American Champion 8GCBC Scout - N134MA
The Champion Scout, introduced in 1974 when Champion was part of the Bellanca Aircraft Corp., was designed to compete with Pipers popular PA-18 Super Cub for laurels in the light utility marketplace. The Scout and the Cub, joined later by the Christen (now Aviat) A-1 Husky, exist primarily to serve as aerial jeeps or compact pickup trucks. But they also appeal to a number of sporting pilots for use on the back forty or to transport fishing or hunting gear to remote islands in the North. The 8GCBC Scout was introduced as the newest member of the Bellanca Champion line in 1974. Initially a dirt-simple airplane aimed at the bush and light aerial application (in less prissy times, crop dusting) segments of the market, it sprouted a fixed-pitch propeller and not much else. Options were few.
The Scout shares with its more widely-known stable mate, the Decathlon, the distinction of being one of the few light airplanes certificated to FAR Part 23. At the same time, it reflects a heritage that extends back to the Great Depression year of 1929. Thats when Aeronca was formed. It spawned the Champ of post-World War II fame. The 65-hp Aeronca 7AC Champion of 1945 was transmogrified along with changes in ownership into the 150 hp 7KCA Citabria (yes, true: it is airbatic a corruption of aerobatic, which in itself first was just acrobatic spelled backwards) first offered by the Champion Aircraft Co. in 1965.
Champion struggled mightily, but prospered mildly, at best, and was absorbed into the also-struggling Bellanca Aircraft Corp. in 1970. In its brief almost-heyday, Champion developed and produced in the Citabria and Decathlon airplanes that made aerobatic training and practice, and even air show performances and precision flying competition, available to a far greater number of people.
The Scout was the first long-wing Champion variant. It also was offered with a 180-hp powerplant. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s, versions powered by 140- and 150-hp engines were offered with flaps and are mistakenly called Scouts by some people. The determinant is the greater wingspan. It is 36 feet compared to 32 feet for the Decathlon (the clipped wing version) and 33 feet, five inches for the Citabria.
In 1978, a constant-speed propeller was offered as an option. A 70-gallon usable fuel capacity was offered to augment the standard Scout usable fuel load of 35 gallons. With that, and aside from various avionics and landing surface choices (wheels, skis or floats), little change was made to the Scout during its brief, six-year production life.
Until, that is, it was reborn in 1993 as the third product offered by American Champion Aircraft Corp. (ACA) of Rochester, Wisconsin, (414) 534-6315.
First, another digression. Champion collapsed in the bankruptcy of its parent, Bellanca, in 1980. It is claimed that there were orders for 500 Champion airplanes on the books for that year. But the company went south and eventually the type certificates and tooling did so, literally, going through several owners while the physical remains moldered in Texas, far away from their most recent Wisconsin home.
A series of plans was announced about a return to production. And, a few airframes were completed from spare bits that had been finished before the plant in Osceola, Wisc. closed. There was strong interest in returning the line to production, especially the aerobatic airplanes, but many schemes failed until the latest rebirth of the company.
The return to production of the Scout (which originally was planned for 1991) included a significant physical change: the wood-spar wing has been redesigned and the airplane re-certified with a metal spar. The Decathlon and Citabria had received the transplant earlier.
According to Jerry K. Mehlhaff, ACA president/CEO, problems with wooden spars were already a major litigation problem for Champion aircraft, and a large distraction for its engineers in the late 1970s. Mehlhaff would like to see all Citabria, Decathlons and Scouts converted to metal spars.
Up until 1993, 359 Scouts had been built. Only about 30 have been completed since. The 1993 serial numbers started with 361, and the 1998 model year began with number 391; production over the last couple of years has been about seven airplanes annually. Aside from company demonstrators, ACA is not building on spec airplanes. All are built to order. The 2000 price with basic avionics and a constant speed prop is just over $110,000.
In addition to the wing spar, ACA has developed other changes. These include metal flaps, balanced ailerons, aileron spades and newly designed front struts that are fabricated from an extruded metal. All, plus conversion from 35- to 70-gallon usable fuel, are available for retrofit from ACA
As already noted, the core competition for the Scout are the PA-18 Super Cub and A-1 Husky. A number of other competing designs have come and gone (and some have come back and gone again, such as the Interstate), and others, such as the ebbing and flowing Taylorcraft have tried to muscle into the narrow turf holding of two-place utility airplanes.
