The Rutan Aircraft Flying Experience gives forums each year at Airventure, Sun-n-Fun, and other venues. The content of the forums is usually who RAFE is, what they’ve accomplished and what RAFEs future plans are. At AirVenture RAFE schedules two forums, one midweek and one on Saturday so as many people can attend as possible. Each year attendance has grown. This year RAFEs forums were a little different. They were scheduled on Thursday the 25th and Saturday the 27th but when RAFE got the news Burt Rutan day was going to be Thursday the 25th it had to come to grips with, and rightfully so, the simple fact that, if Burt was speaking no one would be coming to RAFEs Forum. Ryszard Zadow who typically hosts the Forum wouldn’t even be there as he’d want to listen to Burt! RAFE contacted EAA Forum Scheduler Mark Forss and asked if the Thursday Forum could be rescheduled and they accommodated RAFE best they could. The schedules for Forums are finalized way before OSH so finding a slot was tough and Mark could only find one opening, Monday the 22nd in the Homebuilders Hangar. That’s not the typical Forum location but it’s right next to where Chrissi, Randy, Rick and some other volunteers annually build Cozy wings and other parts in the composite shop. A crowd still turned out with standing room only. As a special surprise right as the Forum was about start Ryszards brother-in-law and nephew showed up. His nephew, Rick Poole Jr. is in Arizona States Aviation program and he had no idea they were coming.
Saturday’s Forum was a complete departure from the typical RAFE Forum. Ryszard was really concerned that he’d made a good decision scheduling this one. He titled it “The Future of Rutan Designs Symposium”. It was described in the Forum schedule as “An open-mike discussion with a panel of experts” Ryszard admitted when he submitted the request for that forum, he had no idea who those “experts” were going to be. The objective of the discussion was simple, as these designs have grown to be over 40 years old, with no business supporting them anymore, where do we go from here? The input being sought was from a different perspective than the usual canard group. Ryszard thought maybe people outside our group saw or knew something we didn’t see? He said “Only focusing inward on your own group is kind of like inbreeding. It’s sometimes good to hear what people on the outside looking in have to say or see.” The results were amazing. The input from the panel reached topics that many hadn’t considered. Just the fact that the panel that was assembled was a “Who’s Who” of experimental aviation rockstars was something that probably has never been done before. Ryszard was a bit worried as the start time approached as he’d invited some pretty important people and the Forum seats weren’t very full. 8am on Saturday is a tough time to hope for a packed house. Right as he stared the Forum though it was as if everyone showed up at once and the house was nearly packed.
On the stage were seriously great people and the crowd eagerly waited to hear what they had to say.
Duane Swing: owner of Velocity Aircraft who’s been selling composite canard aircraft for decades.
Robert Harris: Owner of JetGuys, a business that’s grown from repairing composite Canards as the EZ Hangar, to now not just continuing to do repairs but building composite canard Jets. Robert has probably seen more Rutan airplanes than anyone.
Leonard Mullhalland who has built 14 airplanes, sells pans for four airplanes he’s designed and the “Better Half” half-VW engine. A member of the EAA Hall of Fame, he’s still going strong at 95 years old!
Paul Harrop, Cozy builder and AOPA Live media personality. Paul gets around and has the opportunity to see a lot of things in aviation.
Dick VanGrunsven. No one else has built a dynasty of a brand in Homebuilt aviation like Van has. He’s also an EAA Hall of Famer, on the EAA Board of Directors and the EAA Safety Committee.
Ryszard started the “symposium” with an introduction of himself, RAFE, why everyone was there and then introduced the panel of experts. From that point on it was an interactive discussion with questions from the audience and answers from the panel. Everyone had valuable input.
Robert Harris talked about aging Rutan Designs, what common problems they saw and what he felt the future was for second, third and subsequent non-builder-owners.
Leonard Mulholland answered questions about what it takes to support a Homebuilt design from the perspective of someone who has single-handedly marketed four designs of his own.
Paul Harrop discussed the trends he’s seen in Homebuilt’s, the type of Homebuilt’s that are popular and what he feels the future will require to keep Rutan designs popular.
Duane Swing emphasized innovation. Without innovating, improving and growing a design it will not reach its potential and remain viable.
Dick VanGrunsven brought out a very important point that was probably something few in the audience had considered, the safety record of “orphaned” designs. He stated it was four times that of designs with product support. He emphasized the need for a “culture of safety” within the community around the design.
When you combine all five panel members comments it’s obvious this is a discussion that needs to be carried on. One Forum barely scratched the surface of what knowledge and experience a panel like these leaders in the Homebuilt industry have to offer. Their guidance was invaluable. RAFE is committed to continuing this discussion in the format of this “symposium” and others to help develop the culture of safety, motivate innovation, stay in tune with what it takes to remain popular in the Homebuilt world, learn and teach non-builder owners how to maintain their aircraft and how to continue on the legacy of Burt Rutan designs by helping to develop some kind of product support.
Use the link below to view the entire “symposium”See if you can match those statements above to the person on the panel who brought the subject up for discussion.