From the Cockpit Part 6: Bellanca Citabria

Ryan Flies

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY FEB 9, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is part six of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

Flying out of Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, FL, Rankin feels at home in the cockpit of a Bellanca Citabria. Having flown the plane’s older brother, the American Champion Super Decathlon, on many an occasion, the Citabria is a comfortable fit. Everything from the airframe to the instrument layout is “very similar,” he says. “I felt like I was getting into a car I’d driven before.”

Accompanied by Travis Brown, a friend and flight instructor with Tailwheels Etc, Rankin took the Citabria out for a roughly 30-minute cruise to get the feel for the aircraft. Less powerful than the Super Decathlon, the difference was noticeable, says Rankin, with the biggest difference being the lack of inverted flight capability on the Citabria, due to various gravity-fed components in the engine. Still, Citabria is “airbatic” backwards and the plane is designed to perform. Putting the aircraft through its paces, Rankin executed loops, barrel rolls, aileron rolls and even some dogfighting maneuvers like the Split S—a roll into a downward half loop resulting in the plane facing the opposite direction but at a lower altitude—and its counterpart, the Immelman.

Key to designing an aerobatic plane, says Rankin, lies in “certain structural limits that will allow it to pull a certain amount of Gs.” He’s a pilot, not an engineer, and can’t speak to the details, but everything from wing shape to frame design and engine type come into play. The Citabria can handle five positive Gs and two negative Gs, which are actually harder to deal with, says Rankin: “Those are a lot less comfortable and the body is a lot less capable of adapting.” Some pilots can take up to 10 or 11 Gs in test aircraft, but even a few negative Gs can be a challenge, with blood rushing to the head instead of the feet.

Another tailwheel aircraft, Rankin’s growing more and more comfortable with the design but still welcomes the challenge. “There’s more pilotage involved,” he says, “and I appreciate that.” He’ll fly the Super Decathlon again soon and looks forward to comparing the two.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and the Bellanca Citabria. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

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