Thursday, July 1, 2004
Bellanca Viking: Wood, Fabric & Genius
The brainchild of an Italian designer, this classic airplane exudes a rare combination of style and substance
| It’s almost inevitable that Italian airplanes are compared to Italian automobiles. You can’t look at the smooth, sculptured lines of a Marchetti SF-260 or Partenavia P68 without thinking of a Ferrari or Maserati. |
As mentioned earlier, performance is competitive with virtually anything in the class. As you can see from the factory comparison chart, Breiman’s aircraft is a 1973 Viking 300A, so we compared it to the only similar horsepower, four-seat retractable available at the time, the Bonanza. For contrast, we also included the slightly later Rockwell Commander 114 and Cessna Skylane RG, admittedly much lower-powered models. We also added the Mooney Ovation and the current Cirrus SR-22 to contrast the old and new.
If many of the performance numbers appear to favor the Viking, accommodations aren’t so generous. One reality about all the Bellancas is that you definitely put on the airplane rather than merely climb into it. The horizontal dimension across the front seats is only 41 inches at the elbows, the narrowest of the lot, so even two medium-sized pilots will rub shoulders. The rear seat is even narrower, relegating the airplane to more of a 2+2, rather than a full, four-place machine.
The cockpit and panel layout are dated, but relatively conventional, although elevator trim is notably unconventional. It’s mounted on the roof and rotates in a horizontal plain to move a vertical trim tab. Clockwise is up. One redeeming factor is that the majority of Vikings employ electric trim, so most of the time, pilots only have to watch the knob rotate.
The fun starts in a Viking the instant you push the throttle full forward for takeoff. Acceleration is among the best in the class (power loading is only 11.1 pounds/hp). The airplane is ready to fly in less than 1,000 feet at about 70 knots and transitions into an effortless 1,200-fpm climb, with hardly a pause to catch its breath.
Vikings retract their main wheels straightforward into the thickest part of the wood wing, and double clamshell doors close over the tires to help smooth the underwing. Looking at the airplane head-on in flight, the fairings hang down a good six inches below the bottom wing surface, but cruise performance doesn’t seem adversely affected by the interruption. One benefit of the retraction system is that emergency gear extension is actually facilitated by the relative wind that helps push the wheels down and locked the second the pilot selects gear down and cracks open the clamshell doors.
Back in the days when Vikings came in your choice of normally-aspirated Continental or turbocharged Lycoming, it was possible to loft a Bellanca to 25,000 feet, but Breiman’s standard Viking and the vast majority of others do their best work at 7,500 to 8,500 feet. The producer’s airplane is primarily a recreational vehicle, employed more for weekend outings than business trips, so he rarely has occasion to cross the Sierra Nevada or the Rockies.
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