When Champion Aircraft Company at Osceola, Wis., entered the trainer marketplace with the Citabria (airbatic spelled backwards) I contemplated taking on a dealership. However, I did have some reservations about this new airplane. Its G tolerances and controllability around all three axes were my biggest concerns. To ease my mind on both issues, Bob Brown, Champion's president, invited me to visit the factory and fly the airplane.
A lengthy guided tour of the plant proved to me that the airplane was sturdy enough for basic aerobatics, although it was somewhat short on the negative G side for outside maneuvers. After the tour, I strapped into a Citabria and took it up for an evaluation. The performance was good. It got off after a short roll, had a good rate of climb, and up to about 60 degrees nose up, it rolled rather well. However, from there to inverted flight, and through a slow roll, it was very heavy on the controls. My written report was critical of the airplane's shortcomings, but it stated that I was pleased that Champion had made the bold step - certificating an airplane as aerobatic at a time when the industry definitely needed one.
When Champion certificated the Decathlon several years later, my Citabria report may have been of some help to the company. Most every suggestion I'd made was incorporated in the Decathlon. My second evaluation visit to Osceola was much the same as the first, but my appraisal of the Decathlon was a different story. After thoroughly checking it out, I stated that, in my opinion, it was the best basic aerobatic trainer ever built.
The Decathlon is the next step up from simple positive-G aerobatic airplanes like the Aerobat or the Citabria. It has what country and western stars call crossover, the ability to please more than one crowd at a time. It can be a trainer and Sunday fun airplane, or it can do serious airshow work. Patty Wagstaff is among the many pilots who have thrilled crowds using a Decathlon.
Now, after 19 years and somewhere around 10,000 hours, and though other excellent trainers have come on the market, I still prefer the Decathlon. As the years have passed, some weak points have shown up, as they have in any airplane ever built, but with Airworthiness Directives, and American Champion's modern improvements, the Decathlon will be around for a long time.
The Right Start: Attending the Birth
Duane Cole, April 1993
Avalanche! American Champion Super Decathlon
Alton K. Marsh, AOPA Pilot, October 2002