Unless you live in a vacuum, by now you know that Draco crashed yesterday while taking off from Reno Stead Airport. The occupants, Mike Patey, his wife and fellow pilot Chandra Brooks Patey, weren’t injured in the mishap, thank goodness.
But Draco was destroyed. And mind you, it was a plane like no other. The backwoods wunderplane is a one-of-a-kind marvel. Mike Patey, a Utah-based entrepreneur and backcountry enthusiast, wanted a really cool bush plane so he decided to modify a Wilga toward that end. It is, admittedly, a stretch to call Draco a modified Wilga. It’s like calling Michelangelo’s statue of David “a modified block of marble.” It’s true, but it’s also a profound and absurd understatement.
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The magnitude of Patey’s brilliance as a designer and a craftsman was evident in Draco. In creating the plane, Mike Patey (his twin brother Mark Patey is also a prominent aviator and aviation entrepreneur) replaced the six-cylinder opposed gas piston engine with a 680-shp Pratt & Whitney turboprop, created new landing gear, added leading edge high-lift slats, completely redesigned the flaps and ailerons and that’s just the beginning of the hundreds of changes he made in making Draco. Draco graces our March 2019 cover, the brilliant shot the work of Jim Raeder, and Sarina Larson’s article about the machine and the guy who built is a great read.
The video of the crash, taken by Jason Somes, shows the sequence in heart-rending clarity. As Patey describes it,
“[We] took off, took a big hit, a big gust. Should have taken another runway, or not gone flying As a result] that’s what’s left of Draco” he said as he pointed the camera phone toward the wrecked plane and focused in briefly. “Amazingly,” he continued, “when that wing lifted up, got that first bump, I had enough aileron and rudder. I kicked into it trying to hold it and get the nose into the wind. I actually felt like it was no big deal, and then I had another wind bump that was like nothing I’ve ever felt and it lifted that left wing (he indicates the position of the wing as being directly vertical) and I had no aileron control and I just… I’ve never felt like a kite in my life … I had no control whatsoever.
But then he goes on to clarify that remark. “I had control when I made that first mistake, to not wait it out a little bit longer. And I had control when I made the second mistake and got on the runway and felt [the crosswind] completely compressing my right suspension trying to lift my wing. But once I got airborne and got that second big bump and it turned me 90 degrees to the wind, I was along for the ride.”
In the video he recorded after the crash, Patey said something that makes it clear the kind of pilot he is, and the kind of person, too. “This was all my fault. 100 percent. I hope we all learn something and become better pilots because of my mistake, he said, and then after a short, reflective pause, added “…all my mistake.”
There’s even more. If you haven’t watched the video, please do. It’s an extraordinary commentary on an accident by someone who knows what he’s talking about and his humility and honesty allow him to admit his mistake. He owns it. Bravo.
A few commenters online have taken Patey to task for his decision to take off in such gusty conditions, which is, in my view, a mean spirited, even cowardly thing to do after the pilot himself has already admitted that mistake. Some people. Enough about them.
For the rest of us, we can indeed learn from Mike Patey’s honesty and levelheaded analysis. More than once I’ve I found myself at the controls of an airplane about to do something I shouldn’t do, just like Mike at the takeoff end of that runway on that very gusty day. And even though I knew full well I shouldn’t, in a couple of cases I did that stupid thing anyway. And I am here today to make this point only because I got lucky.
So when we read about the crash of a plane, especially when it was being flown by an experienced and talented pilot, like Mike Patey, none of us should ever think, “That would never happen to me.” Instead, we need to ask ourselves how we could prevent that from happening to us if one day, maybe tomorrow, we find ourselves in similar circumstances.
That is one of two overarching points that Patey made post crash. Take his mistake as a lesson. The other point is this: He was lucky to be there next to his beautiful wife. It could have turned out much worse. Similar wrecks have. They dodged a bullet. We all did.
There’s a great shot at the end of the video of Mike and Chandra celebrating the fact of their being alive with a big kiss, the wreckage of their ruined plane in soft focus behind them.