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.)

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Veteran air show pilot Greg Koontz is among the few aerobatic performers flying a Super Decathlon at shows.

The Super is imminently controllable in crosswinds, allowing hard slips to maintain centerline or bleed-off altitude. In short-field mode, it can fly approaches as slow as 60 knots, 55 knots in smooth air if you’re on top of it. Stall speed is a slow 46 knots, so even 55 knots provides the 1.2 Vs buffer.

Normal-category gross is 1,950 pounds against a typical 1,400-pound empty. In other words, add 39 gallons of fuel and you’ll have just over 310 pounds for people and things in nonacro mode. Predictably, the aerobatic weight limit is slightly lower: 1,800 pounds. With full fuel, a typical Super Decathlon will have allowance for a single pilot. In order to fly hard aerobatics, you’ll need to download fuel to half that or less.

As alluded to above, the Super Decathlon has a nonaerobatic brother, the Scout, that’s designed more specifically for bush work and is adaptable to floats, skis or balloon tires. I’ve seen numerous Scouts serving in the outback of Alaska and Canada. The Scout features a gross weight of 2,150 pounds, boosting payload by 200 pounds.

In standard trim, adequate for basic VFR, a Super Decathlon is priced at $146,900. This makes the top American Champion a reasonable trainer, especially in contrast to the two other dedicated trainers: the Liberty XL2 and the Diamond DA20 Eclipse. If you’re a believer that a tailwheel design turns out a better pilot, the Super might make an interesting trainer choice. [Access both “Liberty XL2: A Trainer With A Difference (P&P March 2007) and “Diamond DA20: A Trainer With Attitude” (P&P August 2008) at our online home.]

According to Koontz, the Super Decathlon’s greatest talent is simply that it’s the most forgiving airplane he could possibly imagine for aerobatic instruction. “I spend about 300 hours instructing in the 8KCAB each year,” Koontz comments, “and I can tell you that students universally love the airplane. They quickly discover that it has more talent than they ever imagined and that flying it is easier than they could have hoped.”

Koontz spends another 200 hours flying the Decathlon and other types in air shows and in cross-country travel between shows around the southwestern states.

When I asked Koontz if he had any desire to step up to an Edge or an Extra, he said, “Those are great airplanes, and I have nothing but admiration for the pilots who fly them to the limits in air shows. For my purposes, however, the Super Decathlon offers me more than enough performance and versatility at a price that makes it easy to turn a profit, and that’s a big part of the bottom line.”

SPECS: 2008 Super Decathlon Model 8KCAB