Lady Vi, a rare find.
In almost the canard version of Storage Wars, Scott James and Dave Eichenberger rolled up the door of a storage unit in the small central Arkansas town of Morillton. When Robert Harris and I saw what was inside we were spell-bound. There, surrounded by boxes and covered with dust was one of the rarest of Rutan homebuilt aircraft, a VariViggen. Only one is left flying today, that’s going to change.
Harry Patterson built this VariViggen and took it all the way to taxi test, but there it stopped. We still don’t know why but we hope to learn more about this aircraft. Harry’’s workmanship was impeccable. Of the few Viggens Robert and I have ever seen none, not one was this well-crafted, and even more important, new. This was like a classic car someone put away before any miles were accrued on its odometer. Unlike a lot of projects we see, except for an instrument panel devoid of round dial instruments and everything aft of the engine mount, everything else was there. Still intact was an incredibly well laid out instrument panel, circuit breakers, switches, indicator lights, everything professionally labeled and wiring harnesses still connected to components in the aircraft. Ever rarer, this Viggen has metal wings. Few ever flew that way as most Viggen builders switched to the SP composite wing by the time they were completed.
Robert and I came equipped with his specially adapter trailer for hauling Canards. The Viggen gear is wide though. Everyone jumped in to help and turned the axles around so they pointed inboard. The Viggen then fit nicely on Roberts trailer. Scott and Dave built a cradle to hold the wings which fit perfectly in the back of Roberts F-250. In just a few hours this treasure of an airplane was loaded, hands shook, congratulations, appreciations, pictures and we were on the road back to RAFE operations in Covington, Tenn.
Everyone back home was so excited to see this rare addition to RAFE’s fleet that we had a welcoming committee when pulling into the airport. We unloaded the airplane, washed the years of dust off it and found even the paint looked new. On the side it bore the name, “Lady Vi”. Back in Arkansas Scott explained what he knew that Harry’s wife’s name began with Vi, possibly Vivian. So breaking with the tradition of memorializing the builder by referring to RAFE aircraft by their builders name, such as the David Brown and Martin Kennedy LongEZ’s, we decided right there the name would stick and now we know the RAFE VarViggen as “Lady Vi”.
In keeping with our other tradition of keeping the aircraft in the configuration the builder built it as much as we can, we will put round dials right back into Lady Vi’s panel. Thankfully we just received a large box from RAFE supporter Al Nugent who upgraded is LongEZ panel and donated almost every round dial instrument we need. Thank you Al!
Lady Vi will be brought to flying condition. Robert Harris and the Jetguys crew have volunteered to provide most the labor. The amount of support RAFE gets from Jetguys is not obvious to most people. It’s not only the fact that I’ve been friends with these people for decades. As a Canard Community we’re all in this together and these two separate business entities, RAFE and Jetguys, are in this for the success of all Canards. For example, without the Jetguys support the Speed Canard would be waiting for volunteers or myself to do needed maintenance and keep our training program flying. Or worse, we’d be doing this someplace where there was no maintenance shop connected to the Canard Community and subject to high priced maintenance by mechanics unfamiliar with our brand. Jetguys are RAFE’s biggest donor and supporter and we greatly appreciate them. About the only thing we can do to show appreciation is when we do have money we hire Roberts shop to maintain the things that RAFE can’t accomplish with volunteers. For them to donate the time to get Lady Vi flying is a huge contribution. She will be in excellent hands.
Two more major pieces of the puzzle remain, an engine and a prop. Lady Vi will be popular and flying a lot. She will be in the stable with the other transition aircraft like the Madsen LongEZ and Wright Varieze. Imagine this, after training to proficiency in the Speed Canard you could get checked out in a VariViggen. Where else can you do that but with RAFE? We are opening an opportunity there never was before.
We can’t do this without your help. Please help us get Lady Vi back in the air. We hope to see her fly in the spring, but it will take raising the funds for an engine, prop and whatever else we find we may need. Though Jetguys will be donating a large part of the labor, volunteers are still welcome to help. Come to Covington and learn about Rutan Canards. There’s plenty to do!