| Bush Caddy president Tony Watkin (photo by Phil Weston)
By James Wynbrandt
August 2, 2013 - After a five-year absence, the Bush Caddy is back at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Made by Canadian kit aircraft manufacturer Bush Caddy, the eponymous R80 Bush Caddy was developed as an all-metal kit-built bush plane capable of operating on wheels, skis, or floats.
Since its introduction 18 years ago, numerous improvements have been made to the kit, and Bush Caddys are now offered in half-a-dozen models ranging from an ultralight to a 2,600-pound gross weight experimental. Also, the R80 can now be mated with engines from Rotax, Jabiru, and MW Fly as well as the Continental.
Bush Caddy President Tony Watkin, who bought the company three years ago, said attendees are giving the aircraft a warm welcome back. "People are stopping to look at the construction, and they're complimentary in how robust it is," Watkin said. Over the past decade the kit has been made easier to build, incorporating "a significant amount of pre-drilling," among other improvements, he said.
The R80 first attracted Watkin, a native Australian, as a customer. He bought a kit with the intention of developing a project to help disadvantaged youth through building an aircraft.
When he learned the company's owners, Sean Gilmore and Marlene Gill, wanted to retire, he purchased the business and moved to its headquarters in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, from Australia. He's spent the intervening time learning the business and further improving the kit.
Now he feels the time is right to put the Bush Caddy back in the spotlight.
An unfinished R80 airframe is on display at the P.A.T. Avionics and MW Fly Aeropower Engines Booth (459), enabling attendees to view its beefy construction, and Watkin is on hand to answer questions.
In addition to bush flying, the aircraft is well-suited for use in flight training and also for homebuilders "who don't necessarily fly, but like constructing" aircraft, Watkin said.
The aircraft was originally designed using CAD technology, and the name Bush Caddy is both an homage to those origins and, Watkin admits, was also chosen by the company's previous owners so the company's name would rank highly anytime the term "bushplane" was put into a search engine.
The basic R80 kit costs $22,500 (Canadian), or about $21,700 U.S. at current exchange rates. The average build time is 800-1,000 hours, and total price with engine and avionics "usually comes in at under $60,000," Watkin said. Factory-built aircraft are available at prices starting just under $90,000.
Meanwhile three months ago, with the business under control, Watkin started a program for disadvantaged and handicapped young people in Cornwall. The program teaches them construction skills and builds their self-confidence.
"It's important to us as a company," Watkin said. "We need to be showing these kids they can succeed."