Aircraft For The Adventurist

These airplanes have adventure written all over them

CubCrafters and Peterson's Performance Plus

Our category of adventure aircraft consists primarily of models not always confined to flights from Denver to Dallas or Atlanta to Wichita. Though these aircraft can easily be flown cross-country, that wasn't the designer's target mission. Many of the models listed here are intended for short-haul working missions such as bush flying, freight or cargo transport, skydiving, pipeline or powerline patrol, or some task other than straight-line personal/business transport.

Many adventure aircraft can be used for those more mundane missions, but their more common jobs have to do with bush or utility flying---the latter often on your choice of landing gear, wheels, skis or floats. Alternately, adventure aircraft allow us to visit places without airports, teach us akro or otherwise maximize the sheer fun and utility of general aviation aircraft. In other words, much of the time, strange as it may seem, we fly adventure aircraft for the sheer adventure of it. All prices are for 2014 from the Aircraft Bluebook Price Digest unless otherwise noted.

Champ. Jerry Mehlhoff, CEO of American Champion in Rochester, Wis., has made it his personal mission to keep the Aeronca/Bellanca line of taildraggers alive, and Mehlhoff's entry-level airplane remains true to the original Aeronca Champ. Of course, there have been some major upgrades. The new Champ is powered by a 100 hp Continental O-200 engine, famous for its early service in millions---okay, thousands---of Cessna 150s. That boosts power by roughly 50%, a significant increase resulting in improved climb and cruise.

The modern Champ also boasts aluminum wings rather than the original's Sitka spruce rib/spar structure. Perhaps best of all, the Champ is one of the few certified airplanes that also can be flown as an LSA. Cruise is about 80 knots following a 700 fpm climb, and you might want to think twice about operating out of Denver in summer, but the fun quotient is high, and the price isn't. Price: $120,900.

Aurora. If 100 hp simply won't cut it, you can step up to the 118 hp Aurora, next step in the American Champion line. The Aurora is a fully metalized version of the Citabria that's rated for aerobatics, but only the basic maneuvers---primarily loops and rolls. The Aurora still must use inertia to get through vertical maneuvers, but the airplane is rated for primary akro, and that makes it a double threat for training. It can fly all the primary maneuvers necessary to pass the private test, plus it can teach spin recovery and basic akro.

The airplane is well suited to standard short-range missions, whether it's a quick hop to a nearby airport restaurant or a crosstown flight to an avionics shop. Useful load works out to around 600 pounds. That leaves 400 pounds for payload after pumping aboard full fuel. With only two seats to fill, you can lift a pair of 200 pounders. Price: $177,000.

Adventure (Citabria). The full-fledged, modernized Citabria uses the same airfoil and Sensenich propeller, but pushes power to the maximum 160 hp for an O-320 Lycoming. (The Lyc is barely breathing hard at that rating, so TBO is 2,400 hours---one of the longest overhaul limits in the industry.)

Having that extra 42 hp under your left palm means you can have more fun in the vertical, though you still don't have an inverted fuel or oil system. Akro always eats up altitude, however, and additional hp makes the difference between long, laborious climbs back to safe altitude or quick sprints to the high station.

The Adventure isn't a one-trick pony, however. With a max gross weight of 1,750 pounds, payload is a generous 340 pounds---coincidentally, exactly the FAA spec for two souls on board. If you need to fly cross-country, you can plan on seeing about 117 knots cruise on 9.5 gph. Price: $187,000.

Explorer. If aerobatics aren't that important to you, but short-field, off-airport performance is, the Explorer may be just the right machine for your missions. The Explorer is fitted with a larger wing and bigger flaps---the better to help you slip into and jump back out of abbreviated or nonexistent runways. The Explorer is specifically designed to allow access to places where other airplanes would fear to roll a tread. The Explorer's stall is so low that runway requirements are minimal---500 feet or less if you're on top of it.

The optional High Country Explorer does even better with an additional 20 hp out front and standard 8.00x6 tires. This is a true bush bird that bridges the gap between the old 7-series Citabria and the more serious Scout. The gear is sprung higher to provide better prop clearance, and the big wheels allow the airplane to operate in rough or soft terrain with less chance of incident. It's one of American Champion's top models for bush operation. Price: $193,000.

