Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monoplane Revolution

A game changer in the world of aerobatic competition

A lot of what you learn in aerobatics is where to look—to your left at the wing, over the cowling or behind you, and when to transition to look at another view as the maneuver progresses. The Pitts gives the pilot a lot of cues, like the cabane struts in front of the canopy give a good reference for point rolls. The "I" or interplane struts, designed to transmit lift and load between the wings, are also a good reference and, on a Pitts, add to the side area and make knife-edge flight and rolling turns much easier.

One of the biggest things a new monoplane driver must master is energy management. The airplane is slick and slippery compared to a biplane, so the pilot has to plan power reductions accordingly.

I placed higher at the Nationals than I ever had, and people told me I was flying well, but I didn't think I was flying better than I had been in my S-2S Pitts. The Extra's faster roll rate and clean lines gave me the edge I needed.

In the parallel universe of the Soviet Union, the Sukhoi SU-26 made its debut at the 1984 World Aerobatic Championship (WAC). I first saw it fly at the 1986 WAC. Wow! The airplane was astonishing: all-composite, powerful radial engine and a super-fast roll rate. Soviet team pilots were employed by the State, and the airplanes were designed by the same company that have made fighters and bombers since 1937. If the U.S. recruited Boeing or Lockheed Martin to provide us with the best aerobatic airplane, we might have come up with something similar. This SU-26, combined with the superb training and skills of the Soviet pilots, changed the style and raised the level of competition aerobatics.

Competition pilots are always looking for the best advantage in a competitive-by-nature environment, hence more power and lighter airframes. The next big development in monoplane construction was the use of very strong lightweight composite materials, and this all seemed to happen very quickly. With composite construction, no longer did pilots have to rebuild their airplanes at the end of each season. The aircraft were finally stronger than the abuse the pilots could give them.

In 1988, the Extra factory flew their all-composite mid-wing two-seat Extra 300 at the World Championships. In 1990, they developed the two-seat, low mid-wing 300L, then the single-seat 300S. Sukhoi came out with the two-seat Su-29, and has since added more power and made some refinements, although they aren't manufactured anymore.

The French company Mudry makes the CAP, a great little airplane that can tumble better than most. The Czechs made the Zlin 50S, which I loved watching, but never had the chance to fly. In the U.S., newer designs like the Edge and the MX Series are popular.


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