemned perfectly good wings, removing the aircraft from service and requiring the owners to ship their wings off to the factory for overhaul. You guessed it, once at the factory the wings were found to be perfectly fine with no problems at all! Be careful. Todd Peasley has a list of owner recommended repair shops on his Viking website. It is a good source for finding mechanics that are familiar with the breed. The most widely recognized Bellanca experts are; Miller Flying Service in Plainview, TX, Webers in Alexandria, MN, Tom Witmer’s in Pottstown, PA, and Dan Torrey’s in Santa Paula, CA. You probably won’t find a shop anywhere that is more knowledgeable than one of these. Owner’s Groups Owning a Viking will put you into pretty elite company, at least numbers-wise! Because of the somewhat low production numbers you are not going to find huge nationwide owners organizations with glossy monthly magazines, such as the Comanche and Bonanza can put together. What you will find are two main groups, the International Viking Owners Group and the Bellanca-Champion Club. For a nominal yearly fee you can join the IVOG and participate in numerous fly-ins throughout the year. There is also a monthly newsletter and tech help available. This is the only organization dedicated solely to the Viking line of aircraft. The Bellanca-Champion Club is a much larger organization, representing all Bellanca aircraft as well as the complete Champion line. They host two major fly-ins per year and provide a great source for reprints of most any technical publications you may need. They also publish a newsletter, usually on a quarterly basis. Finally, there’s my Viking website, and although it is not a “group” in the same sense as the others, it has become sort of a cyber meeting place for those interested in Bellancas. I always try to keep the latest info posted for Viking related activities and news. There is also an online Registry of Viking Owners, and a wealth of reference material. You can also join our email or web-based VikingChat forum, where over two hundred owners (and prospective owners) discuss their joys and headaches on a daily basis. I urge everyone interested to participate in these groups and clubs. As unique as these birds are, you’ll find their owners to be equally unique and interesting. So join in the fun and make the effort to participate in the fly-ins and gatherings…you’ll be glad you did! There is strength in numbers, so do your part to promote and spread the word about general aviation’s “best kept secret”.