So, you just hit the lottery for a half-million bucks (after tax). This sounds like a big deal, except that it’s redundant because your spouse hit it last week for 10 million. So, that measly $500,000 is suddenly fun money, and the aforementioned spouse says you can spend it any way you want. But, what to buy? So many airplanes. So many different uses. So many combinations.
You could, for instance, satisfy your upside-down urges by buying an Extra 300L, which would eat up over $300,000. But then, that wouldn’t give you enough to buy that Aviat Husky ($240,000) you’ve always wanted to go explore the backcountry. So, how about a Pitts S-2C instead of the Extra? If you got a good deal, you could squeeze one of those in with a Husky. On the other hand, you could easily buy the Pitts and an American Champion Scout ($148,900) and have plenty of gas money left over.
Here we are only a few minutes into the conversation, and it becomes obvious that some prioritization is in order because the combinations and permutations of airplane types and costs go all over the place. So, let’s narrow down our personal definition of “adventure” to pick only one and resolve to have enough left of the half-mil to feed our gasoline habit for the rest of our lives.
Our little electronic dictionary defines adventure as “an unusual and exciting experience or activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.” Taking that definition a piece at a time and translating it, we come up with “an unusual and exciting experience or activity.” Basically, adventure means doing something out of the ordinary that piques our interest or gets the blood flowing. It’s important to note here that this, too, is open to definition, because what pumps one person up might be ho hum to the next.
Fortunately, the foregoing means adventure can be had in degrees: A 1,800-foot runway in the boondocks will be short to some, and that doesn’t take as much skill or as extreme an airplane as a 900-foot runway does. Even stuck down in a mountain valley at 1,800 feet with lousy approaches can easily be handled by a well-flown 182. An 800-foot runway in the same situation may have us thinking about a Husky, Top Cub or Peterson Katmai.
The same adventure-by-degree thinking can be applied to another of those “unusual and exciting experiences—” aerobatics. If all you want to do is the occasional loop, roll and spin, you don’t need a $350,000 Extra. An American Champion Citabria would suit you just fine. However, if you’re one of these folks who go through life with their hair on fire and enthusiasm as your middle name, then you have no choice but to go for an Aviat S-2C Pitts or an Extra 330SC. And so goes the decision tree. It’s only the rare situation where the decision is black-and-white. Like we said, so many airplanes, so little time.
Exploring The Backcountry
A runway doesn’t have to be 197 feet long, going up the side of a hill, covered with boulders and have 100-foot pines at both ends to qualify as a backcountry field that offers the unique experiences associated with the backcountry. Many states maintain runways out in the toolies that are ideal getaways, and most have four common characteristics: They’re grass or dirt, a little shorter than usual but not wildly so, almost all C-182 accessible, and last, they’re gateways to good camping, hiking or just an out-of-the-way picnic. If you want to find backcountry runways in your area, all you have to do is Google “backcountry runways (insert your state here)” to get started.
If your goal is to fly into much shorter, higher-altitude runways than those above, there are lots of serious backcountry airplanes that can let you do that with safety. All of the so-called “utility” aircraft, as opposed to specially equipped/modified “bush” aircraft, are well-proven designs that take much of the pucker factor out of handling short, rough runways.
American Champion Aircraft
American Champion has taken the old Champ in a lot of different directions including the 180 hp Scout, designed specifically for backcountry-type flying. With a constant speed prop, longer wings, big flaps and a 750-pound useful load, it’s ready for a set of fat tires and the challenge of a serious runway. Price: $148,900.
High Country Explorer
American Champion’s High Country Explorer option is a cross between the Citabria and the Scout. This option has a Superior 0-360, 180 hp engine driving a long, fixed-pitch prop. It has slightly more wing than a Citabria, but not as much as the Scout and still has flaps. It’s also aerobatic, should you feel like doing rolls on your way into the outback. Price: $127,900.
Aviat Husky A-1C
The Husky was specifically designed to be a modern Super Cub, take people where most airplanes don’t like to go and do it in style. With a 925-pound useful load and lots of both flap and horsepower, it will let you set your feet where none have gone before. Price: $240,251 (200 hp); $196,811 (180 hp).
Carbon Cub SS
S-LSA or E-LSA capable, the Carbon Cub SS is a butt-kicking 180 hp STOL machine capable of leaping mountains in a single bound. It’s a very high-tech airplane and not your grandfather’s LSA. See the LSA Buyer’s Guide on page 34 of this issue. Price: $163,800.
Sport Cub S2
With 100 hp, the Sport Cub is a tamer, still-LSA Cub clone that will perform with the best of them but doesn’t have the almost-scary performance of the Carbon Cub. Price: $127,000.
