Aviat Husky

This backcountry machine is a modern-day taildragger.

Aviat Husky

Aviat Husky

Aviat Husky

__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.

The Husky is still very much a handcrafted airplane. Chromoly steel tubing is assembled using tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding — a process that helps produce a strong, light fuselage framework. The unique and proprietary application of DuPont Ceconite fabric and strength-enhancing cotton strips is meticulous, and the finishing process, which includes paint mixed on location, produces a covering that Horn claims will last as long as 50 years in a hangar and 40 years if the airplane is exposed to the elements. Fabric covers the wings, empennage and aft portion of the fuselage, but forward of the luggage compartment the sidewalls are made of aluminum.

Customers can go online to create their own virtual Husky using 14 colors and 10 paint schemes. The combinations seem endless, and I couldn’t resist designing my own. I just wish I could put it in my shopping cart.

Huskier Design
Paint schemes aside, it's easy to see the relationship between the Piper Cub and the Husky. The tandem seating arrangement, doors, high fabric wings, conventional landing gear and the approximate location of the throttle, mixture, flaps and center stick are all common features.

But with nearly four decades of engineering development and stricter certification rules, the Husky is generally more robust compared with the Super Cubs coming out of the Piper factory decades ago. The cabin is larger and, notwithstanding several STC improvements offered in later years for the Super Cub, Christensen’s design provided a few hundred pounds of increased gross weight. Another significant improvement is the switch from heel brakes to toe brakes, which makes the Husky much easier to maneuver on the ground.

One of the biggest improvements for the Husky is that it is certified for night and IFR operations. But a dual-screen Garmin G600/GNS 430W option with a Garmin GTX 327 transponder and electronic monitoring gauges adds $82,345 to the $211,650 base price. Several other panel configurations are available for pilots looking for simple VFR flying, including a very basic, non-GPS VFR package for $11,117. The airplane I flew was equipped with a Garmin GPSMap 696 MFD, Becker comm and transponder, electric attitude indicator, PS Engineering PM1000 intercom and Electric International’s EGT/OAT/CHT gauge. While limited to VFR, this is the most popular option, for $17,284.

The Husky also provides options for multiple power plants. In addition to the 180 hp Lycoming O-360-A1P, with which two-thirds of the Huskies leave the factory, a 200 hp Lycoming provides the Husky with even greater performance. A 160 hp option is also available for the budget conscious, though Horn admits the cost savings are not significant enough to make this option popular.

Aviat offers a long list of additional options, including several propellers, tires, tailwheels and lights. You can even get an EVS-100 enhanced vision system. The most common configuration, with a three-blade MT propeller, 29-inch bush tires and a Garmin 696-equipped panel, can be yours for about $270,000.

Many modifications have been made to the Husky through the years, but probably the most significant one came in 2005 when Aviat fitted the Husky with a new high-performance wing and eliminated the aileron spades. The redesign increased the span of the semifowler flaps and decreased the span of the ailerons while increasing their chord.

The spades, which were intended to act as aerodynamic power steering, were replaced with a mass-balanced aileron design. Horn claims the wing redesign produced a 50 percent increase in the roll rate and a uniform balance through the speed range, providing consistent control response from 60 to 100 mph. The removal of the spades also decreased a lot of adverse yaw, making it easier to maintain coordinated flight — a great thing for an airplane that many customers fly low and slow.

No White Knuckles
I wanted to see for myself how the Husky flies, so on a cool, crisp morning, I climbed up on the right 29-inch tire and ungracefully folded my leg around the center stick to get into the comfortable front seat. As with any new airplane, it took a minute to get familiar with the locations of the cockpit components. In the Husky, the throttle, trim and flaps are on the left side of the cabin. While I'm used to the more conventional arrangement of throttle in the right hand and controls in the left, it didn't take too long to get used to the opposite configuration.

As we taxied through a field via an access road from the factory’s downtown location to the runway, I was surprised that the airplane was hopping along. At first I was wondering whether I was doing something wrong, but I wasn’t. The cold air had hardened the fat tires and there were flat spots from the weight of the airplane sitting on the tarmac.

