RV-3B vs Extra300
Earlier this year I was unexpectedly given the option to buy a 25% share of a 300hp mid-wing Extra 300, and as luck would have it the plane was based at my home field. The rub was that I already owned a plane (my -3B) and I recently bought into a local flying club with an RV-7, C-182 and an A36 Bonanza. So technically I had four planes at my disposal; insurance requirements notwithstanding. This number far exceeded my golden formula: The minimum number of planes one should own is one. The correct number is n+1, where n is the number of planes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of planes owned that would result in separation from your partner.
I said, “yes I’m in” in just about the time it took to fill my lungs with enough air to say, “yes I’m in”. From the outside looking in this could’ve been considered an impulse buy. But you see, I’ve been dreaming about owning an Extra 300 since I was 11 years old. Some kids grow up dreaming about a Porsche 911 or a Ferrari - I wanted an Extra 300. It was my AIM screen name, various usernames and or passwords, and I’ve even logged dozens of hours flying foamie and glow RC Extra’s. The opportunity fell into my lap and I was ready; it’s what happens when luck meets preparation. Three weeks later I was an ecstatic ¼ share owner of N111XW and my -3B was fresh on the market.
With 400 RV-3 hours and roughly 25 hours in the -300 I feel its time for a head to head comparison of the two planes. Yes, some would say they serve two different missions, but I disagree. Both airplanes are the most selfish ways you can spend your $$$, and they do it very very well. The three is a single seat solitary experience that fewer than a few hundred people in the US can identify with, while the Extra’s 400 degree per second roll rate and +-10G wing is so intense that even the most willing passenger can’t explore its capabilities. I’ll objectively lay out the numbers before I get into all that really matters; that is, how they feel to fly and how they make YOU feel flying them.
Here are some eye-catching real-world numbers that matter: A 120kt climb yields 1500fpm in the Extra and 2500 fpm in the 3B, while an 80kt climb yields >3500fpm in the Extra and less than 2000 fpm in the 3B. The Extra consumes fuel like someone drilled ¼” holes in the wings – 18-25GPH all day long! The -3B could be leaned down to 5.7GPH @160ktas. The Extra rolls around 400 degrees a second vs 140degrees/sec for the -3B. The stick forces are considerably lighter in the Extra and Extra stalls about 10-15kts higher than the -3B. The outside visibility in the extra is comparable to the spirit of St. Luis while the 3B’s bubble canopy make it a nice patroller. The numbers would suggest the living room built -3B is out of its league and fighting 2 levels above its weight class. But numbers lie.
These are two high performance planes, but they offer very different “I’m goin flying” experiences. It starts with pushing the plane out of the hangar. Ground maneuvering the 825lb -3B was like rolling my mountain bike out from my garage. Climbing into the 3 was a similar experience; I built it to fit my body plus the monocoque design meant I didn’t have to worry about stepping through a lexan floor. The -3 is worn like road bike racing kit whereas the Extras 7-point double ratchet harness locks you in like a straight jacket. Forward visibility on the ground in the Extra is basically as bad as it gets in aviation. You simply can’t see through the leading edge of the horizon-level, mid mounted wings. Meanwhile, taxiing the 3 was as easy as riding a bicycle due to the 360-degree vis offered by the bubble canopy.
Roll out and take-off are also surprisingly different. The -3B pulls harder from the gate and as soon as airflow develops over the control surfaces it immediately feels like an extension of your body. The initial rollout in the Extra feels more like there’s a degree or two of separation between you and your control inputs. Climbing out in the -3B is an amazingly simple and rewarding experience. You simply push the throttle all the way forward and point the plane where you want to go. It’s impossible to overheat the engine, the fuel rate never reaches wallet crushing levels, so if you forget to lean it’s no big deal, you can see where you’re going at just about any speed, and it climbs like a homesick angel. Meanwhile the Extra will burn >25gph if you let it, the prop needs managing, the throttle and mixture must come back, or you’ll go broke, and you can’t see a 3900 ft mountain when you’re pointed straight at it.
Aerobatics – This is where the Extra shines. It’s basically an unbreakable machine that can handle far more giddy up than our bodies will allow. Uplines and downlines are performed as if gravity doesn’t exist. Spins are predictable and can be stopped on precise headings. In short, flying acro feels like that first bite of a fresh cold apple; its crisp. This is not to say the -3B is a slouch. It can certainly perform basic acro with ease, but it would decelerate rapidly on the upline and accelerate quickly to VNE on the downlines and inverted was…awkward.
Half the fun of flying is going places. I don’t think there’s a paved strip in the country that I couldn’t land the -3B on. If its wider than the landing gear its OK. I could reliably feel the wheels “spool up” during greasers. This is where the Extra grinds my gears. A 75ft wide runway gets your attention and a 60ft wide runway is like high stakes roulette. When you pull the power in the Extra you’d better point the nose at the ground in a hurry because it glides like a set of car keys, or a watch, or a cast iron skillet. The -3B feels like a 49:1 Discus by comparison. And finally, there’s that brief period of time when you chop power over the numbers and flare. This was my favorite part of the flight in the -3B. I felt like I was in total control until touchdown. The extra on the other hand, with its zero visibility, makes you feel like a passenger at times. Then theres the gear designs. Vans nailed it with the tapered spring steel legs. They soak up any extra vertical velocity and rarely launch you back into the air, whereas the Extra’s solid composite gear has a skateboard like feel.
At the end of the day they’re both a blast to fly but if I could own both I’d probably end up flying the -3B 80% of the time. You simply cant beat vans total performance.