It’s a taildragger, it features tandem seating, and on a good day, it’ll do 100 knots: it’s the American Champion Citabria Explorer!
I’m David Allen, and I’m about to take you into the cockpit … of Other People’s Airplanes!
The American Champion Citabria Explorer features a Lycoming 0-320 engine that provides 160HP. The tandem seating and upper window allow for excellent visibility out of the sides and top of the aircraft, and the view over the nose (at least from the front seat) is pretty spectacular. The front view is so good, in fact, that I kept feeling like I was descending even though I was in level flight. This caused me to keep pulling on the stick, and I blew my target altitude by about 450 feet!
The pilot for this episode was my friend Jared Maynard. Jared is a CFI and MEI with over 2,000 hours total time in everything from a Cessna 152 to a Boeing 757. I have flown with Jared on a number of occasions in the past. Previous flights were in a Cessna 150 and a Piper Navajo Chieftain. This was the first time I was able to fly the Citabria with Jared.
You may have noticed in the beginning of the episode that the Citabria was on a lift. That is because two airplanes call this particular tee hangar home, the other a Cirrus SR20. I guess you can say the Citabria just likes being airborne. All the time.
Jared played musical airplanes, rolling the Cirrus out, lowering the Citabria and rolling it out of the hangar, then pushing the Cirrus back inside while we flew. Of course, we had to reverse all of that at the end of the flight.
We planned to fly from Melbourne International Airport (KMLB) down to Valkaria Airport (X59). At Valkaria, we planned to get fuel, not because we would have used it all, but because Valkaria has some ridiculously good fuel prices for the area. After getting fuel, we would return to KMLB.
Unfortunately, we ran out of light, so we skipped X59 altogether. We certainly could have flown at night and been legal, but it would not have made for a great video podcast. As it was, some if the lighting was not as good as I would have liked.
As an aside, night flying is some of my favorite. If I can figure out a way to get good video in low-light situations, I’ll bring that to you as well.
Melbourne is a Class D airport with plenty of traffic. A few scheduled airlines, a large flight school, and plenty of business and personal aircraft mean there is a good chance you won’t be the only airplane in the pattern. Today was no exception.
We were cleared to take off on runway 9L. Since there was traffic departing on the parallel runway, we were instructed to depart straight ahead, or maintain runway heading, until instructed to turn south towards Valkaria.
We started the the takeoff roll at Melbourne, and I learned quite unexpectedly about a little phenomenon called P-factor. Almost as soon as the tail came up, we took a left turn on the runway. A surprisingly abrupt left turn. Jared, of course, was anticipating this, and we were off the runway before we reached the grass. But wow. Note to self, those pedals on the floor are useful for more than just the brakes.
I cannot think of a better way to describe the takeoff other than to say the Citabria “leaped” off the runway. It was like someone pushed the button for the penthouse on the elevator, and whoosh! We were going! In no time at all, we had passed the other traffic to the right, and we were instructed by the tower controller to make the turn to the south.
For the next several minutes I struggled with altitude. The plan was to level off at 1500 feet. I slowed the ascent so that I could watching 1500 pass slowly by. Then I played with the trim and the attitude to get us back down to 1500 feet. At 1800 feet, I realized I was not being aggressive enough. As we approached 2000 feet, I realize this plane just wants to climb climb climb!
I finally got the altitude under control and we headed down the river towards Valkaria, then turned east over the beach. We chatted a bit about some cool airplanes, then decided to skip the landing at Valkaria because we were quickly losing sunlight. Instead, we turned back towards Melbourne for a little pattern work.
In part two of this episode, we head back to Melbourne International Airport, make a pattern entry, and shoot one touch and go before calling it a night. I hope you will join me for the second half of this episode.
See you soon!