One of the very first steps in an aircraft purchase involves determining what capabilities we’d like our airplane to have, and it’s laughably easy to check the boxes as we go down the list. Cross-country range? We’ll take it. Load-carrying ability? Absolutely. Short-field performance? Sign us up. A five-digit price tag? Yes, please. An airframe built in the 1990s? Sounds great.
Before long, our wish list becomes as overloaded as a college student’s plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and we eventually realize that compromises must be made. STOL aircraft rarely provide long-distance speed and range, for example, and certificated types less than 30 years old are typically fairly expensive.
The Maule, on the other hand, seems to provide most of these strengths with few compromises. Takeoff rolls of 300 to 500 feet are routine, and yet many provide cruise speed and range that approach even some types with retractable gear. Four adults and full tanks can be carried aloft at the same time. For just over $100,000, it’s possible to buy an example that’s newer than the first Apple iPods.
Surely, I thought, there must be a catch. So, I took a dive into the world of Maules to investigate further and evaluate their suitability as an approachable aircraft.
When company founder B.D. Maule designed the M-4 in the 1950s, he emphasized a few key values, including utility, durability and short-field capability. The initial examples rolled out of the factory in the early 1960s, and this basic formula has remained largely unchanged.
The Maule family is straightforward in a broad sense and more intricately detailed when it comes to the little things. Six basic models have been produced since 1960. All are high-wing aircraft with side-by-side seating, yokes, great load-carrying capability and fantastic STOL performance. All have steel-tube, fabric-covered fuselages, and with the exception of a handful of early models that had fabric-covered wings, all Maule wings are metal. Other than the five-seat M-7 and M-9 series, all have four-seats.
It’s a recipe that has proved to work well. For more than 60 years, the various models have undergone incremental improvements and have utilized a wide variety of engines without losing sight of the original mission. The company is still owned and operated by the Maule family, and they still build airplanes designed with utility, durability and short-field capability in mind.
Though all Maules have retained the same basic characteristics, the company’s model-number and naming structure becomes quite complicated when all the minor differences are taken into account. A comprehensive explanation of every model number and name used since the introduction of the type would require spreadsheets, footnotes and possibly also a decoder ring. For the sake of brevity, we will cover some broad characteristics among the models and avoid detailing every defining feature.
The M-4 was the initial model, introduced in 1962. It’s easily distinguished by the rounded tail that resembles a Piper Pacer. It was initially equipped with the 145 hp Continental O-300 engine and fixed-pitch propeller, and was later upgraded to more-powerful Continental and Franklin engines with constant-speed propellers. The first M-4s were produced for approximately 10 years, and a modernized M-4 briefly returned to production in the mid-2000s.
Because it’s the oldest model, the M-4 tends to be the least expensive. The combination of a smaller vertical stabilizer and larger ailerons makes it superior to other Maules in crosswinds. Downsides include less compatibility with modification kits offered by the factory and a less impressive fit-and-finish compared to later models.
The M-5 and M-6 improved upon the initial model by introducing a larger tail, larger flaps, a larger wingspan and higher gross weights. They also incorporated improved airframe systems, such as the M-6’s flaps that are actuated with lower-maintenance torque tubes rather than the original cable system.
Models that are currently in production include the M-6, M-7, MX-7 and M-9. The 7-series Maules use a series of prefixes and suffixes to denote the configuration. An X in the model name indicates a slightly smaller fuselage, and the presence of a T indicates a tricycle-gear configuration. An MXT-7-180, therefore, is a small-fuselage 7-series Maule with tricycle gear and a 180 hp engine.
The -7 series also offers taildragger fans a choice of main landing gear; the traditional oleo gear with shock absorbers that dampen rebound; and spring aluminum gear with fewer moving parts and slightly less drag. The spring aluminum gear legs are wider and offer greater stability, but the oleo gear neatly fits into the tracks of two-track dirt roads for easier off-airport access. Finally, the M-9 series is simply a version of the -7 series that incorporates an increased gross weight and a number of structural reinforcements.
A survey of Maules listed for sale at the time of this writing found 30 examples ranging in price from $35,000 for a 1973 M-4-220 in need of an engine overhaul to $199,000 for a low-time 2001 M-7-260C. The median price of the group was $87,950, and the median airframe time was 1,321 hours.
Compared with other types, the average airframe time of Maules is quite low. This is partially a function of a fleet that is younger than most other types, but even among the oldest examples, it’s rare to find a Maule with more than 2,500 hours on the airframe.
By the numbers, the interior of a Maule is fairly spacious. The 42 inches of width at the front seats is equal to that of newer Cessna 182s. But because the fuselage provides less vertical space, the seats are mounted lower and give a feeling of sitting closer to the floor like a Cessna 150 or 152. Visibility over the nose is better than many types but still might require a bit of a stretch to see forward.
Takeoffs are completed fairly quickly, even in the lower-powered models. The ample rudder and vertical stabilizer provide positive control throughout the takeoff roll, and it rarely requires more than 500 feet to get off the ground. Deck angles during climb-out can become alarmingly steep in lightly loaded models with higher horsepower engines, and departure-end obstacles are long forgotten by the time you pass overhead.
In the air, a Maule exhibits few notable characteristics, save for the interconnection between the ailerons and rudder. At cruise speed, this enables the pilot to more easily remain coordinated in turns.
Many Maules incorporate two optional auxiliary fuel tanks outboard of the mains. The larger aux tanks of several models each hold up to 21 gallons of fuel, bringing the total fuel capacity of these models to 85 gallons and providing excellent range.
