Behind the Innovation: Mike Patey’s DRACO Plane


Behind the Innovation: Mike Patey’s DRACO Plane

The coolest STOL aircraft ever is now the coolest RC aircraft

You hear it before you see it. The unmistakable sound of a PT6A- 28 680 shaft horsepower turbine and 102" four-bladed prop cuts through the air like the mythical dragon this modified Wilga 2000 STOL (short-take-off-and-landing) is named after. And when you see it, the fire engine red bush plane commands your full attention. This is the DRACO airplane.

In 2019, as owner Mike Patey attempted to leave Reno-Stead after the National Championship Air Races, he crashed the DRACO in a takeoff accident. At the time, the DRACO plane was described as a total loss.

During that same time, a group of excited builders was creating their own one-of-a-kind DRACO. An officially licensed model replica has been in the works for several years with an entire team of product developers, engineers, and radio control pilots working directly and indirectly with Mike Patey to create this unique RC airplane.


Mike Patey has been modifying everything since the day he was born. He progressed from go-karts to super trucks and desert racing and hill climbs and everything between and beyond. When he flew his first airplane, he was hooked on aviation.

Patey said, "I’m going around this air show, seeing all the planes I’d already seen before. I came around this corner and saw this big red beast with these little itty-bitty tires on it. And I fell in love. I mean, I loved it. I thought that was cool. When I figured out we could take a certified plane and decertify it, it was game over. Every dream I had when I was flying an original Wilga just came to life, and I said, that’s it. I’m going to find one, buy it, and we’re going to do everything I ever thought of. So, that’s DRACO."

The Horizon team was in on the DRACO airplane revolution early on. Matt Andren, Horizon Hobby Product Developer-Air, remembered sharing videos with other RC pilots and being amazed at what he could do with the plane. Others knew it was a no-brainer that Horizon would create a radio control version.

Jason Merkle, Horizon Hobby Senior Brand Manager-Air, said, "Everybody was in, not only because it looked cool, but the person behind it, the story behind it, and then more importantly, just what it represented was something just above and beyond different. It was pushing the envelope, which is something we’ve always tried to do with a lot of our brands."

Getting to that point took a lot of time and effort, but first, Mike Patey had to perfect the DRACO, which he did over several months. To create the finished product took a unified vision, and Patey knew precisely what he was going to do.

If there’s one feature that sets DRACO apart from everything else, it’s the size.

"You get used to flying into the backcountry, and you see Cubs and more Cubs and different color Cubs and Cubs with slightly different tire sizes," Patey said. "DRACO’s huge. And everyone that sees it in real life, the first thing they’re like, I had no idea it was so big. And I guess in the backcountry, size does matter."

Andren said, "What Mike was able to do with that airplane, the changes he made and that he thinks about he just does it. He doesn’t sit there and procrastinate about it. He just starts cutting metal and making carbon and doing it. The stuff Mike put in the real airplane in terms of avionics and just creature comforts and stuff like that just blew my mind. He took a normal stock kind of airplane and just went to town on it."

With no limits, Patey turned the basic Wilga 2000 into an experimental exhibition aircraft. He started by replacing its Lycoming O-540 piston engine with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A- 28 turboprop, boasting about twice the power at half the weight. He created a high-power, capable machine that commanded attention on the ground and in the air.

"It’s brought people to aviation that weren’t even interested in aviation before," said Merkle. "Because they heard about this crazy plane and they watched it fly, and then they learn about the man behind it. They’re like, ‘I didn’t know you could do that, in your own hangar by yourself and come up with these ideas and just make a plane fly.’ And then, on top of that, it inspired model aviators too. I’ve seen so many people that are into all kinds of facets of RC hobby aviation; every single one of them looks at DRACO and goes, that’s cool. Because there’s just nothing like it."


From the introduction of the DRACO airplane to wanting to get started on creating the RC version took about two seconds. Literally, the Oshkosh weekend the DRACO debuted, product developers from Horizon were ready to go.

"We were trying our best to contact Mike immediately," said David Payne, Horizon Hobby Technical Director-Air. "And it started from that day working with Mike. We started talking and discussing things and the possibilities, and not long after that is when we started working on the airframe."

Creating the model took several months and lots of iterations. In fact, there were times when the design team watched a Mike Patey video and saw that he’d changed something to the full-size DRACO, and they’d have to make sure it made it to the final product.

"Mike’s work on the full-size took less than the model did, which is kind of funny," said Andren. "There were a lot of features we really wanted to incorporate in this model. We really wanted to make it one of the most detailed models out there with all the full-size features. We really went all-in and did everything we possibly could to make it the best rendition of DRACO that we possibly could."

From the time the Horizon team talked about it to the time, they started development to now being in the marketplace was a long time.

Merkle said, "We announced our partnership with Mike about a year, year, and a half ago, and we took our time to make sure to get it right. The result was worth the time and effort it took to get here. Many of our park fliers or mid-size models have 1.2-meters to 1.5-meter wingspans, and we made the DRACO a full two meters. So, it has a presence."


The development process was intense. The team went to the extent of scanning the real DRACO airplane to make sure it looks perfect. The full-size DRACO was incredibly unique with several different shapes and aspects to it. The team didn’t want to miss any detail.

Patey said, "I participated with the 3D scans. I built the plane. I know every single part on it and I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that can be more shocked than I was because there’s not a person on the planet that’s going to see the stuff I see in it. I cannot believe how many parts and pieces it takes. This is one of the strongest, most in-depth things I’ve ever seen on an RC plane in my life. It’s not just true to form and actually functional, but it is unbelievably stout. It’s inspiring."

Payne said the team knew there would be plenty of eyes on this scale model once it hit retailers. However, there was an audience of one that he wanted to please most of all.

"It was a blast to work on," said Payne. "It took a lot of work from a lot of the team to get there, but it was all a pay-off once Mike and his family and saw the airplane."

Patey said, "After I lost DRACO and then to see this model, absolutely perfect was one of the greatest days I’ve had in a long time. It was a little bit emotional for me to look at it because so many thousands of hours were put into little things. I can’t describe how it felt to see this plane come to life. I can’t imagine a better replica. It is so perfectly true to DRACO."

The result is a one-of-a-kind STOL bush plane modelers will be excited to see at the flying field.

"I developed the Timber," said Andren. "So, I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for short takeoff and landing airplanes. This one was a unique challenge but something I really wanted to take on. It was probably one of the more detailed projects we’ve ever done, and it’s probably the most detailed airplane out there."

The question on everyone’s mind since the DRACO RC plane has finally been released is if we will see a new and improved full-size DRACO. Mike Patey put those fears to rest.

"Will there be another DRACO? There will be another DRACO. No doubt about it."

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