VSKYLABS Maule M-7-235B Project
“My Maule is a fairly straightforward airplane to fly—but a very nuanced and difficult airplane to fly well. I am constantly working on improving our relationship.” – A Maule Owner.
As X-Plane 12 was making its way through beta and early access versions, VSKYLABS introduced a very capable bush plane for the new simulation environment. That plane is the Maule M-7-235B. The 235B variant of the Maule M-7 is equipped with oleo strut, oil and spring suspension on the main landing gear. The current project is configured with a choice of conventional (taildragger) gear that can be fitted with standard or 35” tundra tires or twin amphibious floats. The model presented for our consideration is powered by a Lycoming 0-540-B4B5, 235 HP six-cylinder carbureted engine.
VSKYLABS has provided an analogue panel and a glass cockpit with the G1000. The analogue panel is used in both the land and float plane variants while a second land plane variant sports the G1000.
VSKYLABS projects typically get updated over time and additional options can be introduced as this happens. The developer has indicated that the Maule will likely not be an exception to this rule and all future updates will be available to purchasers at no additional cost. One item already on the list is an enhancement of the vent holes in the windows and correcting the ability to open the rear doors with the flaps fully extended.
A Little Background
The Maule, designed by company founder B.D. Maule in the 1950’s, has long been a niche aircraft as a four-place taildragger that is, first and foremost, a bush plane designed to be low maintenance and capable of operating out of extreme airfields. Maules have been described as decidedly outside the mainstream with consistent reliability engendering a high level of owner loyalty.
The construction features all metal wings with a fabric-covered steel-tube fuselage. The M7 series entered production in 1983 and has been outfitted with several engines ranging from 160 to 235 HP. In 1984, modified wingtips on the M-7 allowed another nine inches to be added to the wingspan that had already been increased by two feet for the M-6 variants. Because the additional two feet added to the M-6 degraded its roll rate, Maule gave the M-7 ailerons with more span to restore the roll rate.
Maules are typically built off two airframes, a four place one and a five place one that was introduced in 1981. Model names tend to be created every time a new option is attached to one of these frames leading FAA officials to call Maule Air the Potato Head Factory. Like the toy of the same name, Maule has taken the same basic frame and developed over 25 models from it by changing its “face”.
Maule continues to be a family-owned business located in Moultrie, Georgia, USA. Owners consistently comment on the level of support the manufacturer provides to them.
Installation and Documentation
The installation is straightforward: unzip the XP12-VSL Maule M-7-235B AU v1.15f2 folder from the compressed file into your X-Plane 12 aircraft folder. Within the downloaded file, you will find a PDF document entitled “Important”. This document informs you about the use of the Skunkcraft Updater and provides instructions on how to obtain and install it:
To download the plugin, and for detailed installation and updating instructions, please refer to SkunkCrafts Updater main instructions and documentation page in the following link.
Once you have done this, it is advised to start X-Plane with a default aircraft and run the updater for the Maule to ensure you have the latest version. As of this writing, the updater reports the latest version to be 1.2a Once you know you have the latest version, you are ready to take to the skies with the Maule.
The Maule package includes five liveries plus the default and a manual that I highly recommend perusing. The Maule includes five liveries in addition to the default. Some users have made note of the absence of an “N” registration livery for the aircraft. There is no paint kit for anyone wishing to create their own custom paint schemes.
As with every aircraft we consider, the sim pilot’s experience should begin with the exterior of the aircraft while conducting a virtual walk-around even though we are plopped into the pilot’s seat at startup. So, let’s abandon that seat for the moment and jump out of the Maule to begin that walk around.
When we take our first look at the aircraft while moving towards the front, one of the most noticeable qualities of the exterior model is how smooth and shiny it is. If you like your aircraft showroom new, this is the one for you!
Moving around to the front, we see the three-blade propellor and spinner are well represented and are also shiny and new. Behind the spinner, the various pieces of the cowl are smoothly joined but there is a noticeable absence of any view of the engine.
Turning our gaze downward to inspect the landing gear, we see the default standard tires with bright blue hubs. These tires are not highly textured and seem to be more plastic than rubber. The hub cover is slightly textured with a representation of three bolts around the perimeter. The strut system is basic but the gasket seals around the top are floating below the fuselage surface.