In some applications, such as power, pipeline and natural-resource patrol, airplanes such as the Cessna 172 and 182 (and 180 and 185) also are competition.
However, for off-airport, bush-type operations, tail draggers still are the airplanes of choice (again, including the Cessna 180 and 185 and such relatively esoteric airplanes as the Lockheed/LASA 60 and the Helio Courier).
If the qualification of continued support by some level of production is important to potential buyers, the Scout and Husky are without competition.
There are interesting equipment-related tradeoffs in Scout performance. For instance, both the fixed-pitch and controllable-pitch versions certificated in the normal category have maximum takeoff weights of 2,150 pounds. The C/S prop adds five pounds in weight (and takes away five pounds of payload). Or is it 15 pounds? The factory figures are in conflict. Another reason to carefully inspect aircraft documents, especially the weight and balance forms
The fixed-pitch version can be operated in the restricted categoryfor instance, for crop dustingat a 2,600-pound gross weight.
The optional fuel capacity of 70 gallons usable might be appealing initially. But, unless you are involved in patrol work, the standard tanks may help avoid a number of problems, especially operating over gross. There also are some basic considerations related to mass and inertia. The Scout is not approved for any aerobatic maneuvers, including spins. The dynamics of a stall/spin encounter with 420 rather than 210 pounds of weight in the wingsand farther from the center of rotationare quite different from those of the standard airplane.
Equipped empty weight varies greatly with installed equipment, too. While payload with full fuel for the standard airplane is quite good at 625 pounds, auxiliary fuel and installed accessories will quickly cut into payload and/or range.
The aft baggage baywhich is not very accessiblehas a fairly generous allowance for the type of 100 pounds. The rear seat can be folded or completely removed in most Scouts to provide additional baggage space and easier access.
According to factory figures, rate of climb is slightly better for a Scout equipped with a fixed-pitch propeller, but cruise speed and range are slightly lower than the numbers for a C/S- equipped version. However, the numbers are close enough together to be essentially unmeasurable in the hands of the average pilot, so the big differential becomes payload reduced by the weight of installed options.
A big difference between the Scout and its siblings is that it sits higher on the main gear. Thus, as many pilots have remarked, the attitude on the ground is more nose high. This, together with the stiff yet resilient spring steel main gear (smite the ground with too much of a sink rate, and itll spring you back into the air at an alarming rate) and large tires requires more precision and finesse from the pilot during ground handling, takeoff and landing, particularly when there is wind about
The good aspect of Scout behavior on the ground and in ground effect (it floats a lot more than the Decathlon or Citabria) is that it is over fairly rapidly in the hands of an adequately competent pilot.
Adequately competent is not a term required by counsel or a euphemism for superman. Any conventional-gear airplane requires better speed control, directional control and control coordination than the average tricycle-gear airplane. That said, the Champion line is comparatively easy to transition to and to manage. Speed and attitude control are key. And recognizing when wind speed and direction are beyond ones competence is an essential element of safe operation.
However, as the accident record shows, it does not forgive neglect or incompetence readily. Most accidents and incidents occur on or close to the ground, and involve directional control problems from the wind and because of poor judgment or flying ability.
Decathlons are noted for their heavy aileron forces. The Scout, with its longer wing, is even more taxing. Long spells in unstable conditions or flights in which a lot of maneuvering is required can lead to serious fatigue (unless you are a weight training fitness buff).
Pitch forces are quite light. In the hands of some pilots, even too light: there have been a number of instances/incidents/accidents caused by pilot-induced oscillations (PIOs) a/k/a porpoising. Rudder forces lie between the two. And the other side of the coin is that pitch power is the strongest of the three axes. In certain conditions, such as crosswind landing, roll and yaw control can be inadequate or too difficult to apply.
Aileron spades, which are aerodynamic aids to increase roll control and reduce the level of effort, have been offered for several Champion models in the aftermarket. ACA now offers them for the Scout, even as kits for retrofit to used airplanes.
