Blue sky above—puffy white clouds ahead—breezy coastline below.
I’m getting acquainted with the Extra NG—the latest unlimited aerobatic uberplane from Extra Aircraft in Germany—starting with a few familiarization maneuvers. Steep turn, Lazy 8, barrel roll, loop.
“How about a full-deflection aileron roll?” I ask Doug Vayda, a highly experienced Extra pilot and sales rep at Southeast Aircraft in St. Augustine, Florida, who’s guiding me through this introductory flight.
“Sure,” Vayda says nodding in the front seat. “But let me tighten my [five-point seatbelt] harness first….OK, go for it.”
That pause and belt tightening were cues that something extraordinary was about to happen, yet I was oblivious. After all, an aileron roll is a no-brainer in an unlimited aerobatic airplane. A mindless flick of the wrist.
Charging along in level flight at 165 KIAS, I push the floor-mounted control stick hard left, and the contrasting colors of sky, cloud, and ground instantly swirl as though they’d been dumped in a blender. Blue, white, and green are suddenly an indistinct blur—and the ailerons haven’t even reached full travel yet.
I neutralize the controls at what I guess is level flight but isn’t close.
Not only does the NG roll at a blindingly fast rate of about 400 degrees per second, the start and stop are incredibly abrupt. The jarring quickness was surprising because, until then, the NG had felt so civilized and mannerly.
My control inputs during takeoff, climb, steep turns, and initial aerobatic maneuvers had been relatively mild. Decisively applying full aileron deflection had triggered the NG’s beast mode. Breakout forces are light and linear—but the rate of change is amplified. And the same is true for elevator and rudder, too.
Pull firmly and the G onset is instantaneous as the airplane squats around the lateral axis and its broad nose rises. Step on a rudder and yaw pushes you sideways. Roll and the horizon rotates like a pinwheel.
Thick, symmetrical wings with no dihedral mean there’s no “coupling” between any of the controls, so stepping on a rudder pedal in level flight doesn’t raise a wing. Elevator trim doesn’t change from stall speed to VNE. And a combination of counterweights, horns, and aileron spades keeps control forces the same, even as the airplane’s speed changes.
“The airplane will be as mild or as wild as you tell it to be,” Vayda said. “It’s rated to plus or minus 10 Gs, so it’s stronger than any human. You and I are the limiting factors.”
From level flight at 165 KIAS, I start a 4-G pull to vertical for a hammerhead. The MT Propeller digs into the humid coastal air and its three blades shift to low gear while the Lycoming IO-580 engine churns at 2,500 rpm.
It takes 12 seconds and 1,500 feet of altitude gain to reach the turnaround point. That’s a little more than the height of the Empire State Building, and that comparison seems oddly apt because the stout, muscular NG makes me think of King Kong scaling the skyscraper.
“This thing climbs like it’s going hand-over-hand up a rope,” Vayda says. “When you think it’s done, wait a little longer before kicking the rudder—and even then you’re likely to kick too soon.”
I leave the throttle full forward on the downline and the needle on the analog airspeed indicator jumps toward the red line. In about five seconds the airspeed leaps from near zero to nearly 200 KIAS even though the airplane finishes the maneuver about 200 feet higher than it started.
“It’s freaky how fast this thing goes fast,” Vayda said. “Its rate of acceleration going downhill is mind bending.”
No steel frame
The NG (for “Next Generation”) represents a technology turning point for Extra Aircraft.
For more than 30 years, the German firm founded and led by Walter Extra, an engineer and former aerobatic competition pilot, has designed and produced incredibly strong, exquisitely crafted, and exceedingly durable aerobatic aircraft with one trait in common: all were built around steel-tube frames.
Steel frames gave them strength, rigidity, and crash survivability—but they also limited interior space and added weight. Modern rivals such as Game Composites with its GB1 and MX Aircraft with its MXS and MX2 avoided steel in favor of all-carbon-fiber construction, and their unlimited aerobatic airplanes deliver jaw-dropping performance.