Clicking on the tires will change them from the standard to the 35” bush tires included with the model. These tires are very rounded as they should be but have a highly reflective surface and a serious lack of any tread.
Looking up from the gear, we turn our attention to the side of the cowl and the pilot’s door. Here we see a continuation of parts connecting without any untoward gaps or misalignments. The gaps between the cowl covers and the fuselage body are quite realistic. The cowl is the only section of this model that features any rivet work, and those rivets are modelled with a bump map as opposed to being merely painted on though they do appear a little oversized. Unfortunately, there are no other rivets placed on the aircraft and this absence is apparent where the windscreen frame joins the fuselage as well as on the wings and landing gear components.
The door hinges are well made and maintain a believable trajectory throughout the range of the door’s animated motion.
While we are considering this section of the model, we can see the glass work is quite admirable with some imperfections visible when lighting conditions reveal them. The reflective quality is spot on, and the fit is flawless. The circular vent windows are uncovered at this time but that is on VSKYLAB’s list of things to be addressed. With X-Plane 12, we also need to see how well the rain effect is implemented and, in the case of the Maule, it is very well done.
Turning our attention to the wing structures, we find well made, fitted, and sturdy looking wing struts supporting very smooth and very glossy wings. Flaps and ailerons are accurately rendered, and operation is smooth. The vortex generators atop the wings are well represented as are the fuel fill caps. On the underside of the wings, the pitot and other features are nicely done. The one critique in this area is the flap hinges. The parts are not connected and, upon moving the flaps, the parts intersect each other rather than moving as they should.
While we are on the subject of the flaps, it is a known issue with the Maule that the side door closest to the wing cannot be operated with the flaps extended. On our current Maule, that restriction is not honored and the door can travel through the flap as if it were not present. Additionally, the door angle of travel sends the outer top corner through the skin of the wing itself. I am not sure if this is something that can be easily corrected but hopefully it will be addressed by VSKYLABS in ensuing updates.
The empennage and doors continue in the same vein as the sections of the aircraft we’ve already seen in that the texture is a consistent smooth gloss. Sections are fitted as expected except for a rudder control rod that is floating in space adjacent to the fuselage. (Oddly enough, this appears to happen only rarely.) Trim tabs are fully animated as are the rudder and elevators. The tailwheel assembly is accurately detailed, but the textures maintain the same glossy and smooth surface treatment as the aircraft skin.
Completing our tour of the exterior involves changing the aircraft to the included float model. Once loaded, we see the Maule atop a well-executed version of amphibious floats with their corresponding support structures. The floats demonstrate the use of rivets, defined segments, and metallic textures on the supporting structures. All those individual parts are fastened together without unrealistic gaps or disconnects including the rudder control rod.
Before jumping back into the pilot’s seat, let’s look at the interior of the Maule. The Maule is configured with two front seats, a second row bench seat, and the third row “kid seat”. In our model, the kid seat is not configured with a full set of belts and holds boxes as soon as you add weight to the cargo area. Adding weight to the second seat positions introduces one or two female passengers to the aircraft.
The seats are modeled with a leather material that is visually accurate but seems to have a more plastic shine to it than I would expect. The harness belts have a nice, webbed material with an appropriate matte finish though the draping is a bit unnatural as they course unsupported through mid-air. The belt buckles feature a realistic matte finish. The carpet possesses a tough material texture appearance with a realistic amount of dirt ground in. The headliner and side panels are configured with a scratched metal surface, and the side panel centers do not extend to the third seat section.
Panels and Systems
The VSKYLABS Maule comes with an analog panel and a panel configured as a glass cockpit with the G1000 system. The float plane does not feature the glass cockpit option.
The panel itself is a scratched metal panel that looks like it would be found in a plane used for multiple missions in bush conditions. Since that is the primary focus of this aircraft, that seems entirely appropriate. However, it does seem to be in juxtaposition to the flawlessly finished and shiny exterior. The analog panel features gauges that are clear and easy to read. It is equipped with the X-Plane standard Garmin 430 GPS along with basic navigational instruments. Below the GPS is the transponder. The analog panel does not have an autopilot. For that, you’ll need to load the model with the G1000.
