Ever since major airplane manufacturers such as Cessna and Piper moved the third wheel from the rear of the fuselage to the front in the 1950s, most new single-engine airplanes have been delivered with tricycle gear. Some people question why anyone would fly a taildragger since the nosewheel-configured airplanes simply are easier to take off and land. But for backcountry bush flying and unimproved airstrips, the tailwheel configuration is ideal. It keeps the propeller farther from the ground, produces less drag than a nosewheel and allows for tighter turns on the ground. Fortunately for those who like to fly in the backcountry, a few companies still see the value in producing taildraggers. One of those companies is Afton, Wyoming-based Aviat Aircraft — the producer of the Husky.
The Husky is a tandem-seat, high-wing, single-engine airplane built for pure, unadulterated fun in the backcountry and on unimproved fields. While certified as recently as the late 1980s, the airplane is a handcrafted rag and tube design. It was made to fly in and out of short backcountry strips, and being designed in Afton, which has an elevation of 6,221 feet with much higher density altitudes in the summer, the airplane also handles high altitude operations very well. The Husky can get in and out of just about any airport, as long as the pilot can handle it.
Ancestry of the Aviat Husky
When homebuilt-impresario Frank Christensen introduced the Husky in the 1980s, his original intent was to restart the production of the Piper Super Cub. But when purchasing the design proved unfeasible, Christensen decided on a different course of action. He had already redesigned the Pitts into the homebuilt Christen Eagle, and in a similar fashion he used the Super Cub design as a template, made the modifications he felt were needed and went to certify a new, “huskier” design. Get it?
Christensen got lucky. The year was 1985, and after several decades of a booming general aviation industry when manufacturers collectively had an annual production rate of more than 17,000 airplanes some years in the ’70s, engineers and FAA officials proficient in certifying a design were plentiful. And in a feat of efficiency that is inconceivable in today’s more complicated certification environment, the Husky received Part 23 certification in 1987, only 18 months after Christensen’s thoughts were put on paper.
Today, Aviat Aircraft is run by a soft-spoken businessman from New York — Stu Horn. The history of how Horn took over the company is quite unusual. In the early 1990s, Horn was running a successful real estate development business in New York. His company did well. But new regulations had made the business increasingly more complex, and Horn began looking for other opportunities.
Horn found an ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1994 advertising Aviat Aircraft for sale. Inspired by a long-lost love for flying, Horn answered the ad. About 18 months later, what had begun as spontaneous curiosity became reality, and he purchased the company. He is one of a very exclusive club, of which he may be the only member, who trained for his Private Pilot certificate in a Pitts. Horn’s passion for backcountry flying makes him committed to continuously improving the Husky’s design.
Crafting the Husky
The Aviat Aircraft factory blends into the downtown Afton environment. Four low, white, unassuming buildings totaling 72,000 square feet are located right on Afton’s main strip — Washington Street — famous for the world’s largest elk antler arch. The factory has been located there since the late 1930s, when Call Aircraft Co. established a production facility for its low-wing, conventional-gear CallAir airplanes.
Today, the factory floors house the production of 24,000 parts, several certified airplanes — Pitts models and Huskies — and homebuilt Christen Eagle and Pitts kits. There are also sections of the facility dedicated to service and support, and research and development — a building called the Dawghouse. The bulk of the production is for the Husky, with about 30 to 35 airplanes produced annually in the past few years.