Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Adventure Aircraft Buyer's Guide 2014

These aircraft can do it all—training, aerobatics or bush flying on wheels, skis or floats

Classic Aircraft

Waco YMF5-D
Waco YMF5-D
Some airplanes achieve iconic status without even trying. The Beech Staggerwing was one. The Spartan Executive was another. Two more that became legendary and had their lifespan extended indefinitely are the Waco YMF and the Great Lakes 2T1AT. These are both open cockpit biplanes, and Peter Bowers of Classic Aircraft in Battle Creek, Mich., has made it his personal mission to assure the latter two aircraft will continue ad infinitum.

The revived Waco has been around for a quarter century, and Bowers is proud of the fact that the airplane is still handmade, just as it was in the 1930s. Of course, today's airplane is the beneficiary of modern materials and assembly processes, but the engine is still a Jacobs radial, though upgraded to 300 hp, materials have been dramatically improved, and predictably, avionics are light years ahead of what was available on the original airplane.

Seating is still two plus one, front to rear, in honor of the airplane's frequent sightseeing mission. (Two new era Wacos still fly tourists around the colorful, red cliffs of Sedona, Ariz.) Max fuel is only 72 gallons and cruise is a mere 105 knots, but slow can be a virtue in this airplane. Classic Aircraft continues to have faith in the future of the past. Price: $429,000.

Great Lakes 2T-1A2
Personally, I've always had a soft spot for the Great Lakes biplane, as it was the first open cockpit four-winger I flew after earning the license to learn. To be honest, the one I flew had been ridden hard and put away wet, but it still always managed to find another cheek to turn to this amateur akro pilot. Now, Peter Bowers has brought the Great Lakes back to life. Bowers has been in process of reviving the design for several years, and his end product finally earned certification and saw the light at Oshkosh this last year. The Great Lakes is smaller and more agile than the Waco—it's a pure fun biplane in miniature, flying behind a 180 hp Lycoming AEIO-360 and Hartzell constant speed prop. Like the Waco, the original Great Lakes dates back to the 1930s, but the current product from Classic Aircraft is updated in practically every area. It's still a quick-handling machine, and akro maneuvers include virtually all the gentlemanly loops, rolls and hammerheads. As with the Waco stablemate, cruise is only 105 knots, but the kind of pilot who'll buy this airplane probably won't care. Price: $245,000.


CubCrafters Top Cub
CubCrafters Top Cub
As the name implies, the Top Cub is the apex of CubCrafters' line of certified Cubs. It comes standard with a carbureted 180 hp Lycoming, among general aviation's most durable engines. Gross weight is 2,300 pounds, and that represents a 550- pound improvement over the final Piper Super Cub. Fuel supply is now 50 gallons, and useful load is 1,100 pounds. That means full fuel payload is an impressive 800 pounds, and remember, this is a two-seater. Payload is a primary criterion for bush airplanes, and with two standard folks in the seats, you'll still have more than 400 pounds of cargo allowance. It's a tough bird, too, significantly hardened against stupid pilot tricks. The gear is now three inches taller, seats are Oregon Aero, and the restraint system complies with the FAAs 26 G rule. If you need to haul a lot into a small space, the Top Cub may be just the airplane. Price: $219,395 (2012).

Extra Aircraft

Extra 330LT
Extra 300/330
Walter Extra was an aerobatic competitor with some better ideas. Following competition for the 1982 World Aerobatic Championship, Extra set about building his own version of the ideal aerobatic airplane. The result was hailed by many as something of an ultimate akro machine. The basic design evolved from a 230 hp machine to a 260 hp design, then a 300 hp airplane to the current 315 hp Extra 330. Roll rate is on the order of 270 degrees/second, and the airplane has pitch response so quick, you may think you're maneuvering an F-16 with fly-by-wire. Walter Extra recognized that a faster cross-country version of the airplane might be a good seller, and accordingly, he developed a quicker traveling machine, the 300LT, that still retained the aerobatic response available on the more full-blown models.

Extras come in single-seat and two-seat models with wings mounted at mid fuselage and lower fuselage. All the Extra airplanes have excellent climb, usually 3,000 fpm or more, and cruise of 170 knots or better. Air show pilots Mike Goulian and Plane & Pilot's own Patty Wagstaff have been strong Extra boosters for years, and chances are good, if you ever fly an Extra, you'll join their cheerleading squad. Prices: 330LT two-seat touring, $438,000; 330LX hard core, two-seat aerobatic, $407,500; 300L basic two-seat $368,500 ll.


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