One of the greatest attributes of
all Champions is visibility to the outside. Both front and rear seat occupants
benefit. Seats are not luxurious, but they are adequate for pilots of most sizes
for all but the longest-duration missions.
Placement of instruments, gauges, controls and switches, including (or especially) electrical accessories may take some getting used to for pilots new to this category of airplane.
Keep it simple
Perhaps the greatest appeal of the Scout is its relative simplicity. This includes the powerplant and attendant systems. About as bullet proof as airplane pieces go, they are easy to support in relatively remote spots. Most components and systems are fairly easy to get at, too. For instance, the belly pan is a continuous piece that is easily removed to check lower fuselage members for corrosion and to inspect control cables, pulleys and fairleads
The service record of the Scout is
as straightforward as the airplane itself. But there are a few tricks. For instance,
most problems are the result of neglect, harsh operation or operating environment
and wear and tear.
Strut corrosion has been a problem, as has the wooden wing spar. ADs addressing both problems have been recently issued. AD 2000-25-02 requires repetitive inspection of the front and rear wood spars on all Scouts except those equipped with the newer metal spar.
Vibration-related problems are relatively frequent, suggesting propeller balancing and regular inspection of engine mounts will pay off in reduced accessory problems.
Wing spar cracks are the most frequent of all service problems. While they have occurred in less than 2 percent of the fleet, concern about them resulted in airworthiness directives. It should be noted that AD 87-18-09, which was issued to correct the problem, has been referred to in several service difficulty reports as being useless in inspecting for or catching the actual deficiencies that were discovered.
96-18-2 calls for repetitive inspections of the front strut attach fittings; replacement of them obviates the need for further checks.
In addition, the Scout is subject to AD 98-2-8, which calls for inspection of the hollow crankshafts inner bore for corrosion pits. If any are found, further inspections must be done at 100-hour intervals until overhaul, when the crank must be replaced.
Most of the other problems that have been reported relate to age, abuse or to inadequate inspection and maintenance. Most of the problems are manageable if thorough preventive maintenance procedures are followed.
The majority of Scout accidents are, as mentioned above, related to handling on or near the ground. There is no pattern that singles out the Scout. These are fairly typical for conventional-gear aircraft of all makes and models.
However, it is worth noting that half of the Scouts landing accidents occurred in the bush, or away from airports. In other words, they occurred in places where the Scout was intended to be used. These can be inhospitable places full of traps for wind spurts or for momentary mental lapses.
The single fatal accident recorded in the past five-and-a-half years was the result of loss of control during low flight.
On the whole, the record of the Scout is benign. Probably the two most important elements of safe Scout operation are good initial training and use of a good restraint system (some Scouts feature a five-point harnessa definite safety plus).
The 8GCBC Scout is a good honest plane, and in my opinion, used Scouts are the best value in the high-power two-place utility market at this time. When asked what it is, I sometimes tell strangers that its a Citabria thats been on steroids, although this isnt really fair to either the Scout or Citabria.
I am Chief Tow Pilot for the Colorado Soaring Assn. We operate a low serial number 74 Scout at Owl Canyon Gliderport, north of Fort Collins, at 5,500 msl. The Scout allows us to tow gliders with gross weights from 600 to 1,400 pounds, and get off the ground in 1,200 to 1,500 feet most of the time, even with density altitudes over 9,000 feet. Glider towing is severe service, with five to seven landing cycles per hour beating up the airframe, and the same maximum climb/maximum descent cycles working on the powerplant. The Scout tolerates this well.
As for handling, in the air, the Scout is heavy in roll, light in pitch, and medium in rudder pressures. The flaps are moderately effective, and can be supplemented by slips to increase drag, although these are limited by rudder travel. Stalls are straightforward, with a pronounced break and some tendency to fall off on a wing. Crosswind component is somewhat limited by rudder and aileron effectiveness, but is still more than most people will want to try. The spade ailerons now available from American Champion may improve response (I havent flown them), but watch your head on the ground! I carry scars from a Husky.