Cub Crafters began their business a generation ago as the premier rebuilder of Super Cubs, but they’re now the builders of all-new 180 hp Cubs that took a good thing and made it better. It’s still the standard by which all other bush planes are measured. Price: $205,480.
The Canadian-built 300 hp Found Expedition is a mission-specific utility bird more comfortable on gravel, water or snow than it is on pavement. Not a small airplane; its landing gear is meant to take on seriously “unimproved” runways—meaning rough—and is continually proving itself in the less hospitable part of the world. Price: $495,000.
Maule essentially makes one airframe (four-place) and offers it with a variety of engines and both nosedragger and taildragger configurations, spring gear and oleo gear. All of those listed below are taildraggers, but are also available with a nosewheel and all are backcountry-suited—the shorter the runway, the bigger the engine needed. See the Four-Seaters Buyer’s Guide on page 24 of this issue.
The littlest Maule does a lot with 180 hp and it’s surprisingly spritely. Efficiency is just as much of a goal as STOL is. Price: $173,900.
The six-cylinder, 235 hp Lycoming makes the Maule more than spritely: It really gets with the program, which is welcome on a high, short strip. Price: $212,900.
With a 260 hp, 0-540 Lycoming in the nose, the Maule has a definite attitude to it and it can’t wait to get going. The airplane has its own cadre of loyal, devoted followers, and for good reason. Price: $192,900.
Peterson’s Performance Plus
Todd Peterson’s company builds wolves in sheep’s clothing: They modify your C-182 into something that may look like a Cessna 182, but definitely isn’t. The central part of the major aerodynamic changes include a canard and wing re-shaping along with aerodynamic cleanups. All of these are aimed at low-speed safety and are included in each of his models.
The original 230 hp 0-470 engine is retained but all of the safety and slow speed mods are performed. Price: $25,000.
A 260 hp IO-470 is installed, and the performance and safety margins are truly spectacular. Now you can work out of less than 500 feet of runway and still cruise 140 knots. Price: $92,485.
This is an airplane for serious backcountry aviating, as the wings are extended a total of three feet, which requires a total tip-to-tip restructuring. This greatly improves every aspect of its climb and low-speed performance. Price: $101,485.
Take everything we just said and move the decimal point over a couple of places, because we now have a 300 hp IO-550. Suddenly, no-go-around strips have go-arounds because of the extreme-climb and slow-speed capabilities. Price: $116,000. The IO-550 mod can be included in any of the other models/modifications.
The Third Dimension: Aerobatics
The term “aerobatics” is actually just a little nebulous because not all aerobatics are created equal, and this is a function of both the airplane’s capabilities and the pilot’s skill. It’s quite common for an airplane to have far more capabilities than the pilot (e.g. the Pitts and Extras) so the pilot can grow into it. However, if the pilot has more skill than the airplane, and if the pilot’s goal is something like intermediate or higher competition, they’ll quickly outgrow that airplane, and so it’s important to define the mission ahead of time.
American Champion Aircraft
The Aurora is the baby Citabria with 115 hp. It’s good for entry-level aerobatics, but best at lower altitudes. Price: $113,900.
The 160 hp Citabria Adventure is a great compromise between sport aerobatics and all-around usefulness. A great two-place sport tourer, it clips along at 130-135 mph while doing solid, positive-G aerobatics when you feel like it. Price: $123,900.
The Super D is an amazingly good aerobatic airplane with sustained inverted and “outside” capabilities. At the same time, it offers all the same Sunday-afternoon utility as a Citabria with high-comfort levels and reasonable cross-country speeds (140-145 mph). Price: $155,900.
WACO Classic Aircraft
The new-production YMF-5 WACO bipes are actually in a category by themselves. With two people in the front seat, a big round motor (Jacobs, 275 hp or 300 hp) and a cockpit that can be equipped with everything from steam gauges to pure glass, the airplane has one foot, er, wheel, in the antique world and another in the aerobatic world, but both are solidly planted in the world of fun. Price: $398,500.
Extra Aircraft offers aircraft that range from the entry-level, but still butt-kicking, Extra 200 (200 hp), through the 300 series, up to the scorching 330 LT and the unlimited competition 330 hp 330 SC. The Extras have set the standard for modern aerobatic performance and design. Price: $300,000-$378,000.
The Pitts S-2C is the latest incarnation of Curtis Pitts’ legendary design that first flew in 1945, but the 2011 version is a far cry from the original 55 hp version. With a fire-breathing 260 hp Lycoming and composite three-blade prop, neither the engine, nor the airplane, know right-side up from upside-down. The performance is breathtaking, and the charisma is undeniable. Price: $290,850.