Draco Airplane: The Greatest Bush Plane Ever Built
In its just over 1 year of life, a custom-built plane named Draco became the stuff of legend. Garmin called it “a bush plane reaching new extremes.” Plane&Pilot suggested that this “beast of a bush plane” just may be “the coolest airplane in the world.” They even went so far as to refer to Draco as “the ultimate fixed-wing helicopter.”
What’s all the buzz about? Let’s review the specs and introduce you to this one-of-a-kind custom craft.
- Initial aircraft: 2008 PLZ-104 Wilga
- Engine: Pratt & Whitney PT6A-28
- Horsepower: 680
- Maximum speed: 205 mph
- Cruise speed: 180 mph
- Fuel: Jet fuel (can also run on diesel or fuel mixes if jet fuel isn’t available)
- Fuel consumption: 28 gph at cruising speed
- Fuel capacity: 160 gallons
- Range: 1,000 mi
- Stall speed: 35 mph
- Take-off distance: 78 feet
- Landing distance: 97 feet
- Rate of climb: 4,200 fpm
- Build time: 5 months and 3 weeks
To see Draco for yourself, join fellow STOL (short takeoff and landing) bush pilot and aviation enthusiast Trent Palmer as he chats with the man who dreamt up, built and proudly flew Draco. In this mini-documentary, you get the behind-the-scenes tour and introduction to Draco.
Who built Draco?
Draco was the handiwork of visionary aviator, entrepreneur and innovator Mike Patey. As an entrepreneur, Mike started out young alongside his twin brother Mark. Despite, or perhaps because of being labeled with dyslexia and ADHD in school, they realized that they had a unique capability for achieving greatness through problem solving.
Together, Mike and Mark started a decking business as teenagers and their success rapidly grew from there. In their free time, they enjoyed taking apart and re-assembling equipment like lawn mowers or televisions. They were fascinated with learning how machines worked.
Later, when the brothers started a health care records company, Mark spent a lot of time in airports traveling from one speaking engagement to another. In typical Patey-twin fashion, he decided that if he was going to be around planes, he may as well learn how to fly them. Not only did flying become Mark’s favorite hobby, but it soon became Mike’s as well.
Today Mike holds five world speed records, all earned in planes which he designed, custom built and flew himself. In 2016, he was inducted into the Sport Air Racing League Hall of Fame.
What inspired Draco?
The impetus for the Draco design was a problem which Mike just had to solve. When speaking about his inspiration, Mike said, “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, 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.”
What recognition and awards did DRACO receive?
Draco flew into EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018, and quickly rocketed to celebrity status. Draco was featured on the cover of Plane&Pilot’s March 2019 issue and Mike and Draco also won the trophy at the 2018 High Sierra STOL drag race.
What happened to Draco?
On September 16, 2019, Mike, his wife Chandra and another passenger were taking off from Reno Stead Airport in Reno, NV following the National Championship Air Races. Conditions were windy with strong gusts.
An accident report supplied by the Aviation Safety Network states:
“A PZL-104 Draco Turbine Wilga crashed during takeoff from Reno-Stead Airport, NV (KRTS). The pilot was departing before a weather front arrived at the airport. Winds were picking up and there was a strong gusting crosswind at the time of takeoff.
The left wing lifted during takeoff. The aircraft banked to the right side of the runway, coming down hard and causing a wing and landing gear to collapse. The occupants were not injured.”
Initial reports stated that Draco was totaled.
What caused the Draco crash & what are the learning lessons?
Being the stand-up take-ownership kind of guy that Mike is, shortly after crawling out of the wreckage of Draco, he filmed an after-action review (AAR) video titled simply Draco crash today. In the video description Mike shared, “I’m heartbroken. I will learn from my mistake, maybe showing where I failed others may learn as well.”
As he relives the accident that led to Draco’s demise, Mike makes one thing very clear. “This was all my fault. 100 percent. I hope we all learn something and become better pilots because of my mistake…all my mistake.”
The way Mike sees it, he didn’t have control once a strong crosswind gust picked up Draco’s left wing and turned the plane into a kite, but he did have control when he made two key mistakes leading up to that moment.
Mistake #1: “I had control when I made that first mistake, to not wait it out a little bit longer.”
A storm front was moving in and Mike was attempting to beat the weather. This led him to make the decision to head out to the runway in conditions that weren’t favorable. In retrospect, he wishes he had waited for the front to pass through.
Mistake #2: “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.”
If the weather reports weren’t enough to make him turn back, Mike now acknowledges that he should have made the decision to postpone the flight once he got out to the runway and felt what the crosswind was doing to the aircraft.
The two mistakes that Mike identified highlight an important lesson that we can all take away from this crash:
In many cases of pilot error, the pilot decides to do something he or she knows full well is a risky decision. The warning signs are there, and if we respect and listen to them, we may avoid living out our own Draco disaster (or worse).
Will Draco be re-built?
Naturally, with such a unique and well-loved aircraft, the second thought on everyone’s minds once they confirmed that Mike, his wife and his passenger were safe was, “What will happen to Draco? Will Mike re-build?”
As daunting as a re-build may sound to most people, we are all in luck. About a month after Draco’s crash, Mike posted a new video to his YouTube channel entitled “Draco Lives.” After reliving the highlights of Draco’s life as well as its unfortunate demise, the screen fades to black and a quote appears:
“In order to rise from its own ashes a phoenix first must burn.” -Octavia Butler
The camera follows Mike packing the pieces of Draco into the back of a cargo trailer, and we see the words, “Draco will rest for a while…but not for long.”
A steady heartbeat plays in the background as the screen comes alive with diagrams and schematics of the plans that Mike is drawing up for Draco’s rebuild.
“More power, more range, more speed, more climb, more wing, more payload, lower drag, better suspension, shorter take off, shorter landing.”
Far from being the end of an era, it now seems that the Draco crash was the fire from which a phoenix will emerge – the new Draco X.
- PilotMall.com Editor