Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Rocky Mountain High: The Aviat Husky
With a new Garmin G600 panel, Aviat re-creates the Husky backcountry classic with modern comforts and capabilities
Back in the Husky’s cockpit, we had the engine started and waited as the frigid outside temperature made the warm-up a slow process. I had time to luxuriate in the 16-G-rated Oregon Aero seats made especially for the Husky. The five-point, padded aerobatic harnesses are a huge improvement in this newest A-1C. They don’t dig into your neck the way the old restraints did. The larger side door also makes getting in and out much easier.
As we climbed, elevator-like, into the indigo blue of dawn in Afton, we both noticed the incredible view. This airplane was made for vistas like these, but we decided to stay low—where an airplane like the Husky belongs—to enjoy the postcard panoramas of this truly grand part of the West. The sliding window on the left made photography a breeze and would be great for summer flying.
Early models of the Husky had heavy ailerons that were redesigned starting with the A-1B model. Our Husky banked without effort, and the spadeless ailerons felt absolutely buttery in the cold Wyoming air. Control pressures were well harmonized in all three axes, though the aircraft used a good dose of right rudder in the climb. The high-capacity cabin heater worked too well, and we settled in for a shirtsleeve flight.
Below us, small towns faded to nothing, and we were all alone above the violet, snow-capped peaks. We showed a consistent 101 mph indicated airspeed throughout the trip, with a miserly 7 gph fuel consumption. There wasn’t a single cloud between Wyoming and California, and we trotted above the vastness, listening to Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass on the iPod connected to the Husky’s intercom. This was flying!
Our first challenge was Utah’s 11,750-foot Timpanogos pass—a treacherous tunnel of wind. We approached cautiously and watched for any sign of rough air—ready to turn around while we could. Below us, ragged granite peaks reached up like the gnarled fingers of an old crone, looking to pull the Husky out of the sky. But there wasn’t a lick of wind. We sailed through, looking up at the pine trees and waving at skiers in the distance.
We reached St. George, Utah, and it was my turn to land. By now, the midday heat had churned the air, and the airport—famous for its gusty conditions—had a crosswind. I was supposed to impress Stewart with my tailwheel-landing prowess, but the “smidge” of power I added on final was too much, and we floated down the runway...and floated. The Husky loves to fly, and it’s sensitive to excessive speed. After a seeming eternity, I wonked it down in the worst landing I’ve ever made. My ego battered, I was temporarily assuaged by the Husky’s incredibly easy ground handling. I think I heard Stewart laughing.
We swooped down along the emerald waters of a deserted Lake Mead and orbited Hoover Dam, the Husky serving as our ideal aerie. The Garmin panel became indispensable as we entered the hazy airspace of Southern California, with night coming on and a marine layer threatening. Our tired eyes scanned the glass display as we put down in Long Beach, with plenty of fuel to spare for another go.
I was sad pushing the Husky into the big hangar. Somehow, it seemed out of place with its muddy tires flaking dirt onto the epoxy floors, dirtying the shiny white airplanes around it. But I knew it belonged here. While these other airplanes would transport their unknowing owners across thousands of miles of faceless cross-countries in the clean isolation of 10,000 feet, the Husky would see things its brethren never would. It would know pilots who are happiest with stick on the right, throttle on the left and the sweet satisfaction of a grass landing, or a hidden dirt strip high in the backcountry. The Husky would know it gives confidence—and, in an emergency, options—to its pilots. The Husky is an airplane for adventures. I smiled at the thought and patted my cross-country ride on the nose one last time. We—and the Husky—were home.
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