landed—with a world’s record to his credit and that of
his brother, Burt, for his design of the VariEze. To cap
off the week, Burt received the best new design award
for the VariEze.
Having been involved nearly all year in the
VariEze introduction, I was able to write a detailed
account of the record flight and all that led up to it.
(Visit www.SportAviation.org for a direct link to the
article on page 20 of the October 1975 issue.) The
events of Oshkosh ’ 75 proved to be the real beginning
of the Rutan Revolution.
That winter, as promised, Burt developed a new
version of the VariEze, with a Continental O-200 for
power, with ailerons on the wings instead of elevons
on the canard, a belly board speed brake, and a number of other improvements. The prototype, N4EZ, was
completed in just a few months and was flown for the
first time on March 1 4, 1976. After thorough flight testing, Burt wrote and illustrated a set of building
instructions, modeled after the step-by-step format of
Simplicity dress patterns, and began offering them for
sale in July 1976. Predictably, the orders flooded in.
The events of Oshkosh ’ 75
proved to be the real beginning
of the Rutan Revolution.
At Oshkosh ’ 76, Burt copped another prestigious
award, The Professor August Raspet Award for
Outstanding Contribution to the Advancement of
the Design of Light Aircraft. Shortly afterward, he
launched out on a nationwide series of builders’
seminars and followed those with seminars in
England and France.
THE LONG-EZ AND MORE
The instantaneous success of the VariEze was like
throwing gasoline on the fire of Burt’s creativity. It
provided him with the financial resources to begin
designing and building seemingly every new aircraft
that came to his mind. One of them, however, could
almost have been considered a retrograde step.
Despite Burt’s urgent pleas to builders not to make
changes in their Ezes, many did so, and topping the list
was the use of larger engines. Burt’s response was the
Long-EZ, which was designed around the Lycoming
O-235. The prototype, N79RA, was flown for the first
time on July 13, 1979, and initially was a test bed for all
sorts of new ideas, including a “rhino rudder”
mounted just ahead of the canopy. Scores of changes and a new, longer
wing were incorporated before the definitive Long-EZ emerged