Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monoplane Revolution

A game changer in the world of aerobatic competition

Little did I know in 1984 that the dawn of the new age of the monoplane was on the horizon, and that the Laser 200 was already an advanced development. Any discussion of the modern monoplane can't be had without acknowledging the vision of Leo Loudenslager. He redesigned and modified just about everything on an earlier design, the 1960s Stephens Acro monoplane, creating the airplane he called Beautiful Obsession.

It was the Laser 200 that gave Leo Loudenslager the edge to dominate competition aerobatics from the mid-70s to early 80s. When he won the 1980 World Aerobatic Championship, one of the pilots who took notice was a young aeronautical engineer and competitor from West Germany named Walter Extra.

By 1986, Extra Flugzeubau of West Germany offered the Extra 230, the first readily available production monoplane, and it was a game changer. Designed and tested as a factory-built (but experimental certified) airplane, each was built and flew more or less the same. They had a U.S. dealer, Pompano Air Center, which assembled the aircraft and provided maintenance and support.

A pilot could buy parts instead of having to manufacture them. The Extra was robustly built and had great performance. And, last but hardly least, the airplane was delightful to fly.

In 1987, I was flying a stock S-2S in the Unlimited category and had started a project with Steve Wolf to build up an S-2S, the six-cylinder 260-hp single-seat Pitts, into a Super Pitts—much like you see some of the pilots on the air show circuit fly today. I still wasn't sure the monoplane was the way to go, but after Clint McHenry offered to let me fly his Extra 230, I knew with certainty after the first takeoff that I had to have one and that it would take me to the next level.

Competition flying is based on achieving perfection—vertical lines, 45-degree angles, perfect snap-roll recovery on all axes—so I have to give a lot of credit to the Laser pilots before me. The Lasers I tried were difficult to fly well. The controls weren't balanced. For example, the ailerons were hard to "center;" the elevator could be rigged so the "pull" was light and the "push" was heavy, making maneuvers like a rolling turn difficult.

The Extra, on the other hand, was a pleasure to fly—there was harmony and balance to the controls that didn't exist in the Laser. The roll rate was quick and the ailerons centered perfectly; the elevator was rigged just right and the rudder was adequate, although you can never have enough rudder!

I bought the Extra in August 1987, a month before the U.S. Nationals, and I was hoping I'd have enough time to train and be familiar with all its nuances. There's always a learning curve in the transition from a biplane to a monoplane. Any taildragger pilot with a little experience can take off and land an aerobatic monoplane, but it takes a lot of practice to fly it well.


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