One man designed and constructed the last word bush aircraft

Bush airplanes are the SUVs of normal aviation—small, piston-engined plane designed or tailored to hold a passenger or two, or to ferry mild cargo out and in of distant areas with crude or non-existent runways. They’re in use in all places from the Alaskan Tundra to the Australian Outback to the African bush.

Traditionally the device {of professional} bush pilots, bush planes have not too long ago turn out to be extremely pleasant toys for a cadre of lovers. Fascinated by the low, sluggish off-airport, back-country flying which their STOL (quick takeoff and touchdown) qualities make doable, personal pilots have sought out bush planes for recreation.

Vintage high-wing airplanes like the long-lasting Piper Super Cub (debuted in 1949), Cessna 180 (1952), or Maule M-7 (1984) be part of fashionable STOL airplanes just like the Kitfox S7 Sti or Cub Crafters’ Carbon Cub round camp fires atop mountain plateaus or at STOL competitions the place pilots vie for honors with the shortest takeoff and touchdown distances and lowest stall speeds.

There’s infinite debate amongst pilots about which aircraft is greatest for this job or that journey. But on the big 2018 EAA AirVenture annual airshow at Oshkosh, WI a pair weeks in the past, Utah entrepreneur  Mike Patey confirmed up with what many are actually calling “the ultimate bush plane.”

Wilga Wary

Last yr, Mike Patey was flying his Wilga 2000 low over Utah Lake for a photograph shoot with a gaggle of different bush planes. Suddenly, its piston engine blew, throwing two connecting rods. With no altitude for gliding, he needed to land quick. In its loss of life throes, the engine made a last burst of energy, permitting Patey to only make it to a cornfield. Safely down, he determined he would rebuild the Wilga round an concept he’d been mulling for months.

The airplane Patey set down within the area was based mostly on the PZL-104 Wilga, a comparatively massive four-seat Polish bush aircraft designed within the 1960s for STOL aviation makes use of. Powered by a 260hp Russian-designed radial engine, the high-wing monoplane was bought from 1963 to 1996, adopted by the improved Wilga 2000 (powered by a six-cylinder, 300 hp Lycoming O-540).

Patey had been dissatisfied with the Wilga’s Lycoming for a while. Like any piston engine, its energy diminishes as altitude will increase. At the elevations in his native Utah again nation, Mike’s Wilga 2000 misplaced 45 to 70 horsepower, considerably extending its takeoff distance. “The engine was anemic for the sheer size of that aircraft. At higher elevations, instead of doubling its [takeoff] roll to 800 feet, it gets up to 2000 feet when I’m up on an 8,000 foot mountain top.”

High altitudes degraded the efficiency of the Wilga’s comparatively small cantilever wing as effectively. Standing by his airplane within the corn rows, Patey stated aloud, “I’m going to fix this thing, get it out of here and then it needs a turbine.”


The turbine Mike had in thoughts was a 680 shaft-hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-28, a powerplant present in dozens of recent turboprop plane. At twice the ability and about half the load of the Lycoming, the PT6 would actually make the Wilga bounce and carry out even higher at excessive altitudes.

The engine swap was complemented by including a 102 inch, four-blade MT propeller to harness the PT6’s energy. That was solely the start of a protracted checklist of modifications, from redesigned longer, wider wings (plus-12 inches span, plus-11 inches chord), elevators, and rudder to greater wing gas tanks and particular touchdown gear-leg tanks. Patey upgraded the brakes, added 35-inch foremost gear tires. He opted for a brand new digital cockpit with autopilot, infrared evening imaginative and prescient and a backup digicam, completely new wiring, heating and electrical techniques, and HID touchdown lights from a 737 airliner.

The adjustments have been so intensive that the FAA needed to approve the conversion as an experimental exhibition plane. No longer thought-about a Wilga 2000, Mike has dubbed it “DRACO,” a Latin-derived phrase which means dragon or serpent.

Whatever you name it, the result’s astounding. For comparability, take the favored Carbon Cub STOL airplane. A small two-seater weighing 1,023 kilos (464kg) empty, it could takeoff at sea stage in simply 110 toes, land in 140 toes, and stall at 36 mph (58 km/h). DRACO is twice its dimension—a 2,500 pound (1,360kg) four-seater that may takeoff in 97 toes, land in 110 toes, and stall at about 36 mph.

Before its conversion, the Wilga took off in 400 toes, landed in 280 ft, and stalled at 57 mph (92 km/h). Like most bush planes, it wasn’t optimized for prime altitude flying. But DRACO can fly excessive. In reality, Patey designed and put in a four-passenger oxygen system that permits him to benefit from PT6’s efficiency at altitude. DRACO will climb at 4,000 feet-per-minute (FPM) and cruise at 180 mph (290 km/h) at 16,000 toes. A Carbon Cub climbs at 2,000 FPM and cruises at about 115 mph (185 km/h) round 5,000 ft.

DRACO achieves efficiency and adaptability exceptional in different equally designed bush planes. To actually perceive what went into it, watching Patey’s collection of build-videos on YouTube is worth it—and never only for the technical element.

The Joy of the Job

For even essentially the most refined DIY-ers, the challenge Patey undertook ought to have taken years.

He accomplished it 5 months. By himself.

But for Mike—a serial entrepreneur who based and ran a deck/gazebo-building firm with 200 workers by the age of 18 and later constructed a profitable rapid-prototyping agency (Prodigy Engineering)—the chance to work is a pleasure. “Our parents taught us that if you started a project, no matter how much you disliked it, you finished it. It was the excitement of finishing a job. We grew up that way and despite being poor, we were unbelievably happy,” he stated.

Ironically, DRACO has made the tens of 1000’s who seen it fly on-line and in-person at Oshkosh blissful. Patey says individuals are most delighted by squat the bush aircraft takes on its articulated suspension when he throttles up for takeoff. DRACO appears to be like like an enormous Praying Mantis. A number of have questioned whether or not DRACO—which value round $1 million to construct not counting Patey’s time and which runs on jet gas fairly than extra frequent 100 octane gasoline—may even actually be thought-about a bush aircraft?

Patey factors out that he can discover jet gas at most airports within the US and, that in different elements of the world, it’s far simpler to seek out than aviation gasoline. DRACO’s PT6 may also run on diesel and different gas mixes which probably makes it extra of a bush aircraft. He acknowledges that it is costly, nevertheless it’s what he dreamed of. “I have a plane that can go to 28,000 feet and do 180 mph cross-country with four people and gear. Yet I can take it where a Carbon Cub can go,” he advised Ars. “To me, that makes it the ultimate bush plane.”

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