The first flight in a new airplane is exciting, even when it’s an old friend with a bigger engine. I had flown Huskies many times, but never the new 200 hp Aviat Husky A-1B-200, and as I started to throttle up, I was watching the edge of the runway for any indication that the airplane was trying to turn; it wasn’t. Also, I had a plan: I was going to do a standard Husky three-point, short-field takeoff rather than lifting the tail in the normal manner. What’s the fun in flying an airplane with a big motor if you’re not going to go for the gusto?
Short-field takeoff technique in any Husky is pretty rudimentary: a) suck the stick to your navel and hold it there, b) feed in the power, c) try to keep from yelling “yahoo” when the main gear comes off first and d) release back pressure to the edge of the bungee-induced stick pressure. That’s it! Pretty hard to screw up. That was the plan anyway.
Flaps full down, stick full back, throttle full forward. As the runway began streaking past, I was hyperattentive to my butt: I was looking for the telltale feeling that, as the wings started to lift, the gear was extending and was getting ready to fly. In 180 hp airplanes, you can feel it coming. In the 200 hp bird, however, there was virtually no warning. We ran down the runway for a few seconds, stick back and tail down, when the airplane simply leaped off the runway, main gear first, with just the slightest warning. When I started to release the back pressure, however, I found I wasn’t being rushed to get the stick forward as in small-engine airplanes.
I’d expected more performance with the bigger motor, but I hadn’t expected the short-field takeoff to be even easier than it already was. Incidentally, we were almost at gross weight, wind was probably at three knots, and it was 85 degrees, yet I didn’t see the second runway light as we left the ground, so we were off in 250 feet.
The addition of the 200 hp IO-360-A1D6 is yet another step in the development of what started in 1983 as the A-1 Husky. By the time Aviat got to the 1B-200 version, they’d made some substantial changes, most of which were aimed at not only improved short-field capabilities, but also better handling and more utility; not that there was anything wrong with the way the aircraft handled before.
Included in the “B” designation are a basic 2,000-pound gross weight and a wing that has been continually improved and tinkered with. The slotted, Fowler flaps with their external, head-banging pivot points were made 13 inches longer on each wing, so we’re talking about a whopping two feet more of flap. The ailerons were shortened, but their chord is now four inches deeper, resulting in an aileron of the same area, or bigger.
The ailerons use Curtis Pitts’ “Super Stinker Technology,” which he introduced on his Model 11 Super Stinker in the mid-’90s. This makes the ailerons much lighter and more effective without having to hang spades on them.
The “Bs” also feature additional baggage area. The right-side door to the normal baggage compartment is now accompanied by a left-side door high behind the wing, which opens into a nice little compartment in the fuselage’s upper portion. The CG is set so you can put 180 pounds in each of the seats, 50 pounds in the baggage compartment and 30 pounds in the aft baggage area.
When they hung the 200 hp IO-360 on the airplane they made additional changes up front. For one thing, the engine installation is a solid 38 pounds heavier. A good chunk of this is because the 200 hp IO-360 is an angle valve engine, as opposed to the parallel valve arrangement of the 180 hp O-360. These jugs offer increased heat dissipation because of their better finning but are, consequently, heavier. Another few pounds comes from the extra oil cooler, so now there are two coolers, one in each of the rear baffles.
As part of its cooling program, the Aviat factory fitted the airplane with cowl flaps, which our test pilot and host, Mark Heiner, said are necessary to get the heat down, but are good for five mph in cruise when closed.
Pitts pilots with sharp eyes will recognize the aluminum, compound curved cowl doors as fugitives from the single-seat S1T Pitts, which used the same engine. The cylinder assemblies make the IO-360 five-eighths of an inch wider than the 180 Lycoming, so the cowling had to be bumped out for clearance.
The airplane we flew was actually the original 1985 prototype that the factory uses as their test mule. Some of the more obvious test items on it, when we flew, were the unpainted, carbon-fiber nosebowl, wingtips and floorboards, which collectively knock 18 pounds off the airplane’s empty weight.
Unfortunately, nothing in aviation is free, including performance that’s the result of increased horsepower. In the case of the A-1B-200, the empty weight has gone up a total of 70 pounds over its 180 hp brethren, so the useful load has drifted down to 680 pounds, even though it’s licensed with the lighter, composite MT-Propeller. If you use the FAA-mandated 170 pounds for each passenger, that leaves just enough room for the 52 gallons of gas and 30 pounds of gear. However, if you’re talking about “real” people (and both Mark and I are very “real”), chances are pretty good that in some situations you won’t be able to fill both tanks. Aviat, however, has a solution for that (see the sidebar).
