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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

American Champion High Country Explorer

The newly certified, go-anywhere two-seater

american championBy the time you read this, I will have completed a two-week vacation trip circumnavigating most of Alaska and some of Western Siberia with an Indiana dentist, Dr. Bill Grider. (Hey, it’s a tough job, but...) Alaska is my kind of place, and despite a dozen trips around the state, I’m always eager to return.

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With a max gross weight of 1,800 pounds and a typical empty weight of 1,250 pounds, the Explorer sports a full-fuel payload of about 300 pounds. In other words, you’ll need to download fuel to carry two, full-sized people. Fortunately, that’s not much of a problem, considering that most Explorer stage lengths are probably less than 200 miles. When passenger load will allow, baggage capacity is 100 pounds behind the rear seat, and good news, the baggage is accessible via its own door. You no longer need to load baggage through the right front door and over the backseat.

Takeoff performance with 180 hp motivating only 1,800 pounds of airplane is predictably exhilarating. ACAC lists the airplane’s takeoff runway requirement as 370 feet and initial climb at 1,350 fpm. That will beat a Top Cub off the ground at gross weight, and it’s better than practically anything else in the industry, except perhaps a Maule or Helio.

Once you’re up and away, you can’t help but notice the airplane’s uncommon visibility. The tall windshield wraps back above the pilot, and the low panel further improves the view forward. Generous side windows also open up visibility in practically every direction, and the tandem configuration means that you can see as easily to the right as the left. During the air-to-air session that produced the photos on these pages, I had the benefit of looking straight up through two overhead windows, providing my photographer with some unusual angles.

The best cruise comes at 80% power (remember, this is a Vantage engine), and if you must, you can climb to 7,500 feet to see max cruise of 117 knots. That’s not bad, considering that the Explorer has wheels, struts, braces, spades and other drag producers hanging in the breeze. Cruise at 7,500 feet defies the nature of the High Country Explorer, however. You may find that you’re happier noodling along at 2,000 feet AGL than a mile or more up.

With 35 gallons of fuel on board, max endurance is about 2.5 hours plus reserve, so the range is just under 300 nm at max cruise. If there’s a need to fly high, the new Explorer can loft to 17,000 feet, but that’s hard to imagine in an airplane that’s most at home in the low-and-slow environment, close to the ground.

Labels: Piston Singles


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