Ground handling is more demanding than in Cubs and Citabrias, despite the nearly identical cockpit (to the latter). The Scout sits quite tall on a stiff gear, and tends to weathervane a bit more than some taildraggers. Transitions to takeoff and to landing require close attention and prompt application of controls to keep things straight. The brakes/tires (8.50 x 6.00 on double-puck Clevelands, similar to a Cessna 185s) are extremely effective, and can put the prop in the dirt very easily. These props are hard to find and expensive.
Over-the-nose visibility is fairly good for a tall taildragger, but pilots transitioning from Citabrias have to work at getting the nose up for three-point landings.
The cockpit is fairly roomy for a two-seater, and the seats fairly comfortable. If the seat-back AD needs compliance (it should have been taken care of by now), consider the adjustable front seat: The mechanism is quite awkward, but will accommodate a wider range of pilot sizes. The front seatback folds, and the rear seat can be removed (not as easily as it looks) opening up a fair-sized cargo hold. Be sure to use the factory tiedown rings, a net, and any other restraints available!
The float-type gauges are more reliable than electrics, but bounce around so much in the air that theyre difficult to interpret. Use known fuel fill against time at a known fuel flow rate. The fuel is on or off only; some operators prefer to run one tank quite low, then switch to the other as a reserve. This is not possible on the Scout.
Most towplane operators opt for the fixed-pitch prop of the flattest pitch possible, and the Scout prop can be quite efficient. A variable-pitch Hartzell prop is optional, and is definitely faster, although not as efficient in acceleration and climb. Mixed use operations might benefit from it. The variable pitch prop is subject to more maintenance, as well as an onerous A.D.
The wooden-spar wings have a notorious A.D. for cracks in the spars. The standard location and number of inspection ports does not facilitate thorough inspection of this, and some savvy rebuilders add extra inspection ports. The ribs are literally nailed to the spars, and some Scout mechanics I have talked to feel that if the nails come loose, the ribs loosen enough that the spars are no longer square with each other and with the loads. These should be thoroughly checked and re-nailed if required. Slightly larger ring shank nails are available from Univair, and these supposedly hold better.
I have seen similar spar cracks recently in an Aeronca 15AC and a Champion 7FC which use substantially the same wing construction as the Scout. American Champion has metal spar wings available to retrofit the wooden spar wings on most Scouts, and all their new production Scouts are of the metal spar variety. The metal spar wings are quite expensive, however. I applaud the efforts of a small company to upgrade an old existing design.
The other major airframe squawk is the undercarriage. The spring steel main gear is itself quite robustquite stiff in fact, even at full gross weight. The problem is with original main gear attaching U bolts. The original is little more than a bent rod, threaded on the ends for a nut. This is prone to cracking on the bends, especially on Scouts with lots of landing cycles, or operated from rough fields.
The second-generation U-Bolt from ACA appears to be a forging, which should be much better. I have heard rumors of cracks on some of these. Univair has an STCd solution that uses flat bar stock clamping the gear leg to the fuselage with MS bolts, thus eliminating the stress of bent metal. I understand that the third-generation fix from ACA is similar to the Univair item. Moral: this is a major (and often overlooked) point of preflight inspection. If you have not done so, plan on replacing these. (MS hardware is sometimes in short supply: If ACA doesnt have them in stock, try Univair, and vice versa.)
A similar condition exists with the tailspring and its U-bolt. The Scout tail is fairly heavy, and can really beat up these parts. Again, preflight the tailspring carefully and keep the U-bolt snug. We keep a complete assembly on hand, and replace the tailspring U-bolt every 1,200 to 1,500 landing cycles.
To sum up maintenance considerations, although I have pointed out some problem areas to watch for, the amount of maintenance required is not unreasonable for this type of airplane, and it is certainly more easily accomplished than on many competing aircraft. As I have pointed out, a glider towplane really experiences severe service, and we tend to see things that the normal operator would not.
Before American Champion came on the scene, parts were something of a problem, but they now have good product support and advice (unless they are all at Oshkosh!). Here in Denver, Univair has developed quite a bit of expertise on the Scout, and offers a fairly large line of PMAd parts of very good quality. Their phone and counter sales staff are generally knowledgeable on correct parts selection and application. Many of us appreciate Univairs long-term commitment to older and out-of-production airplanes.
Curt Cole - Aviation Consumer (www.aviationconsumer.com)