2016 Adventure Aircraft: Seeking A Different Kind Of Aviation

A Buyer's Guide to Adventure Aircraft

American Champion Super Decathlon

For the three-dimensional adventure seeker in need of a shiny new machine to take him where he has never gone, there are plenty of options available.

In mentioning some of what's out there in the way of adventure-oriented flying machines, I hope you don't mind if I make this a personalized tour of the world of adventure aircraft. With only a few exceptions, I have pleasant memories of everything on the list.

American Champion


In 1954, Aeronca sold the postwar 7-series designs to Champion Aircraft Corp., who continued to produce the series almost unaltered until 1964. In that year, they did something totally unexpected: They re-engineered the 7EC and certified it in aerobatic category as the 7ECA. This not only sparked the explosion in aerobatic interest and training, but was the first step in what was to be a long list of follow-on designs that may tip their hat to the old Aeronca Champ but have blazed new paths all their own.

American Champion Champ
Although the landing gear may be a flat spring rather than oleo/shocks as in the original and the engine may be a 100 hp 0-200 Continental, rather than an A-65 with its round tail and wooden prop, the new Champ is still just the old Champ brought back to life. This is a good thing. It's a great airplane. It seems like only a few years ago, rather than a bunch of decades, that I was thundering (95-100 mph) across Oklahoma in a 7EC at Oklahoma University working on my commercial ticket. Although Oklahoma didn't invent wind, they certainly perfected it, but we thought nothing launching in winds that would terrify a Cub pilot. The specs on the new ones say the max crosswind component is 20 mph and it'll easily do that. The new specs also say that the max gross is 1,320 pounds, which makes the airplane LSA compliant. Base price, $129,900, special order only.

Citabria Aurora
This is the old 7ECA so, it's a true aerobatic airplane and has the square tail we associate with the Citabrias. It follows a 118 hp Lycoming 0-235 around, which may not seem that much more hp, but it makes a serious airplane out of the old Champ. The power combines with better aerodynamics to boost the cruise speed up to 115 mph and improves the climb rate. Many of us cut our aerobatic teeth flying, and then instructing, acro in this airplane. If you keep it light and dive longenough, you can get more out of the Aurora than you'd expect. Like all Champion aircraft, it's a pussycat to land. Base price: $184,900.

Citabria Adventurer/ Explorer
With 160 hp, flaps and a little more wing, the Explorer (it's their Citabria Adventurer with flaps) is a terrific combination of utility and fun. I used to spend a half hour with a student investigating loops, rolls and spins, then drop down to a 900-foot desert air strip at the edge of the practice area and work on short-field approaches and landings. Then we'd load it up for a cross country knowing we could easily flight-plan 125 mph and have three-hour legs with reserve. The same airplane with 180 hp and called the High Country Explorer becomes a different airplane performance-wise. What a kick the extra cubic inches give it! Base price: $201,900/$209,900.

Hang a couple more feet of wing and a constant speed prop on the Explorer, call it the Scout, and you have what's a pretty darned good STOL airplane. If you want a seriously good bush bird, you step up to the Denali, which is the Scout with an IO-390 Lycoming of 210 hp. The American Champion series of airplanes has the advantage over a lot of tandem airplanes in that the flight decks are wide and really comfortable. Whoever thought we'd be seeing what's essentially the old Aeronca Champ (in spirit, anyway) with 210 hp and cruising at over 130 mph? Base price: $234,900/$259,900.

Super Decathlon/Decathlon Extreme
When the Decathlon first came out, we aerobatic instructors thought we had died and gone to heaven. Here was an airplane with fully symmetrical wings and full inverted system that would let us add the word ÒoutsideÓ to our coffee shop conversations. With the Super D, we have a 180 hp acrobird (with MT composite constant speed prop) that will cruise at 140 mph with decent range. This can be both a good family airplane and a serious aerobatic mount. However, the new 210 hp Decathlon Extreme is a real head wrecker! As soon as I broke ground on the first flight, it was obvious that this was a different breed. The ailerons are much lighter, and I was seeing nearly 1,800 fpm rate of climb! Killer! Base price: $233,900/$269,900.

Aviat Aircraft

Located up in the Star Valley SW of Jackson Hole, in Afton, Wyo., Aviat has been building adventure-type aircraft (Husky and Pitts Specials) for over four decades.

Aviat Husky

Aviat Husky
This is one of my favorites because the Husky gives decent STOL performance with a minimum of STOL skill or technique required. It isn't a Super Cub, and is much more comfortable and carries more load. For the majority of pilots looking for a fast (140 mph) easy-to-fly airplane with a useful load over 900 pounds that will get them into and out of silly-short strips, this will do the trick. Many of them come out of the factory fully IFR with glass panels because folks like doing more than bouncing around sand bars in them. base price: $242,509.

