The M-4 Susan Maule bought and restored has long been a part of her life
By James Wynbrandt
You don’t need to know her last name to realize Susan Maule, granddaughter of STOL aircraft pioneer B.D. Maule, has aviation in her blood. The Airbus A330 captain for American Airlines took her first flight lesson at age 7, soloed a dozen aircraft on her 16th birthday, and got her pilot certificate on her 17th birthday.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the aircraft she took that first lesson in, the last of the airplanes she soloed in on that 16th birthday, and the aircraft she earned her private ticket in were all Maules. However, all three milestones were completed in the same Maule: N4706T, a 1963 M-4 Jetasen. It passed through the hands of a succession of owners and just happened to show up at key moments in her life, even after these milestones.
“I’ve known this airplane its whole existence,” said Susan, at her camping spot in Vintage aircraft. “I was 3 when it was built.”
The original owner was in the cement business, and took the aircraft as partial payment for bricks and cement needed to finish the Maule factory when it was in Napoleon, Michigan. From there, the M-4 went into towing service for glider operators. Susan and her family knew the owners and would borrow it occasionally, if it didn’t show up on its own coincidentally.
“I’d get to fly a little, or the owner would take me up,” she recalled.
Meanwhile, Susan’s aviation career was blossoming. After she graduated from college her friend, Brian Van Wagnen, let her use his Piper Arrow to get her commercial rating, and she quickly advanced from there.
“I had 10 ratings in a year,” she said. She worked as a flight instructor for a year and in 1986 got hired at Piedmont Airlines. Subsequent mergers brought her to American Airlines.
Now Susan’s and the M-4’s paths have converged again — this time permanently. After learning N4706T was for sale four years ago, she bought it. But it was far from the pristine aircraft of her early flying years.
“It hadn’t been touched in 50 years,” said Susan. Lengthy project restoration is now complete, so Susan brought N4706T to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017 for its coming out party.
The restoration was performed at Maule Flight, the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) division of Maule Air, currently located in Moultrie, Georgia. The chief restorer on the project was Susan’s nephew Ty Wilkes, expanding the familial connection to the aircraft into the fourth generation. Susan’s father, Ray, a longtime flight instructor, gave Susan lessons in the airplane — borrowed for the occasions — and she believes her grandfather not only built but also flight-tested N4706T, though its first logbook is missing.
Susan flew here to Oshkosh with Ty, and on the way, she stopped in Napoleon to show her nephew the site of the former Maule factory and the restoration to the former owner. “He was sobbing when he saw it,” Susan said.
Restorations are not the only changes Susan has seen during her aviation career. “I just had two flights to Georgia, and both had female first officers,” making them all female crew flights, she notes. “You would never have seen that” when she first joined the airlines. As for others aspiring for a career in aviation — or achieving any other goal — “My advice has always been, if you love it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. That’s how it worked for me,” Susan said.
From here, Susan will fly the M-4 to her home near Philadelphia, “And get back into GA flying.” When asked what her grandfather would say about her M-4, Susan said, “He probably would have gone, ‘Well, what do you want an old one for?’ He was always about the new stuff.”