Back 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.
They were. It was probably 10 years later when I first got my hands on a Maule and began to explore its talents. I discovered that Maules truly are among the most talented of short-/soft-field airplanes, and the marquee has a deserved reputation as a utility machine par excellence.
|Run by the Maule family (above) and founded by Belford D. Maule, Maule Air (www.mauleairinc.com) has been producing airplanes since 1941.|
One of the first and most exciting things I learned was the technique for what has become known as a “jump takeoff.” Most any of the Maules could leap into the sky after an incredibly abbreviated takeoff run, but the M4s and M5s, with engines from 210 hp to 235 hp, always seemed the most enthusiastic. With the Maule M5-235C, for example, the procedure was fairly simple. It was great fun, but I never did it as well or as aggressively as my first teacher, Maule demo pilot Dan Spader. Later, Long Beach, Calif., Maule dealer Joe Geiger helped me refine the technique. Geiger was one of Maule’s top salesmen in the ’70s and ’80s, and he and Spader taught me the demo trick to make the Maule stand out from the pack.
With the brakes set, the procedure was to bring power to the wall, release the brakes, push the stick forward to bring the tailwheel off the ground and the airplane to a level attitude, count to four, pull in two notches of flaps and rotate hard. If you did it right, the result was a very short ground run followed by a dramatic liftoff, with the nose arcing through 40 degrees up and the tailwheel barely clearing the runway. Obviously, you had to know the airplane fairly well to bring it off, but with a little practice, you could dazzle the locals every time.
Though I never sold airplanes, I delivered a wide variety of Piper, Cessna, Beech, Mooney, Commander, Grumman American, Bellanca and other aircraft, plus probably a dozen or so new Maules from the factory in Moultrie, Ga., to Geiger’s West Coast dealership. The Maules certainly weren’t the fastest, but they were among the most fun, and they always garnered more than their fair share of attention. Flying cross-country, spanning the Lower 48, I was asked to demonstrate the jump takeoff trick over and over at practically every fuel stop along the route. In one instance, I spent most of a day at Geiger’s Hayward, Calif., office demonstrating the procedure to everyone from employees and salesmen to rampers and prospects.
It seems everyone knew that Maules were capable of amazing things, and most pilots were eager to experience the airplane’s phenomenal short-field performance firsthand. Belford D. Maule saddled his airplanes with fanciful names, such as Astro Rocket, Strata Rocket and Lunar Rocket, but after you saw what they could do, the names didn’t seem nearly so fanciful.
I had heard stories of pilots operating from the mountainous bush country of Alaska who could fly what was referred to as the “box canyon departure.” As the name implied, this was a procedure sometimes employed in a tight canyon where the only departure possible was a steep climbing turn. It demanded the jump takeoff described above followed by a high-angle, slow-speed, steep turn, arcing uphill while prescribing a narrow funnel in the sky. The primary risk was of stalling the airplane in the worst possible attitude, a steep, climbing, departure turn. The good news was that the Maule airfoil was so forgiving, it was easy to predict the exact moment when the wing would stop flying and begin falling.
Maules were STOL airplanes long before anyone thought up the acronym. Back in the ’60s, the standard Maules with 210 hp Continentals or 220 hp Franklins practically defined bush flying and, along with Super Cubs, were regarded as generic bush planes. That may not be surprising, considering that Maules share the Cub’s USA 35B modified wing section. (In fact, Jane’s All-The-World’s Aircraft suggests the original Maule M4 was “a four-seat extrapolation of the Piper Cub.”) The Maule’s large-span, wide-chord flaps were one key to the airplane’s low stall speed and short-takeoff capability. The flaps deflected to a full 48 degrees (on some models), creating huge amounts of drag and lift and reducing stall well below 40 knots.
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.
SPECS: 2009 Maule MXT-7-180