DRACO Ground Loops In Reno


Billed as the “most badass bushplane,” Mike Patey’s modified Wilga called DRACO suffered a devastating and, unfortunately, tremendously public accident today trying to leave Reno, Nevada, after the air races. “It was definitely my fault,” he says in a confessional video published today. “So silly, so dumb … I hope you guys learn from this,” he says in the video. “I am so bummed right now.”

“I took off, got a big gust. I should have [taken] another runway, or not [been] flying,” Patey says as he records the post-accident scene. In videos of the attempted takeoff, the PT6-powered bushplane can be seen starting the takeoff roll then the left wing rises and the nose pitches up. Almost immediately after, the right wing digs into the dirt alongside the runway and DRACO begins a ground loop to the right. By the time it’s turned nearly 180 degrees, the tail drops and makes contact with the ground as the airplane continues rotating to the right, then the right wing rises and the left wing makes contact with the ground.  

Patey describes the beginning of the takeoff with strong crosswinds, saying that he felt the wind begin to lift the left wing and “completely compress my right suspension.” The list is clearly visible in the video. “Then I had a wind bump like nothing I’d ever felt. It lifted the left wing the rest of the way and turned the belly directly to the wind. I had no aileron control. I’ve never felt like a kite in my entire life,” he says.

Patey took the blame head on. People were asking “if anything went wrong … no. Nothing went wrong but me. Nobody’s hurt,” he said, then pointing to his heart, “except here.”

DRACO, a modified Wilga with 680 SHP, drooped ailerons, massive flaps and leading-edge devices, has demonstrated genuinely mind-bending short takeoff and landing performance. Patey’s Wilga was the final serial number of the Wilga 2000 produced in the early 2000s. It was developed to be the ultimate high-elevation bushplane.

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

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  1. A stand up guy. Glad he and his wife are safe. He’s not one to sit still. Looking forward to Draco II

  2. I wouldn’t call it a ground loop, it was the beginning of a cartwheel, the wheels were off the ground. They are very lucky that they didn’t get hurt. I saw his You Tube video, you can tell it really hurt to destroy the plane, he referred to it as his baby. The guy was brutally honest about the whole episode, no excuses. It is a lesson for all of us to take heed of. Don’t get complacent and if that inner voice starts saying this isn’t good listen.

  3. I saw the video on youtube just after the crash and all I can say is that I am glad he’s alive and whoever else was in the plane with him. RIP DRACO but I’m betting Mike will build DRAGO 2. I have been following him on youtube and watching the build he and his brother are working on currently and so far it looks like a CUB on steroids. Can’t wait to see it completed.

  4. Thank you Mike for your video and insights and brutal honesty. So glad that no one got hurt. As a pilot you are now the world expert on wait 10 minutes and the weather will be better. Delay the takeoff 10 minutes and the wind and thunderstorm is gone. Delay 10 mnutes before you land and the wind and thunderstorm is gone. A lot of accidents on takeoff and landing could be avoided if we only waited 10 minutes. Do I have the skill to takeoff or land under present conditions. Of course I do. But if I wait 10 minutes does it lower the risks ? It’s all about risk management. Especially when others have to suffer from our decisions. Wishing you and your family all the best. Billy Bellinger

  5. Perhaps some good will come out of this tragic incident and force a long overdue discussion on better wind bump training for pilots.

  6. A case in point where slower isn’t better.

    Maule pilots, among others, will tell you adding STOL devices (like VGs) to an already lightly loaded wing can increase operational risk. Particularly in gusting conditions where the airfoil can fly before the aerodynamic controls become effective.

  7. It wasn’t a ground loop in the beginning….. it was a takeoff with a crash that ground looped.
    The REALLY sad part of this is — that the local weather conditions were entirely KNOWN.
    Kudos to the owner for admitting he should have waited, or changed runways. Taildraggers of low wing loading are particularly vulnerable in this weather.

    Stead is in the lee of Peavine Mtn and the Sierras. Minden (MEV) is known to glider pilots as a romping playground for mountain lee wave. Stead, Carson, Mammoth, Bishop, Inyokern, Mojave are all in the Sierra leeward side, and the entire corridor is a wave factory.
    The clouds in the crash video and the post-crash recap by the owner all show lenticulars to the south and rotor cloud scraps (fracto-cumulus) overhead of Stead. That visual information coupled with the reported punchy, gusty, rough surface winds all tell the glider community that this is ROTOR and very unpredictable surface winds.
    You might be able to wait for ten or fifteen minutes and have a nice long lull, but that might not happen for hours, depending on the passage of the cold front that makes the system.

    Most airplane pilots and the majority of ATC personnel have had little correct to absolute misinformation in their training about mountain wave. If the Reno Air Races committee wants to avoid accidents like this in the future, they need to get a glider person involved who can tell them what’s happening with the weather. There were many on the field that day — enjoying the Air Race weekend.
    Anyone who wants to see some structure of wave and learn are welcome here:

    Share freely.

    Massive horsepower won’t overcome the scale of wave weather when handling he delicate transition from ground to air, or vice versa. I was so glad to hear that the people weren’t hurt.
    Glider CFI

  8. To me, this accident appears to be caused by operating the aircraft beyond its crosswind limits.
    Before the takeoff roll, the plane is rolled significantly away from the wind. This appears to be caused by the crosswind that caused the upwind wing to generate enough force to compress the downwind landing gear leg. I assume proper crosswind technique was being used, so this means the ailerons were incapable of equaling this force. If the ailerons had been able to counter this rolling force, then the gear leg would not have been compressed.
    This meant as the airplane accelerated, the upwind wing was generating more lift than the downwind wing, and no amount of aileron control could change that. This lead to the uncontrolled right roll that resulted in the right wing striking the ground, which caused the ground loop.
    If anything, this accident highlights the dangers of crosswinds and the importance of proper techniques and observing crosswind limits.