The Prescott Pusher

The Prescott Pusher was designed by Tom Prescott, an engineer whose career had taken him from Sikorsky to Piper to LearJet. With financial backing from several investors and partners, Tom left LearJet in November 1983 to work full time on the construction of the Prescott Pusher prototype. Tom immediately ordered a CAD/CAM system.

The use of a CAD/CAM system was central to Tom's business plan. Once his design was entered into the CAD system, the CNC machinery would cut and drill stock with absolute precision. The system would also be utilized to fabricate parts, production die, and even whittle male molds for the fiberglass fuselage shells. Design changes could be made quickly on the computer and be reflected immediately in the CNC-produced parts. Engineering drawings for the kit's plans would be a natural byproduct of the CAD system as would inventory control. An example of the system's utility and efficiency was in the manufacture of the dies used to form the wing leading edges—the CNC machinery milled the leading edge dies out of solid blocks of steel in a matter of days. Dies for the stamped aluminum wing and tail group ribs were similarly fabricated. With the help of the CAD/CAM system, the prototype was scratch built in just 18 months along with virtually all the production tooling for manufacture of the kit's parts.

The Prescott Pusher made its Oshkosh debut in 1985 and received a lot of attention and favorable publicity. Kits began selling well. The Prescott Pusher was marketed and as a pay-as-you-go kit plane. Builders would buy and build a series of sub-kits in succession, 33 in all. Each sub-kit came with an assembly manual and a step-by-step instruction video. Early builders remarked of the quality and fit of the sub-kits. The step-by-step instructions and the pre-drilled pre-cut parts made assembly relatively easy.

Glowing write-ups in several magazines followed the plane's Oshkosh debut. In the articles, much was made of the CAD/CAM system used in the design and production of the kit. One author wrote, "I believe I can safely predict that the Prescott Pusher will become an institution in EAA, alongside many other names that are synonymous with high quality flying machines." In speaking of the company, the same author wrote, "They're here to stay ... they have long term financing and they have expertise in design, management and marketing, so don't sell Prescott Aeronautical short." Unfortunately, the author was proved incorrect when Prescott Aeronautical went tango uniform three years later in 1989.

So what went wrong? Well, despite Tom Prescott's genus in utilizing the CAD/CAM system, his airplane was lacking in several respects. The bulbous fuselage was draggy. The short landing gear mandated a short and inefficient prop. The marginal prop to ground clearance required that the main gear be placed further aft than otherwise optimal so that the prop would have sufficient ground clearance in rotation and flare. The stall speed was high. What ultimately killed the market for the Prescott Pusher, however, was the negative buzz generated after some early completions. The word was that the planes not only had poor performance, but they had a some spooky flying characteristics as well.

One owner with experience flying more than 50 different aircraft wrote, "This is a demanding aircraft and if you are a 172 driver you should try something else." Some of the problems reported were high takeoff (rotation) speeds, pilot induced oscillations on takeoff, and uncommanded rolls on takeoff.

In 1991, Sport Aviation published a feature article on a recently completed Prescott Pusher. The builder, an airline pilot, was quoted as saying:

The only thing I can fault in the handling is the pitch sensitivity, and that's something that can be dealt with. I have to get an artificial 'feel' system in it, and that's a priority project. Technique can compensate for the sensitivity, but the feel system is needed.

The builder also claimed that he had successfully lowered the stall speed from 75 mph to 60 mph by installing gap seals on the ailerons and flaps. Unfortunately, one year later the builder crashed his airplane in a go-around attempt gone bad. Fortunately, he was only slightly injured. Here is the NTSB report.

The Prescott Pusher story has this interesting footnote. The Chief Operating Officer of Prescott Aeronautical was Linden Blue, who was also a substantial investor in the company. Linden Blue was the former President and CEO of Beech Aircraft. During his tenure at Beech Aircraft, Linden Blue initiated and championed the decidedly less than successful Beech Starship program.