On to the front of the engine is bolted a three-blade MT propeller with 80in blades. That’s a big old prop for an aircraft with an empty weight of only 635kg, but you need big blades to put all that torque to work.
InteriorYou fly the Sbach 342 solo from the rear seat. The view is better, but the main reason is that it has less effect on the balance of the aeroplane. In the front cockpit, you are provided with only the basic controls that you need to fly the aircraft.
Both occupants sit on their parachutes and are strapped in by a five-point harness fitted with a ratchet system to tighten the harness to medieval torture levels of tightness. The view out through the canopy is fantastic, which is essential in aerobatics and for general flying about the place. You don’t need a great deal of room in a sports ’plane, just as you don’t in a supercar, but the 342 doesn’t feel cramped and there’s far more elbow room than in a Caterham.
PerformanceOpen the throttle slowly at first because if you whack it open the torque reaction of the prop will send you off course, as will the propwash flowing down the side of the fuselage. By light aircraft standards, the acceleration is astounding. By car levels, 0-60mph puts it into the very brisk sports car category.
But once we’re rolling, the figures become more impressive: 0-100mph in 8.9sec is the same as an Aston DBS. The numbers compare but the sensation is totally different. By light aircraft standards, the acceleration is astounding.
See the test pics of the XtremeAir Sbach 342
Ride and handlingImagine a car with rose-jointed suspension, very stiff springing and a steering rack with less than one turn lock to lock. That’s the Sbach 342. I’ll take the 342 through a simple aerobatics sequence. First a loop. Nose down 45 degrees; full throttle. Let speed build to around 230mph. ‘Around’, because you don’t want to be peering too closely at an instrument when stuff on the ground is getting bigger very rapidly. Pull back the stick and suddenly ground is replaced by sky.
Nothing compares to a few seconds of Cooper demonstrating what the 342 can do. In the hands of one of the best pilots in the world, the aeroplane defies belief and physics. Tumbling, rolling, stopping in mid-air upside down. But, most amazing of all, flying inverted along the runway at about 30ft at over 150mph.
Buying and owningWithout options the Sbach 342 costs 279,000 euro. Expensive, but a Ford Focus WRC will cost around £750,000. The beauty of the Sbach is that not only do aircraft hold their value far better than cars, but the 342 is also a very usable aircraft. Cooper has already sold three aircraft to city lads who fancy injecting some serious excitement into their lives.
Read the full test, plus see full test data and more pics, in the special double issue of Autocar, on sale now.See the test pics of the XtremeAir Sbach 342
Read lat year's Christmas road test of HMS Diamond