Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monoplane Revolution

A game changer in the world of aerobatic competition

As the airplanes have developed, so have their components. Lycoming, which supplies engines to all of the aerobatic airplanes except the Sukhoi, has refined their engine to include the 360-plus hp Thunderbolt 580 Lycoming. This was a first for Lycoming, and they're basically competing against the engine shops that modify the 260 and 300 hp AEIO-540s for greater performance.

MT Propeller has been at the forefront of aerobatic prop development and continuously refines their props. Hartzell Propeller came out with a bulletproof Kevlar prop a few years ago. Manufacturers such as Goodyear Tires, Champion Aerospace, Bose, Concorde Battery, Lord Engineering, National Parachutes, CJ Pumps, Garmin and others seem to enjoy their relationships with aerobatic pilots not only because it's fun, but because we push the limits of our equipment and it gives them important feedback.

In the past 25 or so years I've been involved, I've seen enormous changes in airplane and component development. It's been exciting to witness and be a part of the development of the monoplane and to have flown most of them. Aerobatics has given me so many exciting opportunities to fly all over the world, including training in Russia in 1990 as part of an exchange program with the post-Soviet, then-Russian Aerobatic Team.

I don't know what the next game changer in aerobatic airplanes will be. It's hard to say. At the moment, we're just chipping away at making airplanes lighter and tweaking the control surfaces for faster roll rates. Maybe Loudenslager knows. Just days before he was killed in a motorcycle accident, he was going to test-fly a new design called The Shark, which featured another revolution in control deflection and lighter weight. But, it remains to be seen, and for now, the airplane is on display at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh.

Aerobatic airplanes are about form and function, strength, durability and achieving perfection in the sky. Beauty is also an important part of the equation. I still like flying a biplane: When I'm flying one, it's telling me that I must, above all, have fun. But when I fly an aerobatic monoplane, I sense it's more serious and won't tolerate sloppiness! The monoplane demands perfection.


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