A very thankful Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on things to be thankful for and Rutan Aircraft Flying Experience has a lot to be thankful for. Personally, I’m thankful for a chance to take a break and enjoy a holiday with friends and a great Thanksgiving dinner, things have been busy!
It may seem simple but transporting a donated LongEZ project is a challenge for an organization like ours. We don’t have the privilege of easy access to vehicles or people that have the time to drive all over the country to retrieve an airplane project or parts donated to us. Sadly, sometimes the transportation challenge means missing out on something we could use or really need. In early October, Houston Velocity builder and flyer Chris Barber facilitated the donation of an 18 foot trailer to RAFE. It may not seem like much but having a trailer means one big part of our transportation issues was solved. As many have heard me say in my OSH presentations, when someone offers you something you need to go get it, otherwise they might think you don’t appreciate the offer. RAFE was past due on retrieving a few things and I felt bad about it. With the newly donated trailer hooked up to Board Member Johnny Nimmons van I launched out on an 1800 mile trip.
I journeyed to Tulsa and met with Steve Hack, who inherited his fathers unfinished LongEZ project and offered it RAFE. As he helped me load up the project Steve told me stories of how he helped his Dad with the building the LongEZ. Homebuilt airplanes aren’t just machines; they become part of the family. It was great visiting with Steve.
LongEZ owner Dave Anderson gave us a tip on an airplane that was along the way of my trip to Tulsa. It wasn’t a Rutan design but he knew I raced Formula 1 so on the return leg made a stop in Gainesville, Texas to meet Mike Dutton. Mike had an unfinished Cassutt Racer that was rather unique, but couldn’t find anyone interested in it.
It was a great project and came with a large assortment of materials that RAFE could use. I really enjoyed spending time with him and learning about his racer. We found room for it on the trailer and I headed back to Houston getting in late.
Early the next morning RAFE Volunteer Roger Escobar helped me unload the trailer and then we headed for the other side of Lake Travis and met Mike Byrd. What a great name for a Pilot. Mike is a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot and had an unfinished LongEZ project he wanted to donate, along with a bunch of Defiant parts and materials. Mikes wife’s got the idea of donating the projects when she saw the article about RAFE in Kitplanes magazine! Mike, Rog and I loaded up the projects and spent some time with Mike to listen to his stories about flying F-4’s and F-5’s in the Air Force.
Brian McKinney bought a very nice Varieze and in October brought it to Jetguys for a thorough condition inspection and get some training in the Speed Canard. We flew several times a day, giving Brian a break from helping Robert Harris, Mike Yancy and Steve Braley work through his Varieze. After a few days Brian was the newest graduate of the RAFE Canard Flight Academy!
Brian had hoped to get the airplane and himself back to Minnesota , but weather and my airline schedule prevented that from getting accomplished. Brian left his Varieze in the hands of the Jetguys and went home. When all the schedules realigned Brian returned, this time without his truck and trailer, fairly certain he was going to fly his Varieze home. Brian had asked me to do the test flight on his Varieze but he wanted to be there to see it happen. The airplane was ready but I waited for Brian’s return and on a bright sunny day I took 40LC back into the air after not flying for several decades. Next Brian went up in the Speed Canard and dusted off the skills he acquired from his first trip. Later that day he took his Varieze up for his first flight in a Rutan Canard!
For the next few days we watched Brian fly over the Covington airport while I got to train two more new Canard Pilots. Mike Lauren purchased a LongEZ a few years prior but had only flown it once. He did a lot of work on it and finally got its condition inspection done, so he drove in from Illinois to get current himself. That same day Curtiss Porter came in from Salt Lake City.
Curtiss is finishing a Varieze project that was donated to RAFE. He wanted to get some flight time in a Canard while building. I spent that day swapping flights between Mike and Curtiss, while consulting with Brain on his progress in his Varieze. Mike left at the end of the day and Curtiss and I spent the whole next day flying. It was such great fun to watch these pilots adapt to the nuances of Canard flying!
Meanwhile another awesome thing was happening. Last spring Tony Warnock helped RAFE acquire an engine, a Continental IO-360 and we were excited to see if we could make it work on Lady Vi, the RAFE VariViggen. As we suspected though, it was too heavy. The good news is we were able to sell it and help fund an engine the right engine for Lady Vi. An engine is all she really lacks and this puts us so much closer to getting another VariViggen in the air!
As you can see, there is so much RAFE has to be thankful for, but it’s not just about airplanes. None of this would be possible without the people that support our mission. The enthusiasm for these designs never seems to dwindle. Despite all the drama going on in the world, we stay focused on one thing, “Preserve and Promote Rutan Designs, the Homebuilts that led to Space”.