Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Backcountry Monster: The Legend Of Bigfoot

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

Lining up on runway 25L, I give Bigfoot a handful of that industrial-sized throttle, and watch the Electronics International MVP-50 engine panel come to life. Before I can look back up at my airspeed indicator, we’re flying! The book says Bigfoot will come off in about 1,400 feet at full gross weight, and I believe it. Today, with three adults and about five hours of fuel at sea level, we lift off in about 1,000 feet at 63 KIAS.

Handling is the first of many surprises to come. It feels nothing like a Cessna 206 and nothing like any of the heavier Cessnas. Bigfoot is nimble and light on the controls. Fingertip pressure is all that’s needed to fly this airplane, and the ample trim keeps the control pressures where you want them. The rudder has plenty of authority early on in the takeoff roll, and the controls are harmonious and belie the fact that this is one hefty airplane.

The second surprise is the visibility. Bigfoot is standard-equipped with doors that are almost entirely observation windows. Nearly the entire door frame is clear, allowing unmatched visibility from the cockpit and the rear. The cockpit has the limited up-visibility peculiar to high-winged aircraft, but the strutless wings and placement of the windows allow panoramic views of the landscape below, unequaled in anything else, except maybe a helicopter.

The lack of any struts on Bigfoot allows its four cabin doors to swing 180 degrees regardless of flap setting, making loading passengers, baggage and cargo simple. The back features a row of three seats that can snap in or out, allowing different configurations. Left: Ted Dirstein, Expedition Air Chief Pilot and Marc Lee,P&P author. Right: Seamus McCaughley, formation pilot and Ron Mohrhoff, photo-ship pilot.
“Now, can I show you what Bigfoot can do?” asks Dirstein with a wide smile. His gentle manner and lack of pretense had already endeared him to me, and I knew he knew I was enjoying this airplane. With the power off and the yoke in my gut, Bigfoot let out the tiniest whimper and provided the most gentle bow of a stall I had ever experienced. “Go ahead, keep the stick back,” smiled Dirstein. Sure enough, Bigfoot just reared a little and repeated its gentle bow. “You could just keep doing that all day long,” Dirstein smiled.

In most airplanes, power-on stalls hold the spectre of a possible spin if the pilot misuses the rudder or uses the ailerons for bank correction as the stall breaks. Not so in Bigfoot. With the engine screaming and the yoke in my gut again, Dirstein instructed me not to use rudder, and correct only with aileron.

Ignoring my instincts, I slapped in some aileron and then…nothing happened! Bigfoot gracefully lowered its brow, straightened out and kept right on flying. It’s all thanks to a wing design that stalls the root far ahead of the ailerons, allowing full aileron use throughout the stall. Slow flight allows extremely slow speeds with excellent control response and no tendency to fall out.

Labels: Piston Singles


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