Even for an airplane built for adventure, the Aviat A–1C that the aviation world will soon know as the AOPA 2012 Sweepstakes “Tougher Than a Tornado” Husky has had a tumultuous young life. The newly manufactured, stylishly painted aircraft got its registration number, N40WY, on February 14, 2011, and its initial test flight at the Aviat Aircraft factory in Afton, Wyoming, went smoothly.
“Flew test good,” John Kinman, an Aviat Aircraft test pilot and IA, wrote after installing a long line of blade-like vortex generators atop the leading edge of the airplane’s wing. The airplane also got an upgraded VFR panel featuring a Garmin GPSMAP 696 at the center.
A month later, Stu Horn, owner of Aviat Aircraft, personally flew the airplane to the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Florida, where it became the anchor for the Recreational Aviation Foundation’s (RAF) public display. Standing tall on oversized Alaskan Bushwheels, the yellow-and-maroon Husky was a big draw.
But the youthful Husky—with just 18 hours on its Hobbs meter—was parked squarely at the epicenter of what became an airshow nightmare. On March 31, a tornado ripped through the Sun ’n Fun display area, overturning new airplanes like playthings.
The perfectly landscaped Aviat display area was struck particularly hard. Five new airplanes were severely damaged or destroyed, including a Husky on floats that the wind pushed over, snapping both wings and rolling it like a tumbleweed.
N40WY broke loose from its tiedowns, danced in the wind, and was pushed backward into a light pole. When the storm subsided, the damage to the airframe was relatively minor. Its rudder was bent, along with the left horizontal stabilizer and left elevator, and the right aileron and wing tip were torn and scuffed. There were several puncture holes in the fabric, the largest on the left side of the fuselage in the center of its N number. N40WY would fly again—but it would take time.
The airplane was tucked away in a hangar at Lakeland’s Linder Regional Airport at the conclusion of the show, and Aviat made arrangements to send replacement parts so that they could be installed and the wounded airplane could be ferried home for more permanent repairs. It was then that AOPA President Craig Fuller and Horn of Aviat saw a deal in the making.
Many AOPA members are adventurous sorts, enjoy backcountry flying, and would be thrilled at the prospect of winning a go-anywhere, land-anywhere dream machine like a Husky. And the fact that this one was scarred by a tornado isn’t a drawback, because AOPA members know their association will make sure it’s repaired as new. Perhaps, with help from Aviat’s skilled craftsmen and organizations within our general aviation industry, we will add features that will make it better than new.
The Tornado Husky was covered with gritty, sandy Lakeland dust when I saw it again in June. Some of its mismatched tail feathers were painted in silver, and its right aileron, salvaged from another Husky, was white. N40WY had been through a lot in its short life, and the airplane had been grounded for more than two months. But things were looking up for the young airplane.
Get your first chance to view the Tougher Than a Tornado Husky at AOPA Aviation Summit, September 22 through 24, in Hartford, Connecticut.
A brief phone call to an escrow agent closed the deal, and Tim Clifford, a Husky owner and RAF board member, accompanied me on a local familiarization flight in the airplane whose 180-horsepower Lycoming O-360 was so new it wasn’t fully broken in—the crankcase still carried mineral oil.
Clifford provided helpful hints on Husky preflight inspections, operating tips, and preserving the rubber on those big, soft tundra tires when flying on and off pavement. (His advice: Land on turf whenever possible.)
Everything worked perfectly on the airplane during our 30-minute flight except that the prop rpm varied on the initial climb—a symptom of the airplane’s recent disuse. Clifford coached me through a landing on Runway 5. The tundra tires have a massive, 29-inch diameter, and their low air pressure (8 psi!) made them feel like giant marshmallows on the hard surface.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Clifford and head north to AOPA’s home base in Frederick, Maryland.
With the 52-gallon fuel tanks topped off and the XM Satellite Weather on the Garmin 696 showing a clear path ahead, I head northeast at 3,500 feet toward the Georgia coast, dodging restricted areas in north Florida all the way.
