Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Backcountry Monster: The Legend Of Bigfoot

Expedition Aircraft introduces a tailwheel version of its bush-country workhorse

Even in November, the California sun is a laser and makes everything sharp and brilliant against the blue of the morning sky. It’s warm and clear and calm; a perfect day to fly. Our mission will take us out to Ocotillo Wells, a dry lakebed in Southern California, where we’ll rendezvous with P&P Editor Jessica Ambats, photo-ship pilot Ron Mohrhoff and formation pilot Seamus McCaughley to conduct a photo flight over the martian landscape that’s the Borrego Desert, near Salton Sea. Joining us is Drew Hamblin, Director of Marketing and Sales for Expedition.

Walking around Bigfoot, I try to anticipate how it will fly. I tell myself it will handle much like the big Cessnas—say, the 206. It will be heavy on the elevator and will feel substantial, not unlike a big rig going down the interstate. I notice the vortex generators and extensions on the wing. In fact, the wing itself is impressive. It’s an ingenious, high-lift, one-piece cantilever design that was carried through from the very first FBA-2C design by Bud Found and his brothers, Dwight, Gray and Mickey. The lack of any struts allows the cabin doors to swing 180 degrees like barn doors—regardless of flap setting—making loading really big stuff a snap. Five full-sized adults load in from four doors.

Bigfoot, the tailwheel version of the Expedition E350, features a high-lift, one-piece cantilever wing design that was carried through from the very first FBA-2C design by Bud Found and his brothers, Dwight, Gray and Mickey.
A welded tubular steel fuselage allows the gaping door openings while maintaining incredible strength. The row of three back seats is a marvel of design, too. Each seat snaps in or out in just a couple of seconds, allowing different cargo/passenger configurations. There’s nothing flimsy about how the 22-G-rated rear seats attach to the floor, which comes in a choice of bare metal, carpet or diamond plate. Four-point crew harnesses and inertia-reel rear harnesses come standard.

Strapping into the left seat, one gets a little bit of a de Havilland Beaver feel, probably owing to the Bigfoot’s pedigree. The cabin is an austere-but-whopping 53 inches wide and—thankfully—the rudder pedals and seat adjust enough to accommodate those of us on the shorter side. If I had any complaint, it would be that the glare shield is a little too high, and the seat could use a smidge more vertical adjustment. The yoke is center mounted, like the Beechcraft of old, and it’s a behemoth configuration that looks like it could hold up a truck. It feels good in the hand.

A Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
Starting this beast introduces no special witchcraft, other than all the people looking out the FBO windows. Bigfoot draws groupies like a free Justin Bieber concert, and it’s fun to be the guy with the backstage pass. It’s quieter than I thought, with 315 Lycoming IO-580 ponies under the cowling doing their best to shake off the morning. This beefy engine is the same one powering those Extras and Edges at the Red Bull Air Races.

Taxiing is pretty easy with the castering tailwheel and its 25-foot turning radius. Visibility over the nose is surprisingly good, though I make S-turns out of habit. Ted doesn’t seem to mind, as he breaks the tension by telling me not to do the usual taildragger thing and lift the tail. “Keep the tail low,” Dirstein says, “And let it fly off. You’ll be surprised how fast that happens.”

Labels: Piston Singles


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