Classics, warbirds march to 'Challenge' finals

March 27, 2012

As “Spring Break for Pilots” begins in Lakeland, Fla., the general aviation world comes out of its winter hibernation, with hundreds of modern aircraft on display at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In & Expo. But if March 26’s voting in the East and Southeast regions of AOPA's Favorite Aircraft Challenge is any indication, the largest crowds at Lakeland will be found around very old or very lethal vintage airplanes.

East and Southeast region Round Three results: The powerful P-51 Mustang continued slicing and dicing anything standing in its path to the finals by eliminating the King Air in a blowout. “Performance, performance, performance,” one voter commented about the 'Stang, “best of all fighters in its time. Nothing could match its fire power and maneuverability.”

A very big surprise came in the second contest of the East Region, when another warbird, the unstoppable F4U Corsair, fought hard and took out one of GA's most popular airplanes, the Cessna 172. “Seriously, is there any pilot alive who wouldn't choose a Corsair over just about anything?” one voter asked. Another cast a vote for the F4U by asking “which one would you rather taxi up to the airport cafe in, a 172 or a Corsair?”

In the Southeast Region, the Mooney M20 came to play but could not best the classic, lovable Piper J-3 Cub. “Tried and true,” one commenter stated about the Cub, “it will always be a fan favorite. How else can you skim the fall foliage, hanging out the door by your lap belt taking the best pictures ever with the wind in your face?” The second contest in the Southeast had the Beech Staggerwing eliminating the Stearman PT-17 in a close one. “The Staggarwing is an amazing piece of art deco furniture masterfully crafted into one of the most beautiful airplanes flying,” one voter stated emphatically.

East and Southeast Round Four predictions: When voting begins March 29 in the “round of eight,” it's all classic and vintage hardware set for tip-off. Expect brute force versus “carrier landing” precision when the P-51 Mustang squares off against the F4U Corsair. More than a few voters have said the P-51 is “probably the piston aircraft more GA pilots would love to fly more than any other in history,” but the Corsair has proven it came to play with its upset win over the Skyhawk. This one could go into overtime as neither ship will back down an inch. When this dogfight is over, the P-51 comes out on top to advance.

In the Southeast's Round Four, there won't be a glass panel in the building when the Piper J-3 Cub tries to stay alive against the sleek luxury of the Beech Staggerwing. The Beech crowd brings plenty of money to this battle--all of it needed to keep this classic flying. But the arena will be loaded with many generations of aviators who have at some time stopped in their tracks just long enough to watch a bright yellow J-3 chug across the sky. This incredible match-up is slow versus fast, simple versus elaborate. By a respectable margin, the Piper J-3 Cub advances to claim its spot in the Four on Final round.