Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maule MXT-7: Simplicity Redefined

A different take on the question of four-seat economy

mauleBack in the last century, when I lived in Alaska, I used to hear stories of pilots who could fly Maules out of places where other airplanes would fear to roll a tread. I didn’t have a chance to fly one in those days, but I always wondered if the stories were true.
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Dirty stalls at altitude were so easy, anyone could master them in a few minutes. Hold the yoke full back in your lap with the power off, and the Maule would simply mush downhill with hardly a bobble and practically no wing drop. It’s hard to imagine anyone losing control of the airplane because of an incipient stall. During final approach and flare into any significant wind, you almost felt you could jump out and run alongside during a full-stall landing.

At the opposite end of the speed spectrum, cruise was better than you might expect. Despite the drag of double wing struts, usually uncovered wheels and a squared-off, boxy fuselage design that looked antediluvian in contrast to more modern airplanes, the Maules used a minus-7 degree reflex flap setting for cruise. This delivered an extra three to five knots in cruise. Factory spec for max cruise on the 180 hp Maules at about 7,500 feet is 126 knots.

Maule Air is known for manufacturing reliable, light, single-engine, STOL aircraft. The four-seat MXT-7 features vortex generators (above) on its wings to improve the aircraft’s STOL capabilities.
Since those early days, Maule has added horsepower and improved the breed without changing the basic formula that’s worked for nearly half a century. Maule has delivered a total of nearly 2,000 airplanes in a myriad of models, all based on the original design with variations in horsepower, wingspan, seating capacity and number of loading doors. The company’s top piston model now flies behind a 260 hp Lycoming mill, and there’s even a limited-production Rolls-Royce 420 shp turboprop version.

Predictably, Maules make popular and talented waterbirds on either amphibious or seaplane floats, and many of the M4s, M5s, M6s and M7s spend equal amounts of time on wheels, skis and floats. With 260 hp under the cowl, the piston Maules offer good performance on the water under a variety of conditions. Maule has certified an SMA diesel-powered model, and there’s even a Rolls-Royce-powered Maule. For obvious reasons, the 420 shp turbine Maule is especially popular as a seaplane; the extra horsepower helps the airplane overcome suction and leap off the water.

A few years back, I delivered a new M7-260 on amphibious floats from the Georgia factory to Glasgow, Scotland. The trip took at least a day longer than it should have, because for the first time, I was able to land on some of the beautiful, wild, remote lakes across Labrador, Canada, that I had admired on so many previous trips. I also got the floats wet in the glacier-fed, 42-mile-long Tunugviarflik Fjord while approaching Narsarsuaq, Greenland, a must-see from sea level if you’re flying an airplane capable of more than one water landing. [To read about flying in Greenland, see “Extreme Flying!” from Pilot Journal Nov/Dec 08.]

In contrast to all the upward variations of Maules, the company has also expanded the line downward and sideways. These days, you can buy Maules with as little as 180 hp, flying behind a nosewheel and constant-pitch prop. Thirty years ago, a nosewheel Maule would have seemed almost heretical. Today, the Maule family produces it as a viable option to some more modern GA machines.

In fact, that’s a market Maule would like to reach in addition to selling to the utiliplane crowd. The nosegear Maules look a little unusual resting horizontally on the ramp (other than the gear geometry, there are essentially no changes to the airplane), but they’re priced competitively with the two-seat Diamond and Liberty trainers. Maules offer near-STOL performance with their 180 hp engine and can serve in a variety of training roles, from basic to instrument tutor.

Though the MXT-7 is a nosewheel version of the standard Maule taildragger, stick-and-rudder skills are still important for safe flight. The aircraft can serve in a wide range of training roles for pilots aspiring to anything from a private license to advanced ratings.
I recently spent some time flying a new MXT-7-180 Star Rocket, a tricycle variant of the standard Maule with a 180 hp Lycoming O-360-C1F engine out front. This was my first opportunity to fly a Maule nosedragger, and the airplane was an eye-opener for its forgiving civility. If the tailwheel airplane sometimes was branded (incorrectly) as a squirrel on landing, the nosewheel Maule couldn’t be more benign. It would seem to lend itself directly to the flight-training mode, and that’s exactly where Maule hopes to find favor.

Early Maules were almost exclusively fabric-covered, but contemporary models have yielded to the trend toward composites. Modern Maules utilize all-metal wings, an aft fuselage with aluminum doors and cabin structure, and composite materials on the wingtips and cowling. The airplane’s double wing struts brace the underwing to the lower fuselage abeam the front seats.

Maules have never been noted for quick control response, but I was surprised by how easily the airplane responded during the air-to-air photo session that produced Jim Lawrence’s photos. The aileron/rudder interconnect helps offset the effects of adverse yaw, and the airplane feels comfortable in virtually any normal (and some abnormal) attitudes. Driving around in the inevitable endless circles for the camera was easy and fun.

Perhaps more people are catching on to the fact that Maules are even more than STOL hot rods and are giving the Maule a second look as a trainer aircraft. GAMA reports that in the first half of 2008, Maule sold 17 airplanes, and five of those were the 180 hp nosewheel variety.

2009 Maule MXT-7-180

Labels: Piston Singles


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