Self-taught engineer designs Bush plane

First abuilt in 1996, Mountain Goat is faster, more maneuverable than Piper Super Cub

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2004

PALMER - Bill Montagne has swagger.

It comes with the territory. He's a self-taught aerodynamics engineer and test pilot who designed a plane for the Alaska Bush that he says can fly circles around the competition.

"Everybody right now is building planes with the same old technology. ... You end up with the same old junk airplane," Montagne says. "If you say I'm going to think completely out of the box, you can come up with something new - and that's what I did."

The Mountain Goat looks like a Piper Super Cub, but that's where the similarities end, Montagne says. His plane has a faster cruising speed, a lower stall speed and is more maneuverable than the Super Cub, loved by many Bush pilots in a state where gravel beaches and mountain glaciers are frequent landing sites.

The Mountain Goat is not in production or even certified by the Federal Aviation Administration yet. That lengthy and expensive process still lies ahead, and Montagne is still seeking investor dollars to pay for it.

But the Mountain Goat already has its fans. Peter de Ruyter, an aeronautical engineer and a designated engineering representative for the FAA, said he flew in the Mountain Goat three years ago in Livermore, Calif. De Ruyter, who has no financial stake in the project, was hired by some New York investors to evaluate the plane's performance.

"I know a good airplane from a bad one and I was certainly impressed with the handling ability, just everything about it," de Ruyter said of the Mountain Goat. "It is pretty remarkable. It's faster. It is more maneuverable than the Super Cub."

Montagne, 51, loves hunting and fishing, and decided he needed a Bush plane to get to wilderness. He looked at the Super Cub but felt it was outdated.

"The Super Cub has never evolved," he said. "Right now you buy a new airplane with 60-year-old technology. ... There's something wrong with that."

Montagne decided he'd come up with something better. He sent out a few hundred questionnaires to other Bush pilots asking them what they wanted in a plane. He started by improving the airfoil, the shape of the wing that provides lift. He said his design "has twice the lift and half the drag of anything in the world."

He also used race car technology to improve the plane's exhaust system and air intake. A well-engineered air box allows the engine to breathe more air, which in turn increases horsepower. To make the plane safer, the Mountain Goat has a roll cage and seat belt harness, just like in race cars.

Montagne finished the Mountain Goat prototype in 1996 and spent the next three years refining it. On its first flight, he determined that the Mountain Goat would fly 15 mph slower than a Super Cub before it would lose lift and stall. The ability to fly slowly is valued by Bush pilots because it allows them to land and take off at slower speeds, using shorter runways.

"To get stall speed as low as he's got, you could nearly jump out of the airplane and not scratch yourself," de Ruyter said.

The perfected Mountain Goat cruises at between 159 mph and 162 mph - just under twice as fast as the Super Cub, Montagne said. It also needs much less runway to take off and land.

The plane can carry 1,250 pounds, including about 350 pounds of cargo behind the rear seat. That's about seven times the cargo capacity of the Super Cub, Montagne said.

Montagne senses he's on the verge of something big.

"This is revolutionary," he said.

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