Extra had long contemplated doing away with the steel structure but the founder wasn’t willing to make that leap until he was sure it wouldn’t compromise safety. About three years ago, he found a way to enhance crashworthiness, or “residual strength,” in carbon fiber.
“When I found a method of introducing residual strength, even in very thin (carbon fiber) shells as they are used in fuselage structures, I started thinking seriously about a new airplane,” Extra said. That concept became the NG, which was unveiled in 2019.
Extra said he hasn’t decided whether to seek a patent.
“I might make my idea publicly available to boost safety,” he said.
Once liberated from steel frames, Extra could make improvements he’d long sought: more interior space, a far larger front cockpit, a removable floor for ease of maintenance, fewer parts, and smoother surfaces with more aerodynamically efficient intersections.
The Lycoming AEIO-580 engine and MT Propeller on the NG have been proven on previous aircraft, and the wing shape is nearly identical to Extra LX models. But almost everything else about the NG is different.
The exterior walkaround shows a dazzling fit and finish. Carbon fiber is a difficult material to paint, yet the surfaces are mirror smooth and lustrous. The canopy is optically perfect despite its complex shape, and it closes as tight as a door on a Mercedes coupe.
The NG holds 51 gallons of fuel in a main tank in the fuselage and a pair of wing tanks. Two “whiskers” on the cowl openings are mini wings meant to improve engine cooling at high angles of attack. The steerable rubber tailwheel connects to the rudder with a pair of tension springs.
Climbing into the cockpit requires stepping onto the stitched leather seat and lowering yourself down. The seatback angle is adjusted with a single button. Push the button, move upright or recline as desired, then release the button and an air piston keeps the angle exactly where you set it. The rudder pedals also move fore and aft.
The shape of the seat is designed to accommodate a pilot wearing a backpack parachute, and the sides conform to prevent the pilot from shifting from side to side. A five-point ratcheting harness cinches the occupant firmly in place.
The ergonomics of seat position, interior space, physical support, control placement and travel, and switch position make the NG astoundingly comfortable—and that’s unusual because comfort is typically an afterthought in hardcore aerobatic airplanes. Here, Extra makes it a priority.
The Garmin panel contains an IFR-capable G3X primary flight display/multifunction display, G5 standby instrument, GNX 375 GPS, com radio, and a digital autopilot. The NG is certified by EASA in Europe and awaiting FAA certification. Meanwhile, the few NGs imported to the United States so far are being flown under experimental exhibition rules.
Start is normal for a fuel-injected engine, and the nose-up deck angle requires S-turns during taxi. The pre-takeoff checklist is short with fuel selector, canopy latch, and elevator trim among the critical items.
Takeoff is an enveloping roar of engine noise and brisk acceleration. There’s surprisingly little left turning tendency despite the powerful engine/propeller combination, and light forward stick raises the tailwheel off the runway surface at about 40 KIAS.
Hold a tail-low attitude as the airplane lunges forward and the NG is airborne at 80 KIAS and accelerating like a quarter horse. Elevator forces are light and authoritative so the pilot must consciously resist overcontrolling in pitch. I set a 15-degree pitch attitude for the initial climb, but that’s way too flat for Vayda.
“Pitch up and see what [pitch attitude] it takes to hold 80 knots,” he said.
I’m already blowing through 110 knots, so I double the pitch attitude to 30 degrees and we’re still at 95 knots and climbing 3,000 feet per minute going through pattern altitude.
A power reduction to 25 manifold inches and 2,500 rpm reduces ambient noise and the cockpit gets remarkably quiet. The controls feel responsive but not twitchy. The smooth engine/prop combination, physical comfort, and excellent visibility create the impression the NG is somehow bigger than its actual size. The NG exudes quality, capability, and precision that inspire confidence.
We level off at 4,500 feet and I let the airplane accelerate to 165 KIAS at 25 manifold inches.
