What do you get when you put a turbine engine on one of the most versatile of all bush planes? A pretty epic race-winning STOL aircraft, and this year’s winner of the 2018 High Sierra STOL Drag competition. Brainchild of self-taught engineer and successful entrepreneur Mike Patey, Draco is the ultimate backcountry airplane. With its bright red skin, tall legs and heavy cloud of dust around it, Draco commands attention everywhere it lands. If you don’t happen to see it, you hear it; it’s one of the few bush planes with a turbine engine and reverse thrust, and the whine of the turboprop comes unexpectedly to unsuspecting observers.
Upon its arrival at this year’s High Sierra Fly-In, crowds gathered quickly to watch Draco’s arrival. The bright red airplane against the white desert landscape made for a stunning panorama. As crowds gathered to watch the famous STOL Drag race, the high point of the High Sierra Fly-In each year, Draco did not disappoint. In fact, this year Mike Patey and Draco stole the trophy from Mike’s own twin brother, Mark, who in 2017 won the STOL drag contest in his Carbon Cub EX.
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It took Mike Patey a mere five months and one week to build the Wilga modification that he calls Draco. (When Patey says that he dropped out of engineering school because it was too slow for him, he wasn’t kidding. It would seem that he typically moves more quickly than the world around him.) During those five short months, Patey joined a PZL 104 Wilga airframe with a PT6A-24 turbine engine to create Draco. Highly modified to suit Patey’s particular flying lifestyle, Draco really is a beast of a bush plane.
Draco is not the first Wilga that Patey has owned. In 2006, Patey discovered his first Wilga at Oshkosh, when he stumbled across one and took an interest. It wasn’t for sale, but he convinced the owner to let him buy it on the spot. It was Serial Number One of only 24 Wilga 2000 models ever built. Earlier models had a Russian-built 260-horsepower AI-14 radial engine and eventually a Continental O-420, but in an effort to complete in the U.S. market, the Wilga 2000 was eventually built with a Lycoming O-540. Patey flew his new Wilga for two years and then sold it, with plans to buy another one. Shortly after, however, production of the Wilga 2000 aircraft had halted. Patey says it took him 10 years to find another one.