Two-seaters have a special place in general aviation. The most common mission for two-place airplanes is pilot training. Say "two seats," and most pilots automatically envision models such as the Cessna 150, Diamond DA20, Beech Skipper and Piper Tomahawk.
There's another class of two-seaters, however, that has little to do with primary flight training. These airplanes are sport machines, intended more for fun than education. Models such as the Super Decathlon, Pitts S2C and Extra 300 most often are regarded as dedicated fun machines, better known for pure aviation joy than education.
Another sport model relatively new to the market is the recently reintroduced Micco SP26, a revival of the post-WWII Meyers 145. History is old, so we won't burden you with too much backstory. Nevertheless, it's impossible to understand an updated, half-century-old design without at least some examination of its past.
Florida's Seminole Indian tribe, led by Chief James Billie, acquired the type certificate for the old Meyers 145 in 1994, hoping to resurrect that airplane in modern form. The resulting airplane, the SP26, was certified by the Micco Aircraft Company in 2000. Named after the Seminole word for "leader," Micco ran into financial problems and was subsequently sold to an investor.
Aero Acquisitions, an Oklahoma corporation, was the next buyer. Former Micco president Dewitt Beckett and CEO James Billie acquired the type and production certificates from Aero and set up production in Bartlesville, Okla. The Micco still carries the same name and heritage, but the Seminole tribe no longer have any financial interest in the company.
While there's certainly more than a passing resemblance between the old Meyers 145 and the new SP26, the two airplanes are perhaps more remarkable for their differences. In fact, the current Micco is an amalgamation of three Meyers designs plus a few tricks of its own. The forward fuselage is a significantly improved version of the original Meyers 145's cabin, the vertical tail and rudder are newly designed by Micco to meet the aerobatic loads, and the wings and flaps are borrowed from the Interceptor 400. (The latter was a pressurized, Garrett/AiResearch turboprop adaptation of the Meyers 200. It was certified in 1972 in Norman, Okla., by Inceptor Corporation.)
The original Meyers 145 was an agile but not very enthusiastic sportplane, whereas the Meyers 200 and Interceptor 400 were regarded as leading-edge machines in the '60s. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), today's SP26 is an acknowledged aesthetic success, a sexy taildragger with an attitude. Parked on the ramp, the airplane assumes a deceptively jaunty stance, looking for all the world like that ultimate aviation cliché, a baby fighter. (Sorry.)
Slide the overhead hatch back, and the airplane seems to invite you to fly. The rails for the bubble canopy extend far aft, providing good access to the office. You step over the sidewall and ease your butt down into the seat, just like Hoover or Yeager mounting a P-51. Baggage goes into a compartment behind the seats and beneath the aft turtledeck.
From the minute you settle into the soft, cushy Oregon Aero buckets, you just know this airplane is going to be a ball to fly. The cockpit enjoys a pair of sticks with contoured handgrips that look almost military in appearance. There's, however, only one button on top of each joystick: radio transmit. There's also a trigger on the top front of each stick, but it doesn't control guns or missiles. It clicks the landing lights on and off—mundane task, clever design.
Directly behind your head, you can't help but notice a tough roll-bar structure, designed to protect both pilots in the event of an upset. Like the early Meyers airplanes, the SP26 is a tough machine, built to absorb turbulence, bad landings and general pilot stupidity. The Micco embraces 4130 chrome-moly steel and aluminum construction, and you can be reasonably certain that the airplane will hang together if you can merely remain conscious. Stress limits are technically +6/-3 G's, the legal aerobatic certification tolerances, but the SP26 has been static-tested to positive 11 G's.
Yes, the Micco is a taildragger, but it doesn't suffer from some of the traditional tailwheel blues. The cowling slopes downhill to preserve forward visibility, so there's no need for S-turns on the taxiway. Gear stance is wide and the wheel base is long—both portents of good stability on the ground and reduced susceptibility to crosswind upsets. The third wheel is free-castering, so the airplane is ultimately maneuverable on the asphalt, capable of reversing direction in its own wingspan.
Power loading is low enough that the Micco lifts off and starts uphill aggressively, without a pause to catch its breath. Flip the gear selector up, and the electrohydraulic system arcs the wheels inboard into the wells in about six seconds. In addition to the usual indicator lights, you have two small windows in the floorboards to check wheel position.
