Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Katmais And Cubs: A Desert Adventure

Two superb backcountry aircraft take on the Utah Canyonlands

King Katmai |
Todd Peterson just wanted a great backcountry airplane, one that could actually haul some people and have some range. "Really, I just wanted to develop something for myself," he laughs. During the 1970s, Peterson took his uncanny mechanical abilities and developed the Wren 460, which was a STOL-modified Cessna 182. An offshoot from the "Skyshark" developed by Jim Robertson in the 1950s, the Wren featured the notable canard—a small wing mounted on the aircraft's nose. It gave the Wren unheard-of pitch control, among other benefits.

The Wren lacked speed and useful load, so Peterson morphed the Wren into the 260SE, which was also based on the Cessna 182 airframe, and featured a 260 hp, fuel-injected Continental engine. He refined the canard concept and ended up with an aircraft that would cruise at 150 knots with a stall speed of 35 knots.

The STC'd modification was an enormous success and was a hit with the backcountry crowd. The canard concept allowed very flat pitch attitudes even at slow speeds. Also, the traditionally pitch-heavy 182 was nowhere to be seen, given the crisp pitch control afforded by the canard.

Wanting an even better backcountry aircraft for himself, Peterson "tweaked" the 260SE design in every way he could to squeeze more performance from it.

The result was the "King Katmai." Peterson added three feet to the 182's wingspan, and rerouted brake lines behind the gear legs to avoid snags on bushes and rocks. He added stainless-steel strips to the gear leading edges to protect them from debris, and made hundreds of modifications to everything from the nose-gear oleo strut to the interior, so the Katmai could handle just about anything thrown at it. Lastly, he added a fuel-injected 300 hp Continental IO-550 engine to really ramp up performance.

"I took that airplane and beat it to death on every backcountry strip I could find," said Peterson. "I learned something each time I did that, and worked those improvements into the King Katmai." He maintains that the shortest backcountry strip he ever managed was 150 feet long. "I wanted an airplane that was safe at low altitudes and slow airspeeds," he adds.

Peterson allowed me to experience the remarkable performance of the King Katmai coming into Canyonlands Field Moab Airport in Moab, Utah. Still turning in a 30-degree bank from a short base leg at 55 knots and right on the deck, Peterson had me fine-tune descent rate with the throttle while crawling along inches above the runway. With the nose flat, I was hauling back on the yoke and seeing 35 knots as the 29-inch bush tires touched down and we stopped in 300 feet.

Peterson is based at El Dorado, Kan., and happily has more work than he can handle. He and his wife Jo–who's also an accomplished air show pilot–get more enjoyment out of seeing his aircraft used than from any business success. "My favorite part is meeting the pilots that will fly these airplanes," Peterson smiles. "I just love being with general aviation pilots and watching them experience flying as it's meant to be. There is nothing I enjoy more."


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