When you fly the float plane model, the panel configuration is the same as the basic Maule version with the addition of the landing gear control near the GPS/Transponder stack.
The optional instrument available to the Maule pilot is the AviTab that simulates an electronic tablet you might use during flight. The AviTab is invoked by clicking on the right top part of the windshield to the left of the copilot’s door. You will see the green click spot that is the size of the tablet support’s base. I personally would like to see that green spot only when the mouse hovers over it since it is an annoyance when flying without the AviTab. AviTab is a free download you can find from this URL.
To the left of the pilot’s knee, you will find the fuel selector switch. When you load the aircraft, this is in the off position and does need to be set in order to successfully start the engine. Between, and to the front of, the seats, you will find the flap control lever and the pitch trim wheel. Pulling up deploys the flaps, pushing down retracts them. It is in this area that you will find a purple Velcro strip on the floor.
That strip is a click spot to operate the water rudder strap since it is hard to click on it once it is on the floor. You will find the strap secured by a carabiner to a hook on the panel just below the mixture lever. This keeps the water rudder in the up position. Dropping it to the floor lowers the water rudder. I would recommend assigning a key or button to the default Laminar water rudder commands since trying to use the strap during water taxi operations can be an ungainly affair.
Two other features that are not immediately obvious are the carburetor heat lever and the external temperature thermometer. If you get the carburetor heat expected notice from X-Plane, pull the carburetor heat lever if you cannot increase the engine idle speed which you may not be able to do while taxiing. Note that using the carb heat does affect aircraft performance. More on that later.
The last observations from the pilot’s seat are of the windows. There are two operational sunshades that have two positions, raised and lowered. The glass treatment from the inside is as good as what we saw from the exterior and the rain effects are very well done. The one thing the rain effects do is point out the unfinished nature of the vent windows which now appear as round holes in the glass where the rain is likely to come in!
Switches and Circuit Breakers
The panel is completely outfitted with all the necessary switches and circuit breakers found in the actual aircraft. While most of the switches are functional, the circuit breakers are not. Both the switches and breakers are nicely represented with clear labeling and an accurate three-dimensional appearance.
The one switch that is needed but not necessarily readily apparent at first glance is the cockpit light rotating switch knob. This switch is to the right of the circuit breakers and a little obscured by the copilot’s yoke. By default, this switch will be set to full bright every time you load the Maule to begin a flight.
I have found it desirable to turn this switch towards the dim setting for daylight flights with the G1000 because the full bright setting decreases the legibility of the text labels on the G1000 screens. The full bright setting also distorts the transponder numbers at night, but it is difficult to turn that down because the other lights on the analog gauges are not extremely bright at that full setting.
The button labels on the G1000 are lit at night regardless of power state but, with the battery on, turning the light knob to full dim will allow you to turn them off even though there is not much point to it because everything else will be off as well.
A Word on Sounds and Lights
The sounds VSKYLABS have incorporated with the Maule are very satisfactory. They are directional, rich, and full. The interior engine sounds may seem a little loud but may well be what the pilot would experience if a headset was not in use. External engine sounds are quite satisfactory and are at an appropriate volume.
Regrettably, these high-quality sounds do not extend to the doors or to the switches within the cockpit. Perhaps this is something that will be addressed in future updates. Another oddity is the sound volume changes inside the cabin when you turn your view to the side.
External lighting is very good and very functional. Lighting currently remains a moving target in X-Plane 12. The overly exposed white spots at the base of the landing light cone is characteristic of current X-Plane 12 lighting. The landing lights are of sufficient strength to be useful on unlit and unfinished airstrips.
The Maule is quite a fun aircraft to fly due to its quick response and high degree of maneuverability. These same characteristics also present a couple of unique challenges to the operator since it is not the most stable of aircraft.
On the ground, the Maule is a relatively stable taildragger. It is easy to lose control of, though, during taxi as it can quickly reach an overspeed situation if the pilot does not maintain situational awareness and control the amount of power being applied. Once in that situation, braking too quickly can easily send you into a ground loop. Ground loops occur much more easily on paved surfaces.
