Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Decathlon Xtreme

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

It appears that the factory's plan was to get by without spades (the shovel-looking things that hang down from lots of aerobatic aircrafts' ailerons and lighten the stick forces) by moving the aileron hinge point back. This usually lightens aileron loads. However, something within the modifications conspired to actually make the ailerons slightly heavier (at least from my perspective) than those on a Super D. I'm betting money that they'll wind up putting spades on the airplane or maybe move the hinge point even further back: It's a shame to have all that beautiful new performance, both in roll and climb, but have to work harder to enjoy it. Spades are a no-brainer, quick fix that the company has used often before, so if they decide to do it, it won't be a stretch for them. This is a personal opinion, so take it for what it's worth.

We frolicked around for a while and generally had a good time looping and rolling our brains out with a little inverted flight to reconfirm what I knew before: Decathlons are light years better than Citabrias in that department, but it helps a lot if a little down trim is used to lighten the forward stick loads, something I conveniently forgot until later. As Greg proves during his air show routine, the airplane is a superior "outside" airplane, meaning it will handle anything upside down and negative "G" with the best of them.

I spun the airplane down from altitude (child's play to come out on heading) and was starting to work our way back into the pattern, when the air boss told us to circle south and they'd let us know when he had a hole he could fit us into. That was fine with me, as I was enjoying myself. In fact, the 10 minutes we spent droning back and forth south of the field gave me a little time to luxuriate in the cross-country feel of the airplane. I had forgotten how good the view is over the nose of any of the American Champion line: You can actually see straight ahead and down better than most aircraft because you can sit fairly high in it. And the view to the sides is unparalleled, thanks to tandem seating. I also had time to assess the seating, which wasn't only comfortable, but could be adjusted fore and aft. Up and down adjustment is via the stack-of-cushions method.

Cleared for the approach, Greg only gave me one hint on how to land the airplane, and that wasn't to be surprised by the drag generated by the 76-inch composite MT prop. But I was surprised anyway. As I curved onto the centerline of Lakeland's 9 Left (aka, the taxiway), I fixated on the threshold as my reference point, and brought the power back as I normally would in a Decathlon. Wrong! Almost immediately, my reference point started moving up the windshield, and I squeezed a few more ponies out into the slip stream, probably just enough to bring the prop blades up off the down stops and cut down on the drag. That stopped the point moving, the airplane flew down final and the needle held onto 80 mph as if it were welded there.

It has been a long time since I've flown a taildragger that would let me see so clearly over the nose as it was flared. I'm used to having to squint at what can be seen on either side of the nose for alignment and height information. In truth, I had to work to keep from flaring too much. Obviously, I was overthinking it because just a little flaring and some attention in holding the three-point attitude resulted in a better-than-I-deserved three-point.

It wasn't until the left main touched first that I realized I had forgotten about the crosswind and was automatically compensating for it. Regardless, the airplane tracked perfectly straight and, in looking back at the experience, I'm not sure I remember moving my feet at all after we were on the ground. It's so simple, you shouldn't be allowed to log taildragger time in it.

So, is the Xtreme an extreme Decathlon? A Super Super-D, as it were? Yep, it definitely is. Anyone who has flown either Citabrias or Decathlons in the past won't even be off the end of the runway on their first takeoff before they come to the same conclusion. If they liked the earlier airplanes, they're going to absolutely love this one! In fact, if someone has never flown anything similar, they're going to judge the Xtreme as being a terrific-handling, superior-performing airplane, regardless of what went before. So, it appears that the development money American Champion spent on mods will turn out to be a worthwhile investment. Good for them!

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