Xtreme Decathlon. As its name suggests, the Xtreme Decathlon is better at everything, with a 76-inch MT composite prop in front of a 210 hp AEIO-390-H1B Lycoming engine, new, symmetrical, redesigned ailerons, a resized, more powerful elevator and clipped wings. It climbs at 1,600 fpm, cruise speed is 13 knots faster (135 knots), and the new ailerons accelerate the roll rate to at least 90 degrees/second, 30% quicker than before. The bigger, more powerful Lycoming added 39 pounds to empty weight, so American Champion went on a weight reduction campaign and slimmed the airplane down by 62 pounds. To streamline the airplane's appearance, the current Xtreme Decathlon doesn't employ aileron spades, but those will probably be reinstalled in the near future. Price: $259,900.

American Champion Super Decathlon

Super Decathlon. For me, the Super is an old friend. I took a 10-hour course in the airplane formerly known as the model 8KCAB, and it opened up a whole new world of flying to me. Fitted with an inverted oil and fuel system, the Super is capable of many of the tricks normally reserved for Pitts and Extras. Flying behind a 180 hp Lycoming AEIO-360H and adaptable to an optional smoke system, the Super D can fly the large majority of maneuvers in the akro handbook, including a few outside tricks beyond the scope of the Citabrias: full outside loops, outside snaps, vertical rolls (when properly coordinated) and many other aerobatic exercises.

Though the Super was never intended to be competitive in aerobatic competition, the type has won the Sportsman class many times when properly flown. Better still, however, the Super isn't limited to akro training. It can climb at 1,200 fpm from sea level and cruise at 115 knots. The new Super Decathlon Extreme ups the power ante to 200 horsepower for even better performance. Bring along a parachute, and you can even change your whole attitude en route. Price: $224,500.

Scout. American Champion's Scout is that company's top off-airport model. The type is often seen flying around the backwoods of Canada and Alaska, ferrying outdoorsmen in and out of hunting and fishing camps, hauling salmon or moose meat or bringing in supplies.

Adaptable to huge bush tires, skis or floats, the Scout can do it all. Power is the durable 180 hp Lycoming O-360, the wings are longer with more area than the Adventure, and the gear stance is taller to allow for greater prop clearance. Flaps are also larger to reduce stall speed and allow slower approaches. Dirty stall in standard configuration is only 43 knots, and the actual break is so gentle, some pilots feel comfortable approaching as slow as 1.05 Vso. That's 45 knots, practically in the buffet. Landing roll can be as little as 300 feet---a football field in the backwoods. Price: $225,900.

Husky A1C. Afton, Wyo., isn't that far off the beaten path, but it's the logical home of one of America's premier off-airport aircraft. Aviat Aircraft originally built Pitts biplanes, but today, the company's primary product is the Husky---a Super Cub look-alike that makes no bones about flying very much like the original PA-18-150.

To that end, the Husky represents a series of refinements to the Cub formula that has worked so well for so many years. Just as the homebuilt Christen Eagle refined and improved upon the Pitts S2A back in the 1990s, the Husky pays tribute to its predecessor while improving the breed in every respect. To that end, the Husky has progressed to the A1C, incorporating evolutionary changes to improve the breed. The Husky A1C is its own airplane, but it makes use of ideas pioneered by the littlest Piper.

Aviat Husky

The Husky mounts everyone's favorite mid-power engine out front---the 180 hp Lycoming O-360, a tough powerplant known for reliable service and a long TBO. While the Husky is a totally original design, it relies on the heritage of the Super Cub. That means the Husky can sneak in an out of truly unbelievably small spaces. The Husky can claw its way into the sky, usually in less than 200 feet, and settles for an even shorter space to land to a full stop. Of all the short-field, two-seat aircraft available for backwoods operation, the Husky may be the most comfortable and the most modern. Like the Cub before it, the Husky has become a durable contender for flying into places without runways. Price: $233,485.

Pitts S2C. Following my initiation to aerobatics in the Super Decathlon, I graduated to the Pitts S2A. That transition was an eye opener, flown in the original two-place Pitts, but in the subsequent 45 years, I've been fortunate to step up to the 260 hp S2B and the improved S2C.

Sadly, demand for full-blown aerobatic airplanes isn't strong enough to support a continuous production line, so today, you can only buy an S2C by special order, but if you can afford it or find one to rent or borrow, you'll be amazed at its talent. The airplane is basically psychic. It can practically read your mind, and if you can think it, the S2C can probably do it. The S2C can do the full gamut of aerobatic tricks, right up through the lomcevak (an end-over-end somersault) and double hammerheads. The S2C may not be quite up to the standard of the Extra or the Edge 540, but there's little in the way of akro it can't do.

