There’s a fairly famous photo of a Maule taildragger lifting off and pointing uphill at about a 40-degree pitch attitude. That might be impressive all by itself, but the truly interesting part is that the aircraft is barely emerging from one of the Maule manufacturing buildings in Moultrie, Ga.
The maneuver is called a “jump takeoff,” and it’s a perfect depiction of what Maules can do that most other airplanes can’t. When I was delivering Maules from coast to coast back in the 1980s, I was determined to learn that trick. Dan Spader, Maule’s long-term demo pilot, agreed to show me the procedure, and we practiced about a dozen of the spectacular departures, though fortunately, none launching from inside a hangar. Timing is everything, and I never came close to Spader’s impeccable technique, but it was incredible fun and a great demonstration of the airplane’s truly amazing low-speed performance and handling.
Maules have always been impressive short-field airplanes, capable of STOL performance since long before someone coined the acronym. The first Maule was created by Belford D. Maule back in the middle of the last century, and the company is proud of the fact that their airplanes are still handmade in pretty much the same way they were back then. The company is still run by the Maule family, and they wouldn’t think of doing anything else.
I’ve been fortunate to fly pretty much every model the company has produced since the 1970s, and I ferried Maules for about 15 years in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a different kind of airplane from the typical all-aluminum people movers made in Wichita, Vero Beach or Kerrville, and the composite models produced in Duluth.
It’s a retro design in all the best ways, which means, in this case, it’s a rag-and-tube airplane. Fabric covering is perhaps the oldest and least understood of aircraft construction materials. It was employed on the Wright Flyer, preferred in World War I because of its simple ease of repair and even used on military aircraft through much of World War II.
When properly applied and well doped, fabric can last almost indefinitely. It’s lighter and more flexible than metal, more tolerant of heat than many composites, drag coefficient doesn’t suffer notably with fabric covering, and it’s relatively impervious to rock damage. (I once knew a Bellanca Aircraft salesman who carried a two-inch-diameter steel ball in the baggage compartment of his Viking 300 demonstrator, another tube steel and fabric airplane—along with wood wings. Whenever he heard objections from prospective buyers on the Viking’s fabric covering, he’d pull out the shiny steel ball and ask the prospect what would happen if he slammed it against the side of an aluminum airplane with all his strength. The prospect would usually answer that there’d be a very large, very expensive dent. At that, Ed would stand back 10 feet from his Viking and throw the ball straight into the airplane’s tightly stretched Ceconite side panel. Of course, the ball would bounce off with no damage.)
The Maule M6 is powered by a 235 hp Lycoming IO-540 and cruises at 140 knots.
The airplane on these pages is an M6-235 with a bush package that includes 31-inch tires from Alaskan Bushwheels, new wheels and double puck brakes, and extended gear legs that increase prop clearance by four inches. This Maule M6 was purchased by Texans David and Cade Isham.
The Ishams have a 1,200-acre ranch north of Fort Worth near Decatur, Texas, where they run 400 head of cattle and operate a Western store called National Roper’s Supply. “We specialize in teaching people how to rope right here at the ranch,” Cade explains, “and in support of that mission, we sell just about everything you could possibly need for roping, plus a full line of equine accessories, riding gear and clothing.”
When they went looking for a short-field taildragger, they first considered a Carbon Cub. “The numbers are pretty amazing on the Carbon Cub,” comments Cade. “As an LSA, the airplane can get in and out of incredibly small spaces (it once made a takeoff at the annualValdez, Alaska, short-field competition in only 19 feet), plus now, it’s certified as a homebuilt experimental under the EX designation that allows it to fly at 1,865 pounds. CubCrafters brought one into our 1,000-foot ranch strip, and Dad flew it. You couldn’t help but be impressed with the performance, but we felt we needed the extra room for four seats or two plus camping gear, so we were more inclined toward another Maule.”
The Ishams were already familiar with Maules. They owned an MXT-7-180, a nosewheel Maule with a 180 hp engine. Cade learned to fly in the mini-Maule and explains, “After our excellent experience with the little Maule, Dad and I were interested in checking a taildragger off our bucket list.”
Accordingly, the two pilots flew over to Maule’s Georgia factory to see what was available. “As it happened,” says son Cade, “Brent Maule had an M6 fuselage almost complete, and after some discussion, we decided to purchase the new airplane and have it built to our specifications, complete with the big tires.”
