What’s so good about the Expedition?, an aircraft made by Found Aviation.
I bought this plane because I wanted safety. To be safe, you need power, and the right features. I’m going to be talking a lot about “Mountain Flying” and the features I like.
The Found Aviation company was famous for making Bush Planes. When people ask me on the radio, what is an Expedition, it’s easiest to say “high wing bush plane”, and pilots understand it’s a plane that can use rough airstrips.
I think “Mountain Plane” is a better description. During the past 5 years, I’ve flown many times across the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. But before that, I had taken mountain flying courses, read the books, and flew with an experienced mountain flyer before I began doing it myself.
Here’s my list of features why this is a safe excellent mountain plane.
1. The 100 gallon gas tanks are huge, giving incredible range and over 5 hours of flying time. Planes with small tanks make pilots take risks with distance and headwinds. I never have this problem.
2. Engine Monitoring. This revolutionizes the safety of a single engine plane, in my opinion. You feel complete confidence in the engine, by seeing how all 6 cylinders are reaching optimum temperatures during flight, and knowing that I’m always rich of peak. Always adjusting air-fuel mix for changes in altitude, I know I’ve never put any of my 6 cylinders onto overheated or gas-starved.
Old timers used to say that twin-engines were safer. If one engine failed, you had a spare. But now I think, becoming the master of just 1 engine, is safer. All new planes should have these fancy engine monitors, mine is an off-the-shelf MVP-50. So it’s not unique to the Expedition. Besides telling you your engine is feeling happy, the other safety feature is the real-time fuel-consumption and distance calculations.
Suppose you’re flying over the mountains, and run into a wall of clouds. Then changing course, the engine monitor always tells you exactly if you have enough fuel to reach the destination.
3. Glass Panel maps. My Expedition has a Garmin G-500. That model is now superceded by better versions, but it is amazingly helpful for mountain flying. The top-down topographical map view, shows you all the mountains and all the canyons. Clouds are a factor in mountains on nearly every trip. But I can easily find alternate routes on the glass panel map, and always know exactly where I am. Flying in mountains without this feeling of certainty, wouldn’t be enjoyable.
4. Strong engine. The Lycoming io580. I chose to get a plane with power. It never feels underpowered, even if you’re climbing to 12,500 to go over the BC-Alberta border. Suppose you’re taking off on a hot summer day with a plane full of passengers from the abandoned grass airstrip at Ram Falls, Alberta at 5350 feet elevation, the plane has the power. Also for landings, the power is very handy when you’re wanting to be short-field landing at just above stall speed. Sometimes the plane dips a little low or too slow, but a quick addition of some throttle power, and wow, you’re back where you wanted to be.
5. Wings that stall nicely. The wings shape, by design or luck, are very hard to stall, and when they do, it’s a mild dip with wings that stay level. There’s no need to be stalling the plane at altitudes, and you shouldn’t be stalling to escape from blind mountain canyons (because you’re never lost, and always have power to climb rapidly), but on some short-field landings, dropping below stall speed happens sometimes, and maybe you’re landing on an island airstrip like I do. Imagine you’re over the ocean, approaching the runway on the island to land, flying slow, and you accidentally let the airspeed drop below stall speed at 58 knots. You feel that little drop in altitude, but the wings are still level, so you can add more power, maybe even go into slow-flight, and feel perfectly in control and recover.
6. Wide cabin. The cabin is wider than other comparable aircraft. The pilot’s shoulder isn’t pressing on the door like most.
7. Tricycle landing gear. I know that “real bush pilots” want tail-draggers, but I’m different. I wanted my landings to be simpler and more tolerant of imperfect alignment at touchdown. I wanted easier ground handling and better visibility on the ground. So I chose tricycle gear, and I was pleasantly surprised, because my rough airstrip take-offs are excellent. The engine power is so great, my nose-gear can raise off the ground very quickly, like “doing a wheelie”, so the rest of the grass-field take-off is on 2 wheels, just like a tail-dragger. The Expedition came with options, including tundra tires. I don’t think I need them.
8. Visual Appeal. The Expedition is a beautiful plane, a distinctive shape, that always gets noticed. I really like the social aspect of landing somewhere new, and pilots always come check out the plane and are impressed by it.
9. Strongly built. The steel cage around the cockpit, the steel undercarriage, and the very strong landing gear, mean I never have to fear a hard bounce, which I have done, many times. The wings are a very strong spar running from left to right, over the cockpit, and I know I never have to fear a wing breaking off. I’ve been in severe mountain wave roll cloud turbulence. I’ve never crashed obviously, but knowing my plane cockpit and engine are in a strong steel cage, I would choose to forced-landing/crash by aiming for tree-tops in the high mountains rather than prolonging it into a valley.
I knew from the start, that I was getting a better airplane than the cost I paid for it. The specifications were exceeding what the competition was offering at a higher price. I regard the plane as a multi-generation asset, that will become my daughter’s plane when I eventually get too old to fly.