One of the most unique light aircraft in the skies! What fuels Mojave Desert-based conspiracists’ belief in the existence of aliens? Area 51? Perhaps. Alternatively, one may suggest that those who claimed to have witnessed an alien spacecraft on its reconnaissance lap of earth have confused this with the latest unorthodox design from venerable aircraft designer Burt Rutan.
The Magician of Mojave
The location of the engineer’s factory and testing facilities deep in the Californian desert, Rutan’s non-standard designs as well as the abnormal performance of his aircraft have seen Rutan awarded the epithet ‘the Magician of Mojave’. Many of Rutan’s types push the boundaries of traditional flight. For example, in 1986, the Rutan Voyager succeeded in achieving the world’s first non-stop round the world flight, an impressive feat of endurance for both aircraft and crew lasting no fewer than nine days! More recently, his fleet of sub-orbital spaceflight capable designs have brought commercial space travel one step closer to the average person, or rather, the average billionaire. However, rather than simply satisfying the appetites for adventure of test pilots and those rich enough to afford a ticket into space, types such as Rutan VariEze and its enhanced successor, the Rutan Long-EZ have proven themselves to be both affordable and capable light aircraft popular with private pilots across the world.
‘No flying lawnmower’
Far from the Californian sunshine, South Wales based pilot Andrew who uses Wingly, operates the most successful – in terms of number built – of Rutan’s designs, the Rutan Long-EZ, and is one of two UK based pilots to offer passengers the opportunity to take to the skies in this unique aircraft. Andrew’s passion for the type is by no means a recent hobby, dating back to 1993 when as an eleven year old he witnessed Neil Armstrong flying one on television from which point he aspired to one day fly the aircraft himself. Having done his homework, the decision to aim for the Long-EZ was well considered, the type offering performance statistics way beyond the norm for an aircraft designed for casual flyers. In terms of range, this is four times that of the two-seater Cessna 152 (2010 miles to be precise), comparable to some variants of the Boeing 737.
In theory, the aircraft could make it from London to Egypt without stopping for fuel, or across the Atlantic to the US with just a single stop in Greenland. No flying lawnmower, the type cruises at over 160 knots and has been known to fly above 35000 feet. Last but not least, whilst you may not wish to test this, on paper the airframe is capable of withstanding 15g, 6g more than the BAe Hawk! Luckily for the Red Arrows, the CAA have barred aerobatic demonstrations with the type and so the position of the RAF’s aerobatic team as the best in the UK is safe for now.
France-based Long-EZ aerobatic team Patrouille Reva
Not always easy
Whilst those pilots reading may have their credit cards at the ready, eager to purchase one of these unique aircraft, Andrew notes that operating the Long-EZ is not always easy. Capable only of operating from hard runways over 1000 feet in length, the type is hardly STOL capable and precludes operation from the UK’s many grass strips. Andrew suggests that to use the type to its full capabilities you should head to the continent where long runways are plentiful.
Secondly, new pilots of the type will have to get used to losing speed on approach, specifically from 100 knots to the Long-EZ’s touchdown speed of 65 knots, easier said than done given the type’s habit of gaining speed on approach, although a belly flap is provided to assist.
Thirdly, aside from being a budding engineer, great amounts of dedication is needed if you plan on buying the type in it’s original form, with up to 5000 hours of work required to construct this impressive flying machine. Although admittedly Andrew was fortunate enough to buy an already constructed example from a fellow die-hard Long-EZ fan in Scotland. Given that there are only a dozen airworthy Long-EZs in the UK, the type’s rarity combined with its unique design ensures that Andrew’s aircraft attracts much attention from all when visiting airfields – with questions such as ‘Which way does it fly?’, ‘Why is the prop on the back?’ and ‘Is the nose-wheel broken?’ all common. Thankfully, passion for the type is somewhat of a prerequisite for piloting the Long-EZ and so Andrew does not mind giving short lectures on the ins and outs of his beloved aircraft. Finally, originally intended to be built by the customer, dedication is also a necessity for those looking to start their Rutan Long-EZ from scratch, with up to 5000 hours of work required to get the aircraft from its original form into an impressive flying machine.