Maule Air, Incorporated, based in Moultrie, is a family-owned aircraft manufacturing company that produces single-engine, four-place STOL (Short Takeoff Or Landing) aircraft. Founded in 1941, Maule Air is the oldest of the few small aircraft manufacturers in Georgia. The STOL abilities of the Maule series have proven useful in terrain ranging from Canadian lakes to the Alaskan bush to the dense jungles of Brazil.
Founded by Belford David “B. D.” Maule and his wife, June, the company was initially named the B. D. Maule Company. B. D. died in 1995 and was succeeded by June, who continued to serve as president in 2005 at the age of eighty-eight. Today, Maule Air employs eighty people, including many of the Maules’ children and grandchildren.
B. D. Maule discovered a talent for things mechanical early in his career. In 1929, at the age of eighteen, he joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to the 19th Airship Company at Langley Field, Virginia. When he wasn’t working on dirigibles for the army, Maule found time to build his first airplane: a single-seat, midwing monoplane powered by a Henderson 27 HP motorcycle engine. He called it the “M-1” and taught himself to fly in it. After his service with the army, Maule married and went to work for Lycoming Aircraft Engines, a major manufacturer of general aviation piston engines in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
In 1939, while still working at Lycoming, Maule designed and built the “Hummer,” a low-cost self-starter for light aircraft. In 1940 he moved his family to Jackson, Michigan, and with Art Knapp formed the Mechanical Products Company (MPC) to manufacture the Hummer starter. MPC grew rapidly, and in 1941 Maule left to start the B. D. Maule Company, which produced subcontractor parts and light aircraft tailwheels that he had designed. As the United States drew closer to involvement in World War II (1941-45), demand for starters diminished and the need for tailwheels and subcontractor parts increased. Although it has been improved over the years, the steerable, full-swiveling tailwheel is still in production today.
Throughout his life, Maule was a dedicated engineer and designer. Among his innovations were specialty television antennas, towers and rotator parts, and a nondestructive fabric tester approved and still utilized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). During the latter part of the war years, Maule designed and experimented with a manpowered glider known as the “ornithopter,” which featured flapping wings.
Maule completed the design for the first of the current line of Maule airplanes in 1956. The aircraft was rugged and reliable and evolved into a high-wing monoplane taildragger with a welded steel tube truss fuselage, metal spar wing, STOL characteristics, and good range and speed. Testing for certification of what became the “M-4” began in 1957, with FAA Type certification following in 1961.
The company name changed to Maule Aircraft Corporation in 1962. The fast-cruising M-4 was produced in the small company factory in Napoleon, Michigan. With its STOL capabilities, float and ski options, stability, ease of handling, roomy interior, and economical operation, the craft was a success with pilots internationally.
In 1968, due in large part to good flying weather and lower labor costs, Maule and his family moved the company to Spence Air Base, a former World War II training field in Moultrie. The M-4 had evolved from 145 horsepower with a fixed propeller to 220 horsepower with a constant speed propeller. By the time of the move, Maule had delivered approximately 250 aircraft. New manufacturing buildings were constructed at Spence, along with a roomy lodge home, designed by Maule’s wife, and Maule Lake, which accommodates float plane landings and takeoffs.
As of 2006 the company had manufactured more than 2,300 airplanes. Maule Air produces twenty standard models of the STOL aircraft, eighteen with piston engines and two with turbine engines. In 2003 Maule Air introduced the M-9-230 at the Experimental Aircraft Association Oshkosh AirVenture and became the first U.S. aircraft original equipment manufacturer to utilize the SMA SR305 Jet A powered diesel engine. The M-9-230 serves as either a five-seat passenger plane or a two-seat cargo hauler.
Because of their unique flight characteristics, Maule planes were chosen for use in three motion pictures: Cannonball Run (1981), Gone Fishin’ (1997), and Speed 2 (1997).
B. D. and June Maule were inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992 and 1999, respectively.