top of page
  • Ryszard Zadow

Roughing it.

In western Kentucky there’s a state park named Rough River Dam State Resort. For the last 37 years during the last full weekend of September a very special group of people meet to

celebrate their passion for very special kinds of airplanes. The 2023 Rough River Canard Fly-In just concluded last weekend. 61 Rutan Canards participated. In that group there were four Defiants. One of those was built in Norway and brought to Rough River by it’s new owner

Izzy Briggs after a trip across the North Atlantic that was the kind novels are written about. Congratulations Izzy! Another significant group were eight Cozy aircraft that arrived at Rough River for the first time, several being just completed builds. It’s so nice to see people are still building and completing these great airplanes.

Typically, the Rough River Canard Fly In begins on Friday, but the schedule differed this year. Rutan Aircraft Flying Experience has been promoting formation flying for several years with the goal of getting enough pilots qualified to fly a 50-plane formation in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Varieze in 2025. This is a gargantuan task and would never even get close without RAFE Volunteers helping promote “formation clinics” around the country. These clinics are usually hosted by individuals or groups interested in getting involved with formation flying. These clinics usually attract a dozen or more pilots for a weekend of intense study and practice.

This year at Rough River RAFE hosted a “mini clinic” with the purpose of working with pilots with little to no formation experience and work one on one with them in 2-plane formation flights to get them started in the right direction. The class was limited in size and the training was intense.

There are a lot of moving parts to formation training. You have to have the right aircraft and the right people. RAFE is blessed with both. The centerpiece of RAFE’s Canard Flight Academy, the GyroFlug Speed Canard has full dual controls, excellent visibility and great performance making the Speed Canard is one of the best platforms to give formation training. RAFE brought the Speed Canard to Rough River. On the Wednesday before the Rough River Canard Fly In weekend we conducted a thorough ground school. On Thursday morning the training flights began bright and early.

RAFE Formation Instructors Jim Springer and Ryszard Zadow flew with the four clinic participants four times each day. The flights were led by experienced formation Pilots Curtis Wray and Doug Kuri. By Friday afternoon all the Pilots in the clinic had seen the basic maneuvers required to fly formation safely.

Friday evening a five plane formation was briefed and flown giving the clinic particpants a chance to see a larger formation. Over some of the smoothest and most scenic countryside there is, over the lodge, the lake and airport, the sky was filled with the sounds and sights of Rutan Canards flying int tight formation. The flight debriefed with a toast to a great flight to kickoff of the 2023 Rough River Canard Fly In.

Saturday morning started with RAFE President presenting Park Manager Micheal Ricks a framed print of last years iconic formation flight lead by VariVIggen Lady Vi, the only flying example of Burt Rutans first design right over the Rough River Airport with the back drop of the Lodge and Lake. The rest of the day was spent socializing and flying.

Sunday morning the air was filled with the sounds of high-performance airplanes revving up and departure fly-bys. Some had to leave early because the Rough River Canard Fly In attracts pilots from all over, and coast to coast. One flew his Cozy all the way from California, another from the East Coast. Some from Louisiana and Texas had to stay another

day due to weather in the south.

The Fly In may have begun earlier with an event focused on flying, but there is way more to this event than airplanes. Without the people that build and flew these aircraft in, there would be no reason to have an event at all. It is after all, the people that are the inspiration.

Rutan Aircraft Flying Experience is the only IRS approved 501c3 non-profit dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Burt Rutans homebuilt designs and the people who build and fly them. Please help support out mission.

Don’t miss next year’s Rough River Canard Fly In, or see you sooner at one of the formation clinics training for the Varieze 50th anniversary in 2025. Our next one is in Houston November 2-5.


Ryszard Zadow

President, RAFE

1,064 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page