Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Airplane For The Jeep Trail

Here’s a Maule that can handle asphalt, dirt, tundra, snow or even water runways with equal dexterity

There's a fairly famous photo of a Maule taildragger lifting off and pointing uphill at about a 40-degree pitch attitude. That might be impressive all by itself, but the truly interesting part is that the aircraft is barely emerging from one of the Maule manufacturing buildings in Moultrie, Ga.

The maneuver is called a "jump takeoff," and it's a perfect depiction of what Maules can do that most other airplanes can't. When I was delivering Maules from coast to coast back in the 1980s, I was determined to learn that trick. Dan Spader, Maule's long-term demo pilot, agreed to show me the procedure, and we practiced about a dozen of the spectacular departures, though fortunately, none launching from inside a hangar. Timing is everything, and I never came close to Spader's impeccable technique, but it was incredible fun and a great demonstration of the airplane's truly amazing low-speed performance and handling.

Maules have always been impressive short-field airplanes, capable of STOL performance since long before someone coined the acronym. The first Maule was created by Belford D. Maule back in the middle of the last century, and the company is proud of the fact that their airplanes are still handmade in pretty much the same way they were back then. The company is still run by the Maule family, and they wouldn't think of doing anything else.

I've been fortunate to fly pretty much every model the company has produced since the 1970s, and I ferried Maules for about 15 years in the '70s and '80s. It's a different kind of airplane from the typical all-aluminum people movers made in Wichita, Vero Beach or Kerrville, and the composite models produced in Duluth.

It's a retro design in all the best ways, which means, in this case, it's a rag-and-tube airplane. Fabric covering is perhaps the oldest and least understood of aircraft construction materials. It was employed on the Wright Flyer, preferred in World War I because of its simple ease of repair and even used on military aircraft through much of World War II.

When properly applied and well doped, fabric can last almost indefinitely. It's lighter and more flexible than metal, more tolerant of heat than many composites, drag coefficient doesn't suffer notably with fabric covering, and it's relatively impervious to rock damage. (I once knew a Bellanca Aircraft salesman who carried a two-inch-diameter steel ball in the baggage compartment of his Viking 300 demonstrator, another tube steel and fabric airplane—along with wood wings. Whenever he heard objections from prospective buyers on the Viking's fabric covering, he'd pull out the shiny steel ball and ask the prospect what would happen if he slammed it against the side of an aluminum airplane with all his strength. The prospect would usually answer that there'd be a very large, very expensive dent. At that, Ed would stand back 10 feet from his Viking and throw the ball straight into the airplane's tightly stretched Ceconite side panel. Of course, the ball would bounce off with no damage.)

Labels: Piston Singles


Add Comment