Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Decathlon Xtreme

Aeronca champ…You’ve come a long way, baby!

Here's one for you: Next year, 2014, the Citabria will be 50 years old. And for all intents and purposes, whether purists like to admit it or not, the Citabria marked the birth of modern aerobatics in 1964. Up to that point, as every gray-dog aerobatic pilot will remember, aerobatics was only available through the purchase of something like an aged military trainer or clapped-out Stearman duster. Suddenly, the sweaty unwashed masses had an aerobatic airplane that was easy to fly, affordable and most of all, readily available. From that point on, interest in aerobatics exploded and American Champion's Xtreme is their latest addition to that akro tradition.

As the starter forced blades past the nose and I pushed the mixture in, the new-to-the-Decathlon 210 hp (up from 180 hp) Lycoming AEIO-390-A1B6 up front caught fire, and I heard an oh-so-familiar voice come through my headset, "Air show boss, this is Koontz in the red Xtreme. Give us a slot, and we're outta here."

Greg Koontz, air show pilot, long, longtime acro instructor, was holding down the back seat. He was also doing the comm work as we wiggled our way out of Sun 'n Fun between air show acts. When he's not flying air shows, he has his own grass runway north of Ashville, Ala., where he runs a unique B&B-based akro flight school and Champion dealership (see

Greg and I have been good friends since…well…neither of us knows for sure when we first met. It was the early '70s, and it seems as if Citabrias, and later Decathlons, have always been mixed in there somewhere. As we taxied down the Sun 'n Fun 2013 show line in the brand-new Decathlon Xtreme, we were just continuing the tradition of him introducing me to the newest product from American Champion.

I find the very fact that the company was willing to spend the money to further refine the Super Decathlon to be a verification of the vitality of sport aviation: They took what was already a good airplane and made it better because they saw a solid market represented by aviators who placed pure fun and performance high on their airplane buying list.

Before we run down the list of improvements and do the pilot report thing, let's get one thing perfectly clear: Even though the Citabria/Decathlon line of aircraft are probably the best aerobatic trainers available, they are definitely NOT one-trick ponies. In fact, I sometimes think their aerobatic image keeps people from discovering what's a tremendously useful series of aircraft that are really good at a wide variety of things, and offer the pilot and his passenger terrific utility and enjoyment at the same time. If a pilot buys a Citabria/Decathlon and, for some perverted reason, never does even a roll in it, he'll still very much enjoy the airplane.

"Koontz," the air boss' voice said, "you're good to go." The T-6 act had just landed, and they were letting us out. I squeezed the throttle forward, as we arced on to centerline, forcefully bringing all 210 horses to life. And what a life it was! I have over 1,000 hours instructing in a wide variety of Citabrias and Decathlons, but none of them answered the throttle like this one did. Even with Greg folded up in the backseat, we were off the ground in nothing flat and, even though we had a crosswind, I couldn't tell it was there: The airplane tracked perfectly straight with no help from me.

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