DRACO—A Bush Plane Reaching New Extremes

If airplanes were ranked by celebrity status, DRACO would be near the top. Throughout EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, fans and aviation enthusiasts flooded the Garmin exhibit to get an up-close look at the celebrated STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircraft and visit with its creator, Mike Patey. Each day he greeted airshow attendees with his trademark smile and friendly personality, while taking pictures, signing autographs and talking all things aviation with his supporters.

The concept: reaching new heights

Mike’s idea for DRACO began as a way to take his family on
backcountry adventures in their home state of Nevada. “I’ve always wanted to be
able to take my family into the backcountry at a really high elevation. I live
in a high mountain desert; we have mountain elevations that are over 14,000
feet. And I just couldn’t find a plane that could go up to 14,000 feet with a
density altitude of near 17,000, and land with camping gear and four people,”
Patey said. “So DRACO was an idea from owning a Wilga 10 years earlier. I wanted
to take a plane I loved with great visibility and a lot of neat characteristics
and make it exactly what I wanted for a backcountry extreme bush plane.”

Garmin Ambassador Mike Patey—the mastermind behind DRACO.

The aircraft started as a PZL-104 Wilga, originally built in
2008. Then in 2018, after Patey decided to build his extreme bush plane, DRACO
was born. “It took me 5 months and 3 weeks to build DRACO. I worked on it every
day, mostly evenings. I still had to work a day job, so it was a hard push but
worth every bit of it,” he added.

DRACO’s performance is unprecedented. Powered by a Pratt
& Whitney PT6A-28, this behemoth harnesses 680 horsepower, a top speed of
205 miles per hour, a 180 miles per hour cruise speed (while sipping just 28
gallons per hour) and a stall speed of only 35 miles per hour. 160 gallons of Jet
A allow DRACO to cover 1,000 miles. For takeoff it only needs 78 feet of runway;
for landing, only 97 feet. And a climb rate of 4,200 feet per minute renders most
obstacles insignificant.

Capable avionics for a capable aircraft

DRACO has a Garmin-equipped cockpit. It features dual 10.6-inch G3X Touch flight displays, a GTN 750 GPS/Nav/Comm/MFD, GMC 507 autopilot mode controller, and G5 electronic flight instrument as a standby. Behind the scenes, Mike remote-mounted a GTR 20 comm radio, a three-axis G3X autopilot, GMA 245R BLUETOOTH audio panel, GTX 45R ADS-B “In” and “Out” transponder, and a GDL 51R SiriusXM satellite datalink.

DRACO is Garmin-equipped.

“I love everything about the G3X Touch. It’s just
user-friendly. I have to admit I’ve never looked at a manual. I just started
playing with it and then found there a several different ways to get to what I
want, from different screens. That’s what made me fall in love with it. I’ve
had several G3X Touches and hands down I think it’s the greatest piece of
equipment in aviation,” he said. “The fact that every function I want is there,
and even if I don’t know how to find it, I know within a button or two I’m
going to find it. It’s quick, it’s accessible, it’s easy to read, it’s amazing.
It’s just intuitive — that’s the best thing about it.”

Never one to rest on his laurels, Patey is already eyeing
his next aviation creation. “The next project is “Scrappy” — a radical
backcountry bush plane with 500 horsepower and crazy suspension. It’s gonna be
a lot of fun … it’s a really extreme aircraft build, but it’s perfect for me,”
he said.

Making a dream a reality

Envisioning, engineering and achieving completion of an
experimental aircraft is always a monumental undertaking — especially one the
scale of DRACO. But no prospective builder should shy away from the challenge.

Garmin Ambassador Mike Patey

“Just go do it,” Patey said. “Stop talking about it with
your friends and pick up a tool and get to work on it. If it’s building a plane,
just start, and every day do something … I force myself to do something on my
plane every day, even if that means I sit in bed before I go to sleep, and I
order a part or a tool or some resin or something I might need. If you’re
aspiring to be a pilot? Just go to the airport and watch airplanes land. You’re
gonna fall in love. Then the first time you get two inches off the ground, it’s
over. You’re gonna love it.”

Mike Patey is a Garmin-sponsored ambassador. Follow his future builds and aviation adventures with the Flying Cowboys on YouTube and Instagram.

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