I run the engine at high cruise power setting to continue the break-in, and stay in touch with ATC to test the airplane’s Becker radio and transponder. I am totally won over by the radio’s clarity.
The marshy Georgia coast slides by and the Husky’s tremendous downward visibility provides a wondrous view. A ground speed of 105 knots makes the 800-mile trip an all-day affair. But hand-flying the airplane (there is no autopilot) is so enjoyable, and the Husky is so stable, that it is a refreshing and relaxing task.
The Husky’s stick is absolutely huge and feels like a baseball bat. Aviat, like Russian aircraft designers, believes in mechanical advantage. I find myself choking down on the stick during cruise by gripping it on the neck.
After three hours of flying I skim over the top of Hilton Head’s airspace and touch down at Beaufort County Airport on the muggy South Carolina coast. There’s a seven-knot crosswind, but the Husky’s authoritative rudder keeps the airplane tracking the centerline.
Taxiing to the self-service fuel pump, the airplane is greeted by a small army of admirers. They are impressed by the Husky and fixate on its tires. “Did they come from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’?” someone asks. “Cream-filled or jelly?”
As the afternoon temperature rises, I climb higher looking for cool air and find it at 7,500 feet. I continue to push the engine fairly hard at full throttle and 2,500 rpm, where the three-blade MT prop is silky smooth.
The XM Weather, and my own eyes, show intense but scattered thunderstorms firing across North Carolina and southern Virginia. Thankfully, the air between the towering cumulus buildups remains relatively smooth.
My next fuel stop is in Danville, Virginia, and the GPS shows I’ll get there at 6:50 p.m., and the built-in AOPA database shows that the FBO closes at 7. I call 30 miles out and let the person on the unicom frequency know that a thirsty Husky is on the way, so please stick around.
After refueling, there is only one more area of heavy rain showers between Danville and my destination, and it’s closing in on Danville as I taxi for departure. Raindrops begin pelting the windshield as I climb away from the airport, and the rain mercifully lowers the outside temperature and washes away some of the grime from the airplane’s long, forced stay in Florida.
It’s a Thursday night, and the Potomac Approach frequency seems unusually quiet. A particularly agreeable controller allows me to climb into Washington, D.C.’s, Class B airspace and take a direct line to my destination.
The wind is almost calm when I approach Frederick Municipal Airport, and the softly illuminated MetLife blimp tethered to a mast in the airport’s grassy infield serves as a giant wind sock. I turn on all the Tornado Husky’s powerful LED lights, including the dual landing and wig-wag recognition lights, and a pilot taxiing for departure laughingly says on the CTAF that the bright illumination of the slowly approaching aircraft reminds him of the climactic alien spaceship scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Nine hours of flying (including the acceptance flight) and the Tornado Husky’s spongy tires are finally chocked on the AOPA ramp. The long flight has revealed a few minor squawks: The left wing is heavy, the rudder trim tab needs adjustment, and it’s time for an oil change. But the airplane itself is the picture of youthful vigor and seems enlivened by the exercise. Soon, we’ll make much more ambitious trips, including a return to Afton, Wyoming, where Huskies are born, for cosmetic repairs, matching paint, and rigging adjustments. Then, it’s on to Montana where members of the RAF are repairing and upgrading remote, backcountry airstrips in the towering Rocky Mountains that are particularly well suited for this specialized aircraft.
I’m savoring a successful end to my first day with the Tornado Husky when fireworks appear overhead. Our town’s minor league baseball team, the Frederick Keys, apparently has something to celebrate at the nearby stadium.
The colorful pyrotechnic display is a good omen, a sign of many future adventures, excitement, and novel experiences in store for the future winner of this magical airplane.
Email the author at [email protected].
For a chance to win this rugged, versatile, and highly capable airplane, simply renew your AOPA membership any time before August 31, 2012. And for extra chances, sign up for automatic annual renewal .