Pitts Special S-2C
The Pitts is NOT your granddad's biplane! With 260 hp, a rate of climb of 3,000 fpm, feather-light controls and a top speed close to 200 mph, it has more in common with a rocketship than a biplane. It will do any maneuver you can dream up. And, no matter what you've heard, they aren't that hard to land. However, some training is highly recommended. Base price $358,385.

Waco YMF


WACO Aircraft

YMF WACO and Great Lakes 2t-1A WACO does build your granddad's biplane. Two of them, actually. Both are built to the original 1930s factory drawings, upgraded where necessary, but all systems are modern and some even come out of the factory with glass panels. A friend has a YMF that's equipped to the glass max. He cruises around the country in it as if it were a very slow Learjet. The WACO is a big airplane where the Great Lakes is just the right size for a personal airplane. Both are easier on the ground than most assume with the Great Lakes being used as a tailwheel trainer by some operators. Base price: $469k for the WACO and $255,250 for the Great Lakes.

Cub Crafters Carbon Cub SS


Cub Crafters

Even though Cub Crafters has sold the type certificate of their Top Cub (re-engineered Super Cub) to a Chinese firm, they still retain manufacturing rights for markets outside of China. So, their 180 hp, improved version of the Super Cub, the quintessential bush bird, will still be available ($249,900). This, in addition to their LSA Carbon Cub SS, has to be the best-performing LSA of its type ($189,900). We have one locally that routinely out-climbs my Pitts, which is a little discouraging (2,000 fpm).

Extra Aircraft

If you want to feel like Patty Wagstaff or any of the many other aerobatic aces that depend on Extras, you're going to have to pony up around $420K for your very own 330SC. If you're feeling lonely and want an extra seat, order a 330LX ($400K). Southeast Aero in St. Augustine, Fla., who imports the Extra, says that a good number of them go out the door IFR capable, most with Tru-Trak autopilots and can fly hands-off ILS approaches, if need be. This is because the fit and finish of the airplane is so good that combined with the cross-country cruise of 195 knots TAS, some see it as a Ferrari for the aerial adventurer, not just an acro bird.

Maule Aircraft

For something over 50 years, Maule has been cranking out their four-place utilitarian aircraft without a single interruption, probably the only manufacturer that can claim that. Their recent products have focused on improving their pay loads (now over 1,000 pounds in most models), making their interiors more up to industry standards and introducing a bewildering series of models from 180 hp to 250 hp, with nose gears and spring or oleo taildragger set ups. I've instructed in several different models and find them to be exactly what they claim to be: basic utilitarian airplanes. A three-dimensional pick-up truck, if you will. Easy to land, the big fin makes you work in a hard crosswind, and they need attention on short final when landing super slow and short. Their phone number is (877) 289-6285. They're very anxious to help, or go to Prices vary per model but base price for an spring gear M-7-235 is $292,900.

Kenai Cessna 282


Peterson Performance Katmai

Todd Peterson's 182 mods aren't actually new aircraft, but if I were to pick one airplane as the do-all-be-all flying machine, it would be his Kenai or Katmai. They're 182s re-engined with IO-550s (300hp) and fitted with a small canard surface on the nose that works wonders. With ÒnormalÓ size tires, you're looking at 155 +/- knots cruise, 140 knots with big Bushwheels, but the slow-speed handling is spectacular. Even if a pilot has no intention of venturing into the backcountry, Peterson's mods make the 182 one of the safest airplanes in the air. However, its ability to go into runways usually reserved for the Super Cub clan is awesome and requires virtually no special skill. Converting a customer's airplane runs $128-$147,000, but most of his work is done on pristine airframes he has found, remanufactured and sold as completed airplanes. They run $250-$490,000, the spread being mostly a function of avionics and custom items.

LSA Adventure Birds

In recent years, the new ready-to-fly LSA category, although limited in weights and speeds, has given us a wide range of aircraft some of which definitely fall into the ÒadventureÓ category including the Carbon Cub, which was mentioned earlier.


ICON Aircraft
Although the composite ICON A5 is about as state-of-the-art as an airplane can get, it is designed around adventure daydreams that have existed almost since the Wright Bros took off. The ICON A5 is a 109 mph, two-place amphibian with folding wings that can go anywhere and be towed anywhere that's equipped with a ballistic Ôchute: this touches at least a couple of everyone's adventure fantasies. At press time they were just starting to make customer deliveries, which adds credibility to the hype surrounding the airplane.

Super Legend

Legend Cub
American Legend Aircraft has proven to have more staying power than many others in the field because their line of re-engineered and redesigned LSA Cubs delivers the fun and excitement people are seeking. From the very basic open-cowled J-3 type built around a 100 hp Continental to the Super Legend with the YO-233, 115 hp Lycoming with flaps and Super Cub performance, they offer a Cub that fits anyone's desires. They range from $137,000 to $155,000 and are also available in DIY kit form.