By: Norm Goyer
Champion Aircraft Corporation acquired the rights to the Aeronca designs (Champ, Chief and Citabria) in 1954. . The model 7ECA Citabria entered production at Champion in 1964. The 7GCAA and 7GCBC variants, added in 1965. These aircraft were joined by the 7KCAB in 1968. The name Citabria is essentially the word Airbatic (not even a word) spelled backwards, but the name Citabria tells it all. It was the first variation of the 7AC Champ that had been beefed up for minor aerobatics. At the time it was the only certified US aircraft that was certified by the FAA for entry level aerobatics. The year was 1965. Over 5,000 of the 115-hp two-place tandem tube and fabric aircraft were manufactured.
In 1970, Champion was acquired by Bellanca Aircraft Corporation, which continued production of all of the Champion-designed variants. Bellanca introduced two new designs with close connections to the Citabria: The 8KCAB Decathlon and the 8GCBC Scout. Production at Bellanca ended in 1980, and the company’s assets were liquidated in 1982. And, this is where my story begins. In 1974, Citabrias almost devoured our company. Our Corporation owned the FBOs at four High Desert Airports where we taught flying using Piper Cruisers, Warriors, Arrows and Senecas. In 1976 we added a Cessna Dealership, in another division, and flew Cessna 150s, a Cessna Aerobat and a Cessna 172. That same year we also added four Bellanca Champion 7ECAs for rental to our large number of military pilots who loved the small tail dragger and its ability to perform simple aerobatics. In 1976, I also took in a Bellanca Champion Decathlon, one that briefly held the world’s inverted flight record, complete with a huge map of the route emblazoned on the side. The feat had been performed by the late Cindy Rucker who now worked for us as a flight instructor. We had a divided instructor’s department, two thirds were ex-military instructors who preferred the Pipers and 150s for primary flight training. Our two younger flight instructors championed the Champions and thus the conflict began. Our problem was simple, our jet jockeys could fly the tail draggers and most of our new students couldn’t. At one time, all four of our 7-ECAs were in the shop due to ground loop accidents. Our business was dedicated to teaching people to fly safely. Finally our insurance company threatened to cancel us and it was decision time. Our farewell party for the two young instructors, was a sad affair. I then put the entire fleet of Citabrias and Decathlon on the market. I loved the Decathlon, but I loved our corporation more. (I had found equal or better paying jobs for both before I let them go.)
This serious blunder was not the fault of the Citabrias, they were a nice aircraft and our experienced pilots loved them. It was a problem with our 180/360, 150 foot wide, over 6,ooo foot hardtop runway which was installed to accommodate airliners, that never showed up, and not for the prevailing winds, which blew daily and vigorously from 220 degrees to 270 degrees. This was an accident waiting to happen for inexperienced tail dragger pilots. We never harmed anyone, but the airplanes didn’t fare so well.
The Citabria designs passed through the hands of a number of companies through the 1980s, including the American Champion Aircraft Company, which was no relation to the Champion Aircraft of the 1960s. American Champion Aircraft Corporation acquired the Citabria, Decathlon, and Scout designs in 1989 and returned the 7ECA, 7GCAA, and 7GCBC models to production over a period of years. Most of these aircraft are still available from American Champion.
The Decathlons had 180-hp Lycoming engines with a constant speed prop, quick release doors, full aerobatic harnesses. Inverted oil and fuel systems were available. The Decathlons remains as a very good entry level professional aerobatic mount and serves as an excellent starting point for the Pitts S2B.
Along the way some pretty interesting aircraft were produced by the various companies producing these aircraft. I also purchased a Bellanca Scout, with a long wing which was used for fish spotting and pipeline observation duties. It was a truck and it did its job nicely. Huge fuel tanks were stuffed in the rear seat and the spotters could literally fly all day looking for schools of fish to direct the fishing fleet to their proximity.
One of my favorite weird airplanes of all times was the Lancer, also had Citabria roots. This twin-engine, fixed gear, high wing was a multi engine trainer for pilots with little money. You could retract the gear, but it never moved as it was welded down, you could feather the prop which never moved because they were solid aluminum but the phantom do nothing controls produced the necessary reactions for future multi-engine pilots. That one weird enough for you? Okay here’s another. They added a nose gear to the Champ and called it the TriTraveler, now this was a dumb looking aircraft, but, it did have a training wheel up front. Okay here’s another one, the Champ with a two cylinder cut in half Franklin four cylinder engine. I did fly this one, it was not overpowered, but it did fly with two people in for very little fuel. I understand that this airplane now has a four-cylinder Australian engine added and is available as an LSA aircraft.
This week’s Bird of the Week we will discuss the Aviat Husky, a certified tandem aircraft which is being manufactured for this market segment. I have flown all of the various Huskies on wheels and floats and it is a well built interesting aircraft that does its job.