Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

King Me!

Down & dirty in the spectacular Utah Canyonlands

king meIf you’re coming down that canyon thinking, “I can do this three out of five times,” you’re going to be scared to death. Because you don’t know if this is one of the three—or one of the two.—Todd Peterson
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king meGetting The Point
Normally stories like this come from writers with tons of Skylane hours and lots of wilderness landings under their belts. By contrast, I just got my sport pilot ticket in a Flight Design all-composite LSA. I’ve got maybe 250 hours total in Wichita Tin types, most of it straight and level en route to photo shoots. But here’s the notion: Peterson figures if I can handle strips like this one, with no landing experience in a C-182, it will be a great testimonial to the King Katmai’s bush-optimized chops.

Meanwhile, I’m calculating that with Peterson riding shotgun and talking me through it, what do I have to lose? Other than bladder control, that is.

Heading toward Angel, I notice that the controls feel more responsive than those of a conventional Skylane, notably in pitch. That’s due to the moveable high-lift canard up front, sticking out of the cowling on either side.

Ah, that canard. It’s the secret to the Katmai’s incredible slow-flight performance. But first, let’s get to know the Kingmaker—then his King.

king meNot Your Daddy’s 182
Todd Peterson became a pilot 41 years ago, at age 15. He claims he never flew professionally other than eight years spent on the air show circuit with wife Jo doing inverted ribbon cuts and such, which sounds professional enough by half. “No, I’m a mechanic by trade,” he insists as desolate rivers of convoluted red rock slide by below. “I got my A&P certificate in 1970 and my IA in ’73.”

Several years later, Peterson segued from engine overhauls and aircraft annuals to produce the Wren 460. An evolutionary offshoot of Jim Robertson’s Skyshark, the Wren was a STOL conversion of the Cessna 182. Both models sported full-span, double-slotted flaps, spoilers to aid aileron roll control...and that cool little moustache of a canard.

Robertson earned an STC, but his Wren business eventually went bankrupt. “Once I acquired the STC,” says Peterson, “it took three more years to get the Wren back into production. A good backcountry airplane, it lacked cross-country cruising speed and altitude. Useful load was low too, and it was a bit complex but very sophisticated in terms of the lift systems on it.”

Over time, the Wren evolved into the Peterson 260SE, which sports a fuel-injected, 260 hp Continental engine for added up-front muscle. En route, the slotted flaps and spoilers went the way of the dodo. What remained was a true STOL airplane that stalled at 35 knots—yet cruised at 150.

Immune to general aviation’s sales doldrums, Peterson’s Performance Plus ( racked up an impressive 500+ sales in 14 countries over the next two decades.

“Who would have thought,” he marvels, “there was so much interest in backcountry flying?”

Peterson continually refined the 260SE. But eventually, he envisioned a bush plane built just for himself. “I added three feet of wingspan to the 260 and began testing it out on backcountry strips in Idaho and Utah. I’ve just beaten the tar out of it since. That’s how I evolve all my airplanes. And I’m now happy with the configuration. It’s a real good machine.”

He named it Katmai. The most recent addition to the breed, the King, differs from the others only in its 300 horse, fuel-injected Continental IO-550 mill. Other bushworthy features and options for all Katmais include:
• anti-abrasion stainless-steel strips for the landing gear’s leading edges.
• heavy-duty brakes, and brake lines routed behind the gear to avoid snagging ground obstacles.
• custom interior configurations, including an eight-foot cargo area with a flat floor and 12 tiedowns. (Bring on the camping gear!)
• custom, tailorable avionics including full IFR packages.
• an onboard generator to recharge the battery, preheat the engine, refill a flat tire or power a campsite.

The only difference between all the Katmai models and the 260SE is that extra three feet of span, which reduces stall speed by four knots. That may not sound like much until you realize it cuts landing and takeoff distance by 20%—to under 300 feet! [The Katmai wing extensions are provided by Wing X/Air Research Technologies:]

Ah, that canard. It’s the secret to the Katmai’s incredible slow-flight performance.

“Even at 6,000 feet with no wind, sitting on a supersoft surface, when I see 300 to 400 feet of strip ahead of me, I know I’m in plenty good shape,” says Peterson.

Ze Canard Eez Not A Duck, Monsieur!
Now to that canard. In a nutshell, the little wing up front works in conjunction with the tail (i.e., canard elevator up, tail elevator down) to hold pitch attitude, especially at low speeds, pretty much level.


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