Climb rate is listed as 1,500 fpm, and you can't avoid the conclusion that the injected, 260 hp engine is the perfect marriage of powerplant to airframe. In combination with the semi-scimitar Hartzell prop, the Lycoming provides plenty of enthusiasm without draining the fuel supply inordinately.
Usable fuel in each wing is 14 gallons inboard and 34 gallons outboard, for a total of 96 gallons, all stored in wet wings. In a typical light IFR configuration, the SP26 can carry full outboard tanks and two folks plus toothbrushes. Flying solo, a pilot can fill all the tanks to 96 gallons total and enjoy nearly eight hours of endurance at economy cruise.
Standard gross weight in the utility category is 2,850 pounds. If you're a fan of acro, the Micco is approved for vertical fun at a slightly reduced takeoff weight, 2,650 pounds. With two folks and parachutes aboard, standard procedure is to top the inboard tanks with 28 gallons and still have enough fuel for more than an hour of high-performance freedom.
(It's not a major limitation, but the airplane is placarded with a max landing weight of 2,680 pounds. That means if you depart at gross, you'll need to burn down about 28 gallons before you can land. A landing-weight limitation is usually imposed to reduce landing stresses on the center section of the airplane.)
Handling is exactly what you'd expect from the look of the airplane, sporty and enthusiastic. Control interconnect is with rods to the ailerons and elevators and cables to the rudder. In any mode, response is nearly psychic in either the utility or aerobatic class. Think about a turn, and you're there. A 4-G pull is only a handshake away. Loops come naturally, and barrel rolls, aileron rolls and four points are pretty much no-brainers.
You can't help but wonder if this might make an interesting simulated air-combat aircraft. It does basic acro with a facility and dexterity that suggests it would be comfortable in that mission. Visibility through the bubble canopy is excellent, even looking directly to the rear. Micco tints the top of the SP26's Plexiglass dark gray to avoid any greenhouse effect.
Stated clean stall speed is about 54 knots, but there's plenty of aerodynamic warning. The stall itself is predictable and docile, unlikely to snap the airplane into a spin. It's not hard to imagine a pair of Miccos hassling for bragging rights in the burgeoning fighter-pilot-for-a-day business.
If you're looking to buy a cross-country cruiser, the Micco is only adequate, but then, perhaps you should consider buying a used Mooney or older Bonanza. The Micco's max cruise speed is only 155 knots, and with 260 hp on the nose, that's not terribly impressive. The airplane was never intended as a pure speed demon, however. It's more a fun machine that can combine basic acro with good climb and adequate cruise.
Still, if you're flying alone, full tanks at high cruise provide about 5.5 hours of endurance plus reserve, more than most people's bladder limit. Even at a 150-knot block speed, you can plan on traversing 800 to 850 nm cross-country.
Service ceiling is 14,000 feet, by the way, so the airplane should have reasonable climb performance at August-in-Albuquerque density altitudes.
In landing configuration, a full 30 degrees of flaps reduces stall to 49 knots, and the airplane flies comfortable approaches at 80 or even 70 knots. The best news is that landings are just a little tougher than in a nosedragger. Whether you choose three-point or wheel arrivals, the Micco settles down with little fuss and doesn't upset easily in crosswinds. It's an eminently manageable machine, designed for pilots with or without tailwheel chops.
Inevitably, you have to ask what competes with the Micco. As this is written, there's not much. The only other current aerobatically certified two-seaters that come to mind are the American Champion Super Decathlon, Pitts S2C and Extra 300, but the Decathlon is in a different speed class, and the latter two are heavily dedicated aerobatic machines.
At a base price of $329,000, and more like $360,000 for a modestly equipped airplane, the Micco is pretty much alone in its market. The LoPresti Fury may be only a heartbeat away from starting production in New Mexico, and when that comes to pass, it'll be strong competition for the Micco. It's in the same configuration—a sporty, two-seat, aerobatic taildragger with a 260 hp Lycoming out front.
Of course, as we mentioned last month, there's one other two-seat, 260 hp sportplane available on the market, sort of. It's the Italian Marchetti SF.260, and if you can afford $900,000 and are willing to wait long enough, Aermacchi will build you one on special order. To learn more about the Micco SP26A, visit www.miccoaircraft.com.
SPECS: Micco SP26A