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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”