Pilot Journal
Thursday, July 1, 2004

Dream Decathlon

Some pilots were born to air show

decathlonFor every high-profile air-show act, like Patty Wagstaff or Sean Tucker, there are dozens of pilots scattered around the country who dream the dream. But few have pursued that dream as relentlessly as Alabaman Greg Koontz has.
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Bellanca, which was called American Champion then, manufacturers of the Citabria, recognized the limitations of the old flatwing Champ cum Citabria. It could do so-so inside aerobatics, but its wing was at a serious disadvantage upside down. The airplane needed a symmetrical wing and it got it when the company brought out the Decathlon.

“Being a dealer, Aero Sport got one of the first 150-hp Decathlons, and I thought I was in hog heaven when they let me start flying it in air shows. I could actually do outside loops and some of the other stuff a Citabria couldn’t even think about doing. Now I felt like I was an air-show pilot, and when the 180-hp Super Decathlon came out, I was really living my dream.”

dream decathlon
A 150-pound increase in useful load and the elimination of theexternal hydraulic brake line gives the latest generation of Decathlons better balance in all areas, making it an excellent aerobatic airplane.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the dream sometimes steps sideways for a short period while some of the more mundane aspects of life take over.

“At some point, it was as if I felt I needed to grow up or something. I can’t exactly explain it, but I must’ve decided I needed to go buy one of those mortgage things, have a couple of kids and a dog in the front yard. The air-show business isn’t known for its stability, so I turned in my air-show wings and left St. Augustine to fly Navajos in a corporate environment,” explains Koontz.

With the regular income, Koontz decided he, at the very least, had to have an aerobatic airplane. So in 1993, he bought a brand-new Super Decathlon. “I was teaching aerobatics on the side and did maybe six or seven shows a year. At the same time, the corporate flying kept growing, and pretty soon, I was flying around in Lears and King Airs, but I wasn’t having much fun.”

Eventually, what was an annoying itch in Koontz’s psyche became a major irritation. “The corporate job was getting bigger and bigger, and I was getting older and older, and I just wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. So, my wife and I talked it over and bought a place on a grass strip out in the country, and I quit my job to go full time in aerobatics and air shows. Some of our saner friends say I’ve gone off to join the circus, and I tell them they’re right and I’m loving it.”

“Almost as soon as I went full time, American Champion called and said something to the effect of ‘We can’t have you out there flying a 10-year-old airplane,’” continues Koontz. “‘Why don’t you fly for us in a brand-new one?’ I didn’t have to think too long before I said yes.”

The airplane that Koontz is currently campaigning under the American Champion banner is the latest Super Decathlon. “This is one of the first airplanes with the big baggage door on the side as well as the MT composite constant-speed prop,” says Koontz. “The prop is lighter, accelerates great and reduces airframe vibration. It’s much smoother. This airplane is also the first Super Decathlon with the new aluminum landing gear. It gives a 150-pound increase in useful load and eliminates the external hydraulic brake line because it’s gun-drilled. In general, this generation of Decathlons is much better balanced in all areas and is actually a really good aerobatic machine. The older airplanes were okay, but this one is a gigantic leap forward, and a person familiar with the old ones really has to fly this one to see the difference. American Champion turned its focus on its Super Decathlon and have come up with just what it needed to be very competitive.”

As this was being written, Koontz had moved his aerobatic and flight-training business out to Dugger Field, a beautiful grass field 10 miles southwest of Gadsden, Ala., where he’ll live full time as soon as his house is finished. When he’s not flying air shows, he’s directly over the airport in his own aerobatic box, teaching people from all over the country the finer arts of old-fashioned, stick-and-rudder aviating, including aerobatics and emergency maneuver training.

Koontz says, “This is what I was meant to do my entire life. I love air-show flying and I love this kind of flight training. I just don’t know how much better I could have it.” Frankly, Koontz, we’re jealous.

Labels: Piston Singles


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