The example we flew while researching the type for this article was equipped with vortex generators. The owner explained that these noticeably softened the stall, and sure enough, stalls were relatively docile with ample tactile warning.
Few owners use words such as “docile” and “forgiving” to describe the landing characteristics of their tailwheel Maules. While they generally avoid describing the airplane as difficult to fly, nearly all caution new owners to exercise an extra measure of discipline and respect with regard to ground handling in general and landings in particular.
Just as an airplane with benign stall characteristics will lazily and gradually mush into a stall—offering the pilot ample warning and ample time to recover—a tailwheel airplane with benign ground-handling characteristics will follow suit, providing the pilot with ample opportunity to recognize and correct a landing that’s in the process of going wrong.
This is not the case with a tailwheel Maule. The window of opportunity to correct a tail that’s slewing sideways is shorter compared with similar tailwheel types like the Cessna 170. An inattentive or inexperienced pilot not receptive to the sometimes-subtle visual and tactile cues of an uncoordinated touchdown or ground roll is susceptible to a ground loop.
Owners attribute the less-forgiving landing characteristics to multiple factors. Compared with other types, a Maule places more of its weight on the tailwheel and, thus, positions more mass behind the main gear with more potential to swing outward. Beyond a certain point, it becomes impossible to correct this, and as inertia builds, the point of no return can be reached more quickly than with other types. The benefit is that the heavier tail enables heavy braking with less risk of a nose-over incident.
Aileron authority also comes up in discussions with owners. When flying an approach and landing on the backside of the power curve, the large vertical stabilizer in the propeller slipstream ensures rudder effectiveness, but at low speeds, aileron authority can erode significantly. Combined with gusty conditions and lighter weights, positive roll control can become reduced, and this can quickly become the first link in a chain of events that lead to a loss of control. In addition, the aforementioned aileron/rudder interconnection works against the pilot when intentionally cross-controlling the airplane during a crosswind landing.
Finally, the STOL capability of the Maule can lure some newcomers into a sense of invulnerability. These pilots reason that because the airplane is so capable, challenging conditions and landing sites must be correspondingly easier to negotiate—and some soon get in over their head.
One owner summed it up nicely: “My Maule is a fairly straightforward airplane to fly—but a very nuanced and difficult airplane to fly well. I am constantly working on improving our relationship.”
Talk to any group of Maule owners, and they will invariably shower the airplane with praise, raving about many of the same things. Load-carrying ability is a favorite attribute, with useful loads hovering around 1,000 pounds and cavernous cabins that are easily accessible via the large rear doors. All owners appreciate being surrounded by a steel cage and express confidence in the robust airframe.
Performance is another favorite aspect of the airplane. With legendary short-field performance, respectable cruise speeds and a healthy range, the airplane unlocks a wide variety of destinations.
Owners also appreciate the great factory support. In addition to providing excellent parts availability and friendly service from the Maule family, aftermarket parts pricing is considered to be more reasonable than with other manufacturers.
Maule also offers a wide variety of “mod kits”—parts kits that enable a Maule owner to upgrade their airplane to various different wings, fuel tanks, and other components that have been improved in later aircraft versions. Engine conversions can be accomplished without the messy STC and paperwork processes required by other types.
Virtually all Maule downsides are attributed to the tailwheel versions. Namely, the handling which many describe as less forgiving than other tailwheel aircraft as well as relatively high insurance premiums. The insurance cost can be minimized through the use of a broker with Maule experience, and both of these downsides can be avoided with the selection of tricycle gear.
One ownership concern common to all Maules is the fabric fuselage covering. Fabric is light and easy to repair, but it has a shorter lifespan and is expensive to replace. Although modern covering systems last for several decades, complete replacement can cost $45,000 to $50,000 when paint, labor and associated work are accounted for. An owner would be wise to create an hourly fabric fund as many do to fund future engine overhauls.
ADs are all relatively minor and not overly burdensome. One of the most significant involves the replacement of wing lift struts, which is a reasonably simple fix. Factory support makes it easy to address ADs, as does advice from other owners on maulepilots.org, a vibrant message board and owners group where owners can network and exchange tips and advice.
The entire series of Maule aircraft does indeed seem to check many boxes at once, providing access to short strips, solid cross-country capability, and excellent factory support for less cost than many comparable types.
The hidden gem, in our opinion, is the 180 hp MXT-7. Examples built in the 1990s have recently been selling for $75,000 to $85,000 and offer Maule’s legendary STOL capability, with the economy and simplicity of tricycle gear and a fixed-pitch prop. All the benefits of a modern Maule with sure-footed ground handling and notably less insurance expense.
Regardless of which model you choose, the benefits are numerous and legitimate. In the end, the Maule provides a number of strengths with relatively few compromises.
Maule’s Comet, From 1997
In the September 1997 issue of FLYING, we took a look at the “basic airplane at an affordable price,” and little has changed in the intervening 24-plus years.
The 180-hp, tricycle-gear Maule Comet elicited kind words from former editor-in-chief Richard L. Collins, who picked that model out of the lineup in part for its similarities to another favorite of his, the Piper Tri-Pacer, but “with better lines.”
“All the tricycle Maules (160, 180, and 235 hp) have the aluminum leaf gear and all have the same size tires on all three wheels. That does give the airplane the appearance of a puppy with big feet, but it also enhances the rugged nature of the airplane.”
“The Maule seems to have superior low-speed handling qualities,” said Collins. “I did a stall, and it was gentle. On final approach, the recommended speed is 65 mph—you can go slower if you want to—and the airplane feels solid as a rock at that speed.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of FLYING.