Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Putting The Adventure Back In Aviation


Top airplanes, gear and schools for a different kind of flying



American Champion Scout

“Adventure”—now there’s a word that’s open to interpretation. In fact, the phrase “adventure aviation” may seem redundant to most people because aviation itself usually is seen as an adventure. Still, one person’s idea of adventure may be a $100 hamburger or monthly jaunt to Aunt Edna’s, while others might be weary of such flights, eager for trips that are outside of their normal experiences. Fortunately, that’s one of the beauties of aviation: There’s some kind of adventure to suit all tastes; similarly, there’s an airplane out there to serve as your ticket to adventure.

One of the more common forms of av-adventure involves sauntering around the seldom-visited backcountry. Much of America’s wilderness is accessible only to aircraft that are equipped to go where normal GA planes can’t. Fortunately, many states have formalized their network of backcountry airports, and there are organizations to help intrepid adventurers. Runways may be rude, crude and nestled in tiny valleys, but they’re accessible to the right airplanes and pilots. The runways may be challenging—and located far from four-star hotels—but they’re not inherently dangerous (assuming that pilots hone their skills so that the features associated with backcountry airports—high density altitude, slopes, unusual approaches, etc.—aren’t outside their talent envelope).

Through the application of specialized flying techniques, many airplanes designed with the backcountry in mind can be elevated to lofty “bush plane” status. Pilots who engage in actual bush flying abide by the slogan, “We don’t need no stinkin’ runway.” Give bush pilots a few hundred feet of unobstructed, not-necessarily-flat land, and they’re happy campers.

Hard-core bush flying requires airplanes with outstanding takeoff and landing performance that can maintain their performance even when loaded. Also, pilots have to be as good as the airplane, with a thorough understanding of what each landing/takeoff entails, because each one will be different. Whether it’s density altitude, oddball runway configurations or challenging topographical features, pilots must have the judgment to know when a landing/takeoff isn’t advisable. Aviators also must be able to recognize when the generous margin they’ve built between the plane and the operating environment has been compromised. And they must prepare themselves for worse-case scenarios: What will I do if the engine quits this far out in the boonies, or if I stub my toe on landing?

Along with bush flying, there’s adventure to be found in pedal-to-the-metal, hair-on-fire performance. This can come in the form of blazing speed or an emphasis on the vertical dimension, as in aerobatics. A wide variety of factory-built and amateur-built aircraft are available to satisfy your desire. Those who want to test the limits of three-dimensional flight can attend one of the flight schools specializing in aerobatics. This is a major change from the past: Not that long ago, finding a school that taught aerobatics, especially high-performance aerobatics in high-performance airplanes, wasn’t easy. Today, such schools are in every major city.

Whatever your adventure craving, with the proper training and instruction, you can fly to your heart’s desire. Now, let’s start lookin’ at planes!

American Champion Scout
More than half a century ago, American Champion’s Scout started life as a lowly Champ. Between the big wings, gigantic flaps and 180 hp Lycoming swinging a Hartzell constant speed, however, the airplane has left its roots behind to become a born-again STOL star. But it’s more than that. Yes, it’ll get on and off short, but it’s the perfect two-place bird to enjoy summer sunsets. Price: $148,900. Contact: www.amerchampionaircraft.com.



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