Stiff crosswinds can also create a looping situation if not well managed. Turning the aircraft during taxi requires the use of toe brakes to cut down on the wide turning radius while the use of heavy braking can tip the aircraft onto its nose.
The low wing loading and high power loading give the Maule extraordinary short field handling and require practice to manage. The Maule can get up off the ground quickly and, if taking off in a three-point configuration with flaps, get into a stall almost as quickly unless the nose is pitched down.
The Maule seems to be pitch sensitive in that it responds quickly and drastically to a change in flap configuration. The pilot must be ready with pitch input to counter this tendency. Retracting flaps too close to the ground after takeoff can result in an unpleasant outcome. The Maule can also easily float above the runway if landing speeds are above the stall speed.
This, combined with the approach speed necessary when clearing tall objects to land, makes a short field landing on such an approach a real challenge especially since the stall speed is difficult to attain without the use of some flap input.
A few operation observations from my test flight with the Maule include the aircraft not requiring the priming steps outlined in the manual if you do not want to do them. The simple start for the Maule is to set the mixture and prop to full, push in the throttle a small bit, be sure the fuel selector is set to both tanks, or to the one with the highest amount of fuel, and turn the magneto switch to the start position. The switch is spring loaded so, if you are using the mouse, you will need to click and hold it in the start position until the engine has caught.
There is a significant difference in the plane’s handling on paved surfaces than unpaved. The most difficult combination to manage is the use of bush tires on paved surfaces and a successful landing requires paying constant attention to airspeed and descent rate. Too little power and the aircraft will bounce off the runway. Too much, and it will float.
Use of back pressure on the yoke will, as with most taildraggers, give the rear wheel more authority for controlling the direction of the aircraft on the ground. As your take off roll begins, release the back pressure and the tail will lift itself off the ground. At this point, you need to be aware of your wind direction since the aircraft will want to weathervane while it briefly rests on its mains and appropriate corrective inputs will be necessary.
Use of the carburetor heat affects the manifold pressure by reducing it 1-2 inHG depending on where your pressure is set when invoking the carburetor heat.
Flying at full throttle, propellor, and mixture demonstrated an approximate penalty of 10 mph when using the bush tires.
After your roll out, don’t forget to tap the toe brakes otherwise the wheels will continue to spin.
The Maule has a unique -7 degree flap setting that increases cruising speeds. This can take some getting used to when extending flaps since the first notch will slow the speed some but not set up a landing configuration as with other aircraft.
The Maule requires constant inputs to maintain flight attitude. The aircraft has a small rudder tab that is tied in with aileron deflection that is supposed to counter adverse yaw. This does not seem to happen, and rudder input is required to maintain a coordinated turn. Apparently, this is true of the Maule in the real world as well. What does tend to manifest is a small degree of sideslip in any crosswind as aileron corrections are being made.
This, then, ends up requiring almost constant rudder input unless you ignore it and allow the plane to find its own way. My personal experience in the simulation showed the turn coordinator to be constantly advising right rudder application and, without that, the pitch attitude of the aircraft was difficult to stabilize. This tendency was mostly consistent regardless of wind speed or direction.
The forward position of the wing’s leading edge significantly impedes vision in turns.
The float plane version of the Maule spends very little time on the step before it is free of the water. Once free, it gains altitude quickly. Too much back pressure will result in a very steep climb that easily becomes a stall. The float plane does not “crash” if the landing gear is down while in the water, but it will not build up any speed to take off in such a state.
This version of the Maule is also capable of what would appear to be unrealistic speeds since the fully loaded aircraft was able to attain an airspeed of almost 165 mph. Additionally, sustained flight at this speed did not result in any negative effects on the plane.
The fully loaded Maule with bush tire configuration and the same power settings maxed out at 145 mph.
The VSKYLABS Maule M-7-235B Project is a noteworthy addition to the fleet of aircraft available for X-Plane 12. Given that this aircraft is an early release that corresponded to the early release of X-Plane itself, it seems prudent to allow a little latitude in determining if it is worth the purchase price especially since this aircraft is destined to see a number of updates and improvements over the lifespan of X-Plane 12 with no additional charges to the purchaser. With that said, let me clear away the niggling imperfections and then explain why this aircraft is a worthy addition to any bush pilot’s hangar.