Slightly modified gear geometry makes it an easier airplane to land than the original, as well. The S2C is a dedicated aerobatic machine, however. It has only 28 gallons of fuel capacity with 260 hp to feed, so it's not much of a cross-country airplane. (I once ferried one from Dallas to Long Beach, and it required eight stops.) Aviat doesn't build S2Cs on a scheduled basis, but the airplane is still technically available on special order, and they'll build one to your specifications. Ask for a current price when ordering.

Waco YMF-5D. I renewed acquaintances with the new-generation open-cockpit Waco last year at the Oshkosh Airventure, and exactly as I had anticipated, it was a delight to get back into the wind. In fact, that's a little deceptive, as the Waco windshields are designed to deflect most of the airflow away from the pilot. Waco Classic pilot Bob Wagner and I launched early in the morning on the final day of the show, found a secluded area off all the inbound flight paths and spent some time just arcing the airplane through a series of gentle loops and rolls.

Who would have thought 25 years ago that anyone could possibly make a living selling what's essentially an 80-year-old design? Peter Bowers has succeeded in doing exactly that. Part owner of a Michigan aluminum extrusion company, Bowers bought Waco in 2008, and since then, the company has thrived.

In order to comply with the original type certificate, Bowers and his 27 employees build the Waco YMF-5D by hand, pretty much the same as it was constructed in the 1930s, though today's airplane benefits from dramatically improved materials. The engine remains the original seven-cylinder, 300 hp, Jacobs radial. Seating is still two in the front pit and one in the rear. Of course, avionics have been updated to the latest Garmin systems.

Fuel capacity is 72 gallons, and cruise is about 105 knots, so range at 15 gph works out to just over 400 nm. Buy a Waco, and you may not worry about such numerical measurements. Merely owning and flying this classic will probably be enough. Price: $437,250 (2015).

Great Lakes 2T-1A2. Not content to depend upon sales of a single model (the Waco YMF-5D), Peter Bowers elected to revive another classic antique aircraft---the Great Lakes. Bowers has been in the process of reawakening the design for several years, and his end product finally earned certification and saw the light at last year's Sun 'n Fun show. I was lucky to fly with Bowers at the Lakeland, Fla., event, and it brought back memories of the Great Lakes I used to fly for basic akro training in the 1960s.

If you couldn't tell by looking, the Great Lakes is quite a bit smaller than the Waco. It's also lighter and more agile, a pure fun biplane in miniature, flying behind a 180 hp Lycoming AEIO-360 and Hartzell constant speed prop. Like the Waco, the original Great Lakes dates back to the 1930s, but the current product from Classic Aircraft is updated in practically every area. It's still a quick-handling machine, and akro maneuvers include virtually all the gentlemanly loops, rolls and hammerheads. As with the Waco stablemate, cruise is only 105 knots, but the kind of pilot who'll buy this airplane probably won't care. Price: $255,000 (2015).

Top Cub. Perhaps ironically, the final Cub-copy airplane is the one closest to the original. The Top Cub has the strongest physical resemblance to the Piper PA-18-150.

CubCrafters introduced the Top Cub in 2004. Like most of the other Cub copies, the Top Cub features the carbureted Lycoming IO-360 engine and the same 180 hp rating.

This is the apex of CubCrafters' line of certified Cubs. Gross weight is a substantial 2,300 pounds, and that represents a 550-pound improvement over the final Piper Super Cub. Useful load is 1,100 pounds. Subtract 50 gallons of fuel, and you're left with an 800-pound payload, but remember, this is a two-seater.

If soft- and short-field performance are the most important parameters that rate bush airplanes, payload remains the primary criterion that determines how much money the airplane can make for its owner. Payload is a major measure for bush models, and with a pair of 200 pounders in the seats, the airplane still has an extra 400 pounds for payload.

The gear is now three inches taller, the better to protect prop tips from rock damage, seats are Oregon Aero and the restraint system complies with the FAAs 26G rule. If you need to haul a lot into a small space, the Top Cub may be just the airplane. Price: $219,000 (2013).

Extra Aircraft

Extra 330. Walter Extra's remarkable monoplanes have been among the most popular aerobatic airplanes since they were introduced 30 years ago. With aerobatic pilots such as Patty Wagstaff, Mike Goulian and Wayne Handley at the controls, Extras have carried pilots to both national and world championships. The type has become one of the most reliable and talented high-performance aerobatic airplanes available.

Typical max roll rates approach 360 degs./sec., and climb can be as high as 3,000 fpm from sea level. Walter Extra developed a series of airplanes with wings mounted at mid and low fuselage, single-seaters or two-seaters and engines that progressed from 200 to 315 hp. All used Lycoming engines, most relying on the IO-540 series. Current models available from the German manufacturer include more than simply full-blown competition machines, however.