On that first takeoff, as the airplane clawed into the air, I begrudgingly let the nose down slightly, to hold the 73 mph best climb-rate speed, which still put us at a ridiculous climb angle. At gross weight, this gives a climb of 1,700 feet per minute, which calls for another “yeehah!” In most real-life situations, once you’re over 50 feet, few people are going to feel comfortable at a nose attitude that high because they’re stone blind. At a more reasonable angle, we were seeing around 1,300 fpm, which is still pretty respectable.
Incidentally, during the taxi and takeoff, you can just about see over the nose (taller pilots can probably see the centerline). This makes no difference, however, because the view on the ground around the nose is excellent. Also, the ground handling isn’t even worth discussing—it’s so easy, and on takeoff, it launches so quickly, you’d have to work to get into trouble. The only thing of note in that area is that the instant the gear begins to leave the ground, you need to get some right foot into it immediately to counteract P-factor or you’re going to be sliding left.
In cruise, the visibility is, as you’d expect, hard to improve on—this is the ultimate sight-seeing airplane. It is, however, also a fairly useful cross-country bird. Aviat quotes 138 mph at 55% power, which is a change from most factory spec charts that quote unrealistic 75% cruise speeds. When asked about the 55%, Mark said it was because using any more power was a waste of gasoline. To increase the cruise speed exactly one mph over 138 requires an entire gallon per hour extra, so 55% is the most efficient setting. The airfoil is the old, flat-bottom Clark “Y,” and when it hits its drag rise, there’s no use trying to push it faster.
In the air, the ailerons, which are designed to be effective at slow speeds, make themselves known with a little more adverse yaw than most pilots are accustomed to. That’s not a negative and will only be noticed by feet-on-the-floor Cessna or Mooney pilots. Those who fly Cubs, Champs and their ilk won’t even notice the adverse yaw.
Pull or push it 10% off trim speed in cruise, then let go, and it will start back to neutral and be dead stable after two fairly weak cycles. This is better than many supposedly more stable birds. Pull the nose left and right with rudder and let go, and it will slowly regain straight-ahead flight.
Stalls, as you’d expect with an airplane like this, don’t amount to much. Even with full flaps, you only get a gentle nod, and if you hold the stick dead against the stop and leave it there, the nose just hunts up and down a little. You do have to baby (or avoid) the ailerons in that situation because, if you ask too much of them, you can feel them trying to stall. This, again, is nothing out of the ordinary. All stalls are in the very low 50s to mid-40s, and recover as soon as back pressure is released.
As we turned final for our first landing, I again found one of the items on the Husky that has always bothered me, the bungee trim—and I’m certain I’m not alone. Rather than the trim running an actual trim tab, the wheel simply biases pressure on a set of bungees that push or pull on the elevator-actuating tube. No one at Aviat likes the system any better than the customers do, but, when certifying the Husky, the FAA demanded a dual-trim system and this is what they came up with.
The net result of the trim design is that you’re always fighting the bungees. If you trim it up on downwind and chop the power for landing, the trim is “about” right for the 60 mph you want over the fence, but only “about” right, and when landing the airplane the first few times, that causes a minor irritation.
You want 60 mph over the fence and not two mph more than that or the airplane will float like crazy. I don’t fly Huskies often enough to master the trim requirements right into the flare so I’m always a few mph too fast and, therefore, have enough float that I can’t hit the point I want. The very last part of final and flare is best done with a hand down by your left thigh constantly cranking the trim back, but if you’re fast to begin with, it isn’t easy. Indeed, it was painfully obvious that I needed more practice.
Ground control after touchdown is, again, hardly worth discussing. It’s moving so slowly that, as long as you don’t have dead feet, you’d have to switch your brain to the “off” position to have problems. If there’s a big gust spread, the gusts make the airplane want to balloon, but that’s just part of flying a lightly wing-loaded airplane. Super short rollouts are also part of flying a light airplane. The POH lists a 398-foot ground roll at gross, and we can verify that.
I truly love the Husky, but I’d give anything to see how much easier the airplane would be to fly on final if it had about 15 degrees more flap (it has 30 degrees), so that they could generate more drag, and if it had a different trim system (or an electric top-hat trim switch on the stick).
A point worth mentioning is that the Husky is probably one of the better-detailed airplanes being built today, but don’t let all that finesse fool you. This is a working bird. Put some 8.50 x 6’s on it and bring it home with mud streaks on the bottom of the wings. That’s what it’s made for.