Cessna JRC Bobcat
by Jack McKillop

The Cessna Aircraft Company of Wichita, Kansas was one of the oldest aircraft manufactures in the U.S. Clyde Cessna had purchased and assembled his first aircraft in 1911 and formed the company in September 1916 to build aircraft and teach flying. Because of World War I shortages and government constraints, the plant was closed in 1917. Cessna returned to aircraft manufacturing in 1925 when he joined Walter Beech, later of Beech Aircraft, and Lloyd Stearman, later of Stearman Aircraft, in establishing the Travel Air Company. Beech and Stearman wanted to build biplanes but Cessna was convinced that monoplanes were superior so he rented a shop and began working at night on a five-seat cabin monoplane. Cessna completed the aircraft in May 1926 and showed it to Beech who liked it. Beech knew of an airline that was looking for a cabin plane and eventually, the airline purchased eight of the aircraft designated Travel Air 5000. Beech now supported building monoplanes and Cessna approached him suggesting that the company build monoplanes with cantilevered wings thereby eliminating the need for struts. Beech and Stearman objected so Cessna sold his shares, left Travel Air and started his own company in 1927. Within six months, the first Cessna cantilever-winged aircraft made its first flight.

The Cessna company produced a number of single-engined, high-wing monoplanes however the Great Depression severely depressed the market for small aircraft and in 1931, the board of directors decided to close the factory. By 1934, the board of directors, who had been selling off the assets of the company, decided to sell off everything. However, with the aid of two nephews, Cessna managed to regain control of the company and for the rest of the 1930s, the company again began manufacturing single-engine, high-wing cabin monoplanes. Clyde Cessna retired in 1936 and his two nephews took over the company.

Like several other companies, Cessna began work on a twin-engined cabin aircraft in the late 1930s. Designated the Model T-50, this aircraft was a twin-engined low-wing monoplane with retractable main landing gear and fixed tail wheel. The wings had spruce spars and ribs and plywood-covered leading edges and wing-tips all of which were covered with fabric. The fuselage was composed of a welded steel-tube structure covered with fabric over a light wooded secondary framework. The vertical and horizontal tail surfaces, the flaps and the ailerons were made of wood while the rudder and elevators had a welded steel-tube frame covered with fabric. The pilot and co-pilot were seated side-by-side with dual controls in the cockpit and the cabin could accommodate up to five passengers. The first flight of the T-50 was on 26 March 1939.

In May 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the buildup of U.S. military forces and recommended a "billion-dollar defense" budget including 50,000 combat aircraft per year. The Cessna Board of Directors realized that the U.S. military would require numerous training aircraft to train multi-engine pilots and they believed the Model T-50 would be an ideal choice because it was fuel efficient and made of nonstrategic materials. The layout of the aircraft was similar to the twin-engine North American B-25 Mitchell (PBJ, q.v., in USN service) and it could also be used to train pilots for four-engine aircraft, e.g., the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator (PB2Y, q.v., in USN service). In July 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC), superseded by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941, placed an initial order for 33 T-50s designating them AT-8-CE. These aircraft, powered by two 295 hp (220 kW) Lycoming R-680-9 engines driving two-bladed metal Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers, were also equipped with hydraulically operated Sperry autopilots, special radio gear and the additional windows in the cockpit roof. The first AT-8-CE was delivered to the USAAC in December 1940.

In December 1939, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom signed the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) agreement making the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) responsible for training aircrews of the four countries. To meet their training requirements, the RCAF needed a twin-engined training plane and they selected the version of the T-50 similar to the AT-8-CE. In September 1940, the RCAF placed an initial order for 180 aircraft designated Crane Mk. I. Because Jacobs engines were more readily available, these aircraft were powered by two 225 hp (167.8 kW) Jacobs L-4MB radial engines with wooden, fixed-pitch, two-bladed propellers and special equipment to cope with the low temperatures in Canada. Subsequent orders booted the total Crane Mk. I production to 640 aircraft.

The USAAF placed an additional order for 450 Model T-50s designating them AT-17-CEs. Like the Crane Mk. I, these aircraft were powered by two 225 hp Jacobs R-755-9 radial engines driving wooden propellers and they had additional windows in the cockpit roof. A second contract for 223 AT-17A-CEs with metal propellers followed in late December 1941; 190 of these, with a slightly different electrical system, were transferred to the RCAF under Lend-Lease as Crane Mk. IAs. These aircraft were followed by 657 A-17Bs, Cs and Ds.

The last military version of the T-50 was the C-78 cargo aircraft. An initial order for 431 C-78-CEs was placed in June 1942; subsequent orders in 1942 and 1943 brought the total C-78 production to 1,354 which included 67 for the U.S. Navy (USN) which designated them JRC-1. These aircraft were redesignated UC-78-CEs in January 1943. This light transport version of the AT-17 could accommodate four passengers. Additionally, 17 civil Model T-50s were impressed as UC-78A-CEs and 1,806 UC-78Bs and 196 UC-78Cs were built.


The USN signed a contract for 67 Model T-50s on 21 April 1943; these were included in a USAAF order for C-78-CEs. The first JRC-1 was accepted by the USN on 23 December 1943. A major user of the JRC-1 was the Naval Air Transport Services (NATS) Naval Air Ferry Command (NAFC) which used them as a transport to return ferry pilots to their home base after delivering aircraft. Another user was the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) Representatives and Inspectors that interacted with manufacturers. A few were assigned to naval air facilities as utility (hack) aircraft.

At least one JRC-1 was transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 as a utility aircraft.

The last JRC-1 left the Naval inventory in May 1947.


Powerplants: Two 225 hp (167.8 kW) Jacobs R-755-9 seven-cylinder, single-row, air cooled, radial engines driving two-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed metal propellers.

Wing Span: 41 feet 11 inches (12.78 meters)

Length: 32 feet 9 inches (9.98 meters)

Height: 9 feet 11 inches (3.02 meters)

Wing Area: 295 square feet (27.41 square meters)

Empty Weight: 4.050 pounds (1,837 kg)

Gross Weight: 5,700 pounds (2,585 kg)

Maximum Speed: 179 mph (288 km/h) at sea level

Service Ceiling: 15,000 feet (4,572 meters)

Range: 750 miles (1,207 km)

Armament: None