BIG: Mojave Experimental Fly-In 2019

A clean, rounded cowling and Catto 3-blade fixed-pitch mark the Dendy Tailwind. Power comes from an otherwise stock O-320 Lycoming with 9.0:1 pistons. Dendry reports a 180 mph cruise at a busy 2740 rpm and 8 gph.

If the Mojave Experimental Fly-In had a theme in 2019 it turned out to be “big.”

The planned part of big was Mike Patey arriving in Draco, the over-the-top Wilga on Pratt & Whitney turbine steroids. Certainly the hero-class leader of back country STOL experimentals, “Draco” features PT-6 power and a showy, high-gloss and feature-packed persona to wow ’em out west. His low, slow and high-angle demonstration certainly didn’t go unnoticed when Draco arrived mid-morning.

Experimental flying has been the thing in the high desert north of Los Angeles since World War II. Big open blue skies, windy afternoons and calm dawns make for predictable flying weather. For civilian test flying–now routinely reaching into space–Mojave is the place.

In MEFI tradition owner-pilot Patey was generous in answering questions and posing for photos, including moving other aircraft next to the towering Draco.

On the other hand, big doesn’t begin to describe the first flight of Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch just after 7 a.m. Saturday morning. More formally the Scaled Composites Model 351, this immense composite overcast of twin fuselages, six 747 engines and 385 ft wingspan is better described as huge. That’s befitting of the world’s largest airplane–measured by wingspan–and those who witnessed its maiden flight a few hours prior to the MEFI main gathering will never forget the sight.

Ed Knouse taxis his Pietenpol Air Camper to the MEFI flight line in the early morning light. Based at Mojave and working for Lockheed Martin Knouse put his taxi to the MEFI to good use, winning the well-deserved Best Build award.
Originally constructed by Gary Booth of Montana the Knouse Pietenpol is very true to its pre-war roots, including these external clamping brakes. At the other end of the technology spectrum the plane sports numerous camera mounts. To see the resulting videos, go to ktown069 on YouTube.

While a happy coincidence that it first flew during the MEFI weekend, the immense private project certainly captured MEFI’s innovative spirit. As Cathy Hansen, one of MEFI’s organizers put it, “Everyone who witnessed the first flight felt the enthusiasm and spirit that the unique aerospace development culture produces here at Mojave Air & Spaceport. It was an exciting, once in a lifetime experience!” In fact, the MEFI judges were so taken by the historic first flight they awarded Dale Stix, the Stratolaunch crew chief the Best Test prize for 2019.

Those who missed the 7 a.m. Stratolaunch take off were pleased when two and a half hours later it made a pass for the Scaled Composites crew that built her. Referencing the recent passing of Stratolaunch benefactor Paul Allen one Scaled worker muttered, “I hope I didn’t just work 12,000 hours to build the next Spruce Goose.” That said, the maiden launch was definitely dramatic. Running rather quietly on low power the Stratolaunch slowly rumbled skyward like a man-made eclipse against the just-risen sun. Even from a mile away it looked large. It was also the worst kept secret in all of Mojave last weekend; even our motel clerk knew about it the night before.
Joe Dendy says he built his Wittman Tailwind in, “nine short years.” We always marvel at the small rudder on these but Dendy says it’s plenty effective. The flaps block the elevators in the landing flare so he carries a touch of power right to the runway.
Fully equipped for a Tailwind, Dendy’s cockpit is still no catalog special. The traditional hanging stick grip is there, along with a flap handle that once served as a Jeep Cherokee parking brake. “It was $40 and has the little clicky things on it.”

Otherwise we have to say the 7th annual MEFI display ramp was, if still populated with interesting projects, a little thinner than last year’s record-setting attendance. We’ll bet the rush-hour free-for-all arrival traffic last year made many wary of trying again this year, which was a shame as the morning arrivals were well-spaced and we heard no complaints this year. Getting out was, as usual, hassle free. Thanks to our KX155 being in the shop we even did the trick via light signals and had no issues whatsoever.

Not unusually, ex-Navy Corsair II pilot Rich Chapman uses his RV-7A for cross country jaunts, including a memorable trip from Grenada to Florida. His 1.5 hour cruise to Mojave from his Minden, Nevada home was a little shorter, but still benefitted from advanced ignition timing from now vintage Lasar magnetos and lean-of-peak operation. He reports 160 kts true at 2150 rpm and 6.7 gph from his O-320 Lyc.

Certainly the weather cooperated, something that seems a MEFI tradition. It was windy late Friday and a bit breezy on the ride home later on Saturday, but the show hours were simply high desert perfect.

Everyone had a camera when Draco, the monster truck of backwoods planes, flew in. Mike Patey made one low, nose-high pass demonstrating the bug-like plane’s impressive slow flight and angle of climb capabilities. Draco weighs 2,500 lbs, needs 110 ft to land, 97 ft to take off and stalls at 36 mph. There’s 680 hp on tap, a 180 mph cruise if you want and a 28 gph Jet-A appetite. Patey says the lower cost fuel really helps the hourly cost; a Super Cub burns the same dollars per hour and goes only half as fast.

MEFI award winners for 2019

Best Design: “QuickLi” (Electric Quickie), Henry Hallam

Best Build: Pietenpol Air Camper, Edgar Knouse

Best Overall: Draco, Mike Patey

Best Test: Scaled Composites Model 351 “Stratolaunch”, Dale Stix (Crew Chief)

Best Effort: Van’s RV-9A, John Koehler

Draco does stand tall–the tires are 35-inches by themselves–and has a Hollywood presence all its own. The wings are unique, with greater span and chord than a stock Wilga, and the presentation of the paint, panel fit and so on is excellent. Patey says it cost $1 million to put together.
That’s a Boeing 737 LED lamp on Draco’s rather organic looking wingtip. The leading edge slat is silver; the black carbon fiber whisker is labeled a “tip stinger” and we’re assuming the downward facing lamp makes a nice porch lamp when camping.
Mike Patey, left, and Tom Altruda pose in front of their planes. Altruda wanted a shot of his diminutive Baby Lakes biplane under the towering Draco’s custom wings and Patey was happy to oblige.
Tom Altruda’s Baby Lakes–Baby Great Lakes to traditionalists–is about the smallest, um, “practical” plane imaginable. The O-235 Lycoming is hand-propped, communications is via a hand-held and there’s no electrical system or ADS-B. Altruda’s day job involves Southwest 737’s but he’s still had the stones to relocate the Baby Lakes from New York to his home in North Las Vegas in a six day jaunt. And yes, he flew it to Mojave.
Taking older, under-utilized experimentals deep into the 21st century is what Mojave’s impressive young turks are doing. Now a QuickLi and powered by an Emrax 45 hp electric motor swinging a 42-inch Catto toothpick, this ex-Quickie is being engineered to flight status by SpaceX engineer Henry Hallam. A true experimenter, Henry’s designed and built an impressive amount of the plane’s electronics, helping him win the MEFI Best Design this year.
Electric propulsion is amazingly compact. The black pancake that looks like it should be working the fan over your dining room table is the QuickLi’s motor; the custom composite structure behind it is the battery pack with Hallam’s control circuits wired to its exterior. Hallam expects a 110 mph range to exhaustion, or 20 minutes endurance with a 30 minute reserve. An after hours project, the QuickLi should hopefully fly before too long.


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