Tuesday, September 16, 2008

American Champion Super Decathlon: Flight With Greg Koontz

A pilot for practically as long as he’s been breathing, Greg Koontz takes the definition of “aviator” to new heights

It’s always fun to fly with really good pilots, especially those who are better than you. (In my case, that’s practically everyone.)

" />
Last year, Koontz flew some 20 air shows, but he also instructed some 111 students in the ways of the Super, many through full tailwheel checkouts and on through his standard acro course—loops, rolls, hammerheads and spins. “I’m one of those instructors who’s bullish on tailwheel training,” says Koontz. “I’m convinced that familiarity with tailwheels produces a better pilot than just nosedraggers. A tailwheel checkout helps a pilot land any airplane well—conventional or tricycle gear.”

Koontz should know. He has more than 7,000 hours of instructing, most of it in tailwheels. He got his air show start in 1974, joining Colonel Ernie Moser’s Flying Circus out of St. Augustine, Fla. Koontz has flown a variety of air show acts over the years; most recently, he has become renowned for his Super Decathlon aerobatics and for his “World’s Smallest Airport” stunt in which he lands a Piper J-3 Cub on an iron grating atop a moving pickup truck.
american champion
Koontz views the Super Decathlon as ideal for air show crowds because it’s larger, and thus more visible than other airplanes, and it performs maneuvers at slightly slower speeds, keeping the act in front of the crowd

In the real world, Koontz has worked as a corporate jet pilot and has accumulated some 22,000 hours of flight time, much of it teaching pilots the ways of the Super Decathlon. He’s sponsored by American Champion, and the manufacturer is predictably enthusiastic about Koontz’s air show work, exposing the Super’s talents to thousands of pilots each year. There might be other pilots doing air shows in Super Decathlons, but I can’t think of one.

Unlike some other aerobatic airplanes, the 8KCAB is a supremely comfortable machine, 30 inches wide at the hips. For one thing, the airplane is well laid-out. All flight and system controls fall readily to hand, with all electrical switches mounted on a panel above the pilot’s left shoulder. Visibility from the front seat, with the overhead “eyebrow” windows, allows a view in practically every direction during acro. Trim is confined to the elevator, and it’s ridiculously uncomplicated, a direct connection to the stick. If you’re so inclined, you can easily control the airplane’s pitch with the trim control.

According to Koontz, the Super makes a great classroom for aerobatics, partially because its comparative lack of power demands that you learn good coordination and proper energy management. The Super sports an extremely comfortable tandem cabin, wide and tall, and easy to mount in either seat.

In addition, it’s capable of pretty much any maneuver students are willing to try (provided they’re not into Lomcevaks). Aileron spades provide a kind of power steering to lighten roll rate, and the airplane’s quick elevator response makes it easy to pitch to vertical entries.

The 8KCAB will neither snap with a Pitts nor roll with an Extra, but it makes for a comfortable trainer for students, or a confident air show vehicle. In the hands of an expert like Koontz, it can pull off a double snap on a downline or a half vertical roll up with a hammerhead off the top.