The 330 LT is a modified luxury touring model designed for both high-performance aerobatics and cross-country cruise at 170 knots. Climb rate can be as high as 3,000 fpm from sea level if you're doing everything right.

If you're into aerobatic flying, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more responsive model for both vertical and inverted fun, and an occasional double hammerhead. Prices: $438,000 (330LT two-seat touring); $407,500 (330LX hard core, two-seat aerobatic); $368,500 (300L basic two seat). All prices for 2013.

GippsAero Airvan

Mahindra/Gipps AV-8 Airvan. This model is a special-use machine designed specifically to haul big loads in and out of short or nonexistent runways all over the world. George Morgan and Peter Furlong of Moreland, Australia, designed the airplane over a period of 10 years, and their goal was to come up with an ultimate flying bush pickup truck for operation in remote locations. The Australian Outback is about as remote as you can get, so the aircraft would need to be durable and reliable almost to a fault. The Gipps AV-8 fulfills that requirement in spades.

The company CEO dropped by Southern California two years ago, and we spent a day with Morgan exploring the AV-8's capabilities. As the airplane's designation implies, it can be configured in a number of modes: eight seats, seven of them in quick-change mode or a pilot up front with huge floor space in back. The AV-8 has only been on the market for a few years, yet over 170 Airvans are flying in such remote locations as Congo, Botswana, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand and, of course, Australia. Morgan's design is targeted more at where you can go rather than how quickly you can get there.

With 87 gallons of fuel available and a turbocharged or normally aspirated Lycoming 300-320 hp (turbocharged) engine out front, the Airvan offers up to 4.5 hours of endurance and the ability to land pretty much anywhere you're brave enough to try. Cruise is a modest 137 knots, but this airplane is more about utility than speed.

It can carry a useful load of between 1,850 and 1,950 pounds. After loading aboard full fuel, you'll still have a payload of 1,300 pounds for people and things. Even with a full list of options on the demonstrator, we still had 1,200 pounds of payload. Best of all, the big 208 square-foot USA 35B airfoil would have allowed us to carry that big load into a 1,500-foot strip and still manage to take off again. Price: $761,030, turbocharged (2013).


Maule M9-235. Belford Maule used to love to sit in a rocking chair in the middle of his production facility in Moultrie, Ga., and survey his domain. We should all be grateful for that chair, as that's where he came up with ideas for new models. The Maule probably has more variations of configuration than any other single design. You can order Maules with horsepower ranging from 160 to 260, you can buy piston-powered Maules or turboprop models, you can order them on floats, with four to six seats, with or without cargo doors, with a nosewheel or tailwheel; you can even specify the type of landing gear, oleo or leaf steel.

Maule's current featured model is the M9-235---a taildragger with leaf-sprung gear and one of those seemingly unbreakable derated Lycoming 540s for power.

Like most Maules, the M9's primary claim to fame is its impressive useful load, but Maules have many other talents to keep you engaged. The M9 scores a 50-foot takeoff distance of only 791 feet at gross. As with so many other airplanes in the Adventure class, cruise isn't that impressive---137 knots (about the same as a stock Skylane), but how fast do you need to fly to haul a dressed-out moose from a meadow in Southcentral Alaska back to a cold storage locker in Anchorage?

King Katmai. Let's say you have a garden-variety Cessna 182 in decent condition that you'd like to transmogrify into something better. The King Katmai may be just your ticket.

Todd Peterson has been converting Skylanes to legitimate bush birds for years. Peterson is the father of the earlier Wren conversion, and the King Katmai is his recent attempt to reduce runway requirements.

The major innovation on the King is the longer wing and the canard that reduces stall speed significantly. The result is improved short-field performance and more abbreviated landing characteristics. Reducing the stall by such a major margin instills a sense of confidence and security that allows any pilot to feel like an unofficial bush pilot. Indeed, any competent pilot can fly closer to the edge without going over it (or in this case, under it), especially when the edge is at 31 knots. You almost feel as if you could jump out and run alongside.

Peterson Performance Plus offers a number of additional options. The top-of-the-line, full King Katmai conversion mounts a 300 hp, IO-550 engine out front plus the forward canard and extended wings. Todd Peterson is also introducing a new model, the Kenai, a development of the 260SE. This retains the stock wing, but offers a major aerodynamic cleanup. The Kenai features 100 pounds more useful load, impressive short-field performance and a price tag that's $20,000 less than the King Katmai. Price: $144,000 (King Katmai).

Bill CoxWriter

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