With the exception of the Cessna Aerobat and the Yak 52, most aerobatic airplanes are tailwheel aircraft. They sport brightly-colored paint schemes with stripes, sunbursts or checkerboards that “present” well in the sky, allowing the judges to better see figures being flown. Many will have a high power-to-weight ratio, meaning a large horsepower engine and less overall weight than typical single engine planes. Both fixed-pitch and constant speed props may be used, and there are even retractable gear aircraft, such as the Yak 52, flying competition.
Commonly used aircraft include Citabria, Decathlons, Pitts and Extras. Most people will start out in the less complex and slower airplane such as the Decathlon, which is a great entry level airplane for competition. But even a Clipped-Wing Cub should be able to handle most Sportsman maneuvers and there is an increasing number of RVs flying aerobatics with success. Aircraft used primarily for competition will have inverted oil and fuel systems, but these systems are not required if you don’t mind your engine sputtering at the top of loops or adding oil after every flight.
Thinking of trying a loop in your Piper Archer? Probably not a good, or legal, idea. Federal regulations only allow aerobatic maneuvers beyond spins to be flown in Acrobatic category certified aircraft or Experimental category aircraft that accomplished aerobatic maneuvers during Phase I flight testing (usually Amateur Built or Exhibition). Why is this so? It has to do with the maximum load the airframe and/or control surfaces can handle without damage, and which, if exceeded, could lead to a fatal in-flight breakup.
Let’s look at FAR § 23.337 Limit maneuvering load factors:
Standard category +3.8/-1.52 g
Utility category +4.4/-1.76 g, spins may be allowed
Acrobatic category +6/-3 g
For comparison, here are the load factor limits for common aerobatic planes:
Super Decathlon +6/-5 g
Pitts S1-C +6/-5 g
Extra 300 +10/-10 g
Sukhoi 26 +12/-10 g
MXS +14/-14 g
Okay, enough technical talk. Let’s look at some planes!
by Susan Bell, IAC #438132