Maules of any description are always fun to fly, but the M6-235 was/is a particular joy. With 235 Lycoming horses out front and a fat Piper Cub USA-35 airfoil overhead, you have all the ingredients for a near-invincible bushbird.
In fact, some pilots feel the Maule wing may be a little too gentle, if that’s possible. Flaps extend to a full 48 degrees, and in combination with the high-lift Cub airfoil, stall is so slow (30 knots), you feel as if you could jump out and run alongside. Don’t try it, though.
The wing stalls with little aerodynamic warning, but that doesn’t matter much as the stall is so gentle, you could fly the airplane practically all the way to the ground with it nibbling on the edge, then give a quick shot of power to cushion the touchdown and stop in a few hundred feet.
Those huge tires make the job even easier, as they forgive a multitude of sins. Yes, the Maule is a conventional-gear airplane, so it does demand more attention than a nosedragger in crosswinds, but the 31-inch tires allow you to ease the airplane to the ground, plant it on the mains and lower the tailwheel to the earth.
There’s a pair of downsides to the big tires. The first is they weigh about 50 pounds apiece. If payload is a concern, you’ll be sacrificing an extra 100 pounds for the privilege of bouncing right across anything smaller than a Bull Moose. In the case of the Ishams’ aircraft, Cade says his M6 offers a useful load of about 875 pounds. Flying with 40 gallons of fuel in the 80-gallon tanks still provides him with a payload of 635 pounds and lets him cruise for an easy two-and-a-half hours plus reserve.
The second disadvantage of the humongous tires is the drag penalty. The Maule wing utilizes manual flaps that may be positioned at your choice of -7, 0, 24, 40 and 48 degrees.
You may have noticed the -7 degree flap setting. Maule discovered long ago that the airplane actually cruises three to five knots faster with the flaps slightly above trail. Position them at the -7 degree reflex position (that’s 7 degrees above the streamlined 0 flap position), and the Ishams’ Maule cruises at about 115 knots, 10 to 15 knots below normal book. No matter. Cade is convinced the safety margin landing on rough terrain makes it worth the loss.
Cade notes, “We’ve put about 80 hours on the M6 since last July, much of it flying into other folks’ ranches, landing on sand bars in the Red River and operating into locations we couldn’t even consider with a nosewheel airplane. The airplane has been easy to operate, reliable and surprisingly flexible.”
One trick the Ishams haven’t tried yet (and probably never will) is a water touchdown. There was an interesting video sequence on YouTube recently showing a bush pilot in Alaska dropping into an abbreviated sand bar with the extra- large bush tires. He touched down in the water in a full stall probably 50 to 100 feet short of the sand with big tires acting as pontoons, water-taxied up to the beach and lowered the tail to earth shortly after crossing onto the bar. Then, he chopped power and stopped in what looked to be 100 feet. As if to emphasize that he could do this every day, he spun the aircraft 180 degrees and took off in the opposite direction, letting the airplane accelerate on the water before lifting off. Don’t try this at home, on your vacation, at an air show or anywhere else unless you’re REALLY familiar with your airplane.
Another procedure Maules do in the same class as Super Cubs and Helios is the box canyon arrival and takeoff. I’ve never seen this performed in a real box canyon, but I once watched it flown at an air show in Las Vegas. Imagine you’re at the bottom of a box canyon and need to fly out. You use the maximum jump takeoff technique, then immediately begin a steep climbing turn when airspeed has passed Vso plus 10, about 40 to 45 knots. If you maintain your pitch and bank, don’t high-speed stall the airplane and all your biorhythms are on a high, you may be able to corkscrew up and out of the box canyon at a few hundred fpm. Obviously, this is a last-resort technique that even most experienced Maule pilots wouldn’t try unless winds were calm and temperature was temperate, but it sounds as if it would work with a Maule’s extreme high-lift wing and copious power.
Maules come in an almost bewildering variety of configurations with power choices ranging from 180 to 260 hp, fuel injected or carbureted, gear selection between floats, skis, tricycle or tailwheel, and seating up to six folks or one pilot plus an airplane full of anything legal.
It’s an airplane for practically all reasons that doesn’t care a whit if it’s boxy and outdated or constructed the way Maules have been built for the last half century. Some things never get old.