Vayda said he flies the NG cross-country at 190 KTAS at 8,500 feet while the engine consumes 18 gallons of avgas per hour. Top speed in level flight is 194 KTAS—a big number considering the inherently draggy symmetrical airfoil.
We explore a series of looping, rolling, and spinning maneuvers and the NG reveals itself to possess both stunning performance and an honest, eager-to-please temperament. It’s all Dr. Jekyll and no Mr. Hyde. The letters NG might as well stand for Nice Guy.
Stalls are benign with instant recovery as soon as angle of attack is reduced. Spins are crisp at both entry and exit, and the pilot must hold full pro-spin inputs or the airplane will recover on its own. Vertical maneuvers net 1,500 feet of altitude gain when entered at moderate speeds and 75 percent power—and upwards of 2,000 feet at high speed and full power.
The NG has so much thrust and so little weight and drag that it gains altitude and speed during aerobatic maneuvers that are usually altitude and energy losers.
Approach and landing can be stressful in some aerobatic aircraft because of their inherent instability, light control pressures, lack of flaps, and poor forward visibility. The NG is remarkably steady in the landing pattern, but its big prop disk and the quick response of its Lycoming engine make it accelerate and decelerate dramatically with relatively small power changes. Pilots are accustomed to managing speed and descent rate with combined pitch and power—but the NG’s abundance of power skews that relationship and makes power paramount.
My curving approach to the 3,400-foot-long, 75-foot-wide runway at the Beaufort County Airport was about 10 knots too fast on base, so I reduced the power to idle and ended up about 5 knots too slow on final. There, an almost imperceptible power addition put the NG back on the desired speed of 90 KIAS.
Light elevator pressure in ground effect makes it easy to introduce unwanted pitch oscillations during the landing flare. Vayda’s timely advice to “hold what you’ve got” helped set up a full-stall, three-point landing at idle power in which the tailwheel touched slightly before the mains. The NG tracked straight ahead with no rudder input after touchdown despite a 7-knot crosswind.
The Extra NG is a highly refined, ultra-strong, and aesthetically gorgeous aircraft that can give pilots as much aerobatic performance as they can physically stand—and then some. It’s designed to appeal to unlimited aerobatic competitors who must perform in the tight confines of a 1,000-meter cube as well as sportplane pilots who want to travel long distances at high speeds and get rowdy whenever the mood strikes. NG pilots can simply have as much fun/pain as they can tolerate knowing they’re not taxing the aircraft.
Extra expects the NG to set new standards for reliability and maintainability. Unlike metal, carbon fiber doesn’t corrode and sealed bearings don’t even require lubrication. Avionics are solid-state, and removing a few screws provides access for technicians to instruments, wiring, control linkages, and the engine compartment.
It would have seemed heretical a few years ago to put a digital IFR panel and autopilot in an unlimited aerobat—but it’s logical in an NG that flies as fast as a Beech Baron and has three hours (or more) of endurance.
Walter Extra started in aviation by building a single-seat aerobat that he wanted to fly himself. When others saw it, they hired him to make more, and a business was born.
That company’s greatest successes have come from uncompromising niche airplanes, yet they captured the imagination of pilots seeking precision, peace of mind, and engineering excellence. When Extra designed the single-seat SC, for example, the company made molds for 25 airplanes because the market for such specialized competition aircraft was so tiny. Yet it has sold about four times that many, and it’s not done yet.
Other Extra aircraft, such as the Extra 260 Patty Wagstaff flew to victory in the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship in 1991 and 1992, hang in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.
As Extra Aircraft shifts production to all-carbon-fiber, it intends to create an expanding series of lighter, stronger, roomier, and more aerodynamically efficient models. Extra’s mission hasn’t changed. It still focuses on designing and building airplanes with exceptional performance, durability, new technology, and craftsmanship. New materials and construction methods in the NG take those attributes to the next level.
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