The external modeling, as we have noted, may not be equivalent to some of the most detailed models we have seen released for X-Plane, but short of a couple of issues that are likely to be corrected, there is nothing that makes this aircraft model a “no go”. The same observations apply to the interior modeling as well. So, if appearance alone is your entire reason for purchasing an aircraft, this is one you might want to pass on.
Operationally, there is an issue with the rear doors and wing flaps that the developer is aware of and is addressing for a future release so the rear doors will not be operative with the flaps extended. The other operational anomaly is with the float plane version.
The weight and balance screen is a little confusing with separate weight sliders for each float and a minimum weight that does not match any published empty weight that I could find. I’m assuming that this, somehow, has something to do with the unrealistic overachieving performance of the float plane in the areas of take-off performance and flight speed.
After those comments, you may well be wondering how I could open this section by stating the aircraft is a worthy addition to your hangar. Well, it comes down to why we buy aircraft. We buy them to fly them and the Maule is a wonderful, quirky, challenging bush plane that, according to my research and observations, flies as realistically as one could expect. Instruments are clear and legible, flight controls respond as one would expect, and the aircraft handles almost exactly as described in statements I’ve read that were made by real-life Maule pilots.
So, if hand flying a utilitarian bush plane off unfinished strips where ATIS broadcasts are near to non-existent is your idea of fun, then the VSKYLABS Maule will provide you with hours of it as you try to eke out a stable flight from an inherently unstable aircraft.
If your idea of fun is low and slow observation of the world beneath your wheels, the Maule will provide you with hours of that as well. You do have the option of flying the G1000 glass cockpit version of the Maule where autopilot features are available so you can use that to assist you in maintaining a stable flight while you pay attention to other visuals than the instrument panel.
Somehow, though, autopilot just doesn’t seem to be something that would be high on the list of priorities for a Maule pilot and the company’s brochure does not feature one.
This aircraft is also for those pilots who want to experience the world of conventional gear or “taildragger” aircraft. It is subject to all the benefits and pitfalls of a taildragger while having a little more tailwheel authority and stability than I’ve experienced in other taildraggers.
Lastly, this model gets a recommendation in part based upon the history and reputation of the developer. This is not the first VSKYLABS model to be released and then followed by a number of issues being noted by users. The difference is those issues are cataloged by the developer and then addressed in an ongoing series of update releases provided at no charge to the customer.
So, while the Maule M-7-235B has room for improvement, it is a safe bet to say stay tuned, those improvements are on the way and as this little bush plane grows along with X-Plane 12, I am sure it will grow from a very good X-Plane model to a great plane. For proof of this, one needs only to see that the Maule is already on version 1.15 that added the G1000 variant and the sunroof. You can also look at the history and development of the VSKYLABS EuroFOX project which is currently on version 7.1 and has been released for X-Plane 12 at no cost to owners of the X-Plane 11 version.
At $32.95 USD for three variants of an aircraft that is already very good and promises much more, the VSKYLABS is worthy of serious consideration by any GA pilot and particularly by pilots who want to work on their taildragger skills.
More information about the VSkyLabs Maule can be found at the dedicated VSkyLabs store page as well as that you can buy it directly from VSkyLabs or you can buy the Maule M-7-235B Project from X-Plane.Org store.
Until next time, Cheers and Blue Skies!
|Add-on:||Payware VSkyLabs Maule M-7-235B Project XP12|
|Publisher | Developer:||VSkyLabs | VSkyLabs / X-Plane.Org|
|Description:||Maule M-7-235B Project X-Plane 12|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / Approximately 247 MB (download)|
|Reviewed by:||Paul Beckwith|
|Published:||February 16th 2023|
|Hardware specifications:||- Ryzen 9 5950X CPU @ 3.40GHz
- 64 GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 10 GB GDDR6X
- Honeycomb Alpha Yoke
- Honeycomb Bravo Quadrant
- CH Products Pedals
|Software specifications:||- Windows 11
- X-Plane 12.02