By the time we were ready to take off, the tires were back to their normal shape, and the takeoff roll was smooth. As expected, a little rudder was needed to keep the airplane on the centerline, but the ground stability was good and we were off the ground long before the 1,000-foot markers. As we climbed out of Afton, I noticed that, even with nearly full fuel, two adults in the cockpit and those fat tires disturbing the airflow, the airplane displayed excellent climb performance — about 1,000 fpm in our quick climb to 7,500 feet. During our afternoon flight when the air had heated up and the density altitude was about 2,000 feet higher than the actual, we still saw a climb rate better than 500 fpm before leveling off at our selected cruise altitude of 9,500 feet.

I found the airplane to be exceptionally well balanced, and though most of my 3,000 hours of flight time have been spent with yokes and side-sticks, the center stick was comfortable right off the bat. A few decades of improved airplane design were evident. I actually felt more comfortable controlling the Husky during the first flight than I did flying my Cessna 170 after a few hundred hours.

There’s no need for white knuckles while flying the Husky. You can fly it with your fingertips. About four pounds of stick force pressure is required to maneuver the Husky, which feels just right, and the consistency of response through the speed range that Horn had talked about was noticeable.

Leveling off at 7,500 feet on that initial flight, we trued out at about 110 knots. The cruise speed of the little Husky with fat tires may not be ideal for long cross-country flying, but that is not what it was designed for. Horn claims that the new flap design allows for a descent rate of as much as 1,200 fpm at 60 mph with the three-blade MT propeller. The flaps can also increase the climb rate, so the airplane has no trouble getting into and out of confined areas.

We tested the flight envelope with a couple of stalls. With no power and full flaps, I didn’t feel the indication of a stall until about 52 mph, which is about 45 knots. With some power in and full flaps, the buffet occurred around 42 mph. The slow stall speed is another component that adds to the airplane’s backcountry capabilities, and the stall was benign with no noticeable tendencies for a wing to kick up.

The approach speed range is quite wide depending on what type of landing you’d like to achieve. You can come in quite fast — around 70 mph on final — and wheel-land the airplane. Since I have a preference for wheel landings, I tried this approach first and achieved a nice, smooth touchdown.

Since Horn flies into short strips frequently, he likes to minimize his landing distance by flying the base leg at 60 mph indicated then slow down to about 50 to 55 mph over the threshold, depending on the conditions, and touch down in the 40s. Horn claims he can consistently land the airplane as short as 100 feet.

I didn’t want to challenge my skills in this brand-new airplane, but I tried my second approach at 55 mph for a three-point landing. All my landings felt easy and smooth, and I have to credit the airplane to some extent since I had not flown a taildragger for a while.

With the airplane’s excellent short-field capabilities and beefy design, I can see how it would be tempting for experienced pilots to push the envelope and fly into extreme backcountry strips. Horn pushed the limits a little too far one day at Mile Hi Landing Strip in the backcountry canyons near McCall, Idaho. “Damping the Dreaded Bounce” explains what happened and how the incident inspired Horn to come up with a new landing gear design.

Backcountry flying in a taildragger is challenging and can introduce heightened risk even for the most experienced pilot. But, provided you have the skills, the Husky will get you in and out of short airstrips at high elevation. Whether you like to fly in the extreme backcountry, land on short, unimproved strips or just have fun in a less challenging environment, the Husky’s stable flight characteristics, climb and descent capabilities, and excellent short-field performance will most likely put a smile on your face. That’s what the Husky did to me.

Damping the Dreaded BounceAviat President Stu Horn recently found reason to redesign the Husky’s landing gear. The two main gear legs were each attached to the fuselage with three thick bungee cords. While the bungee system was made for smooth landings, because of the tendency of the bungees to stretch during the touchdown, the gear legs would splay out and then spring together if the landing was hard, causing the airplane to bounce off the ground.Horn experienced this phenomenon at Mile Hi Landing Strip in Idaho — a severely sloped grass meadow only 560 feet long. Horn had landed there before, but this time he came in a little too high over the trees and landed long where the slope is more severe. The hard impact launched the airplane back into the air and made Horn inadvertently apply full power, which he then cut too quickly, slamming the airplane onto the ground and damaging the gear.When Horn returned to Afton he brought a couple of engineers to the Dawghouse to come up with a solution that would prevent the rebound effect of the bungees. The bungees were redesigned and a damping system was added in which each gear leg has a one-way shock absorber that reduces the spring effect of a hard landing. Horn refers to it as “independent suspension.” The new landing gear design makes it easier to stick a hard landing rather than bounce to what could become a second hard slam into the ground.Horn expects the FAA to sign off on the landing gear redesign and a gross weight increase to 2,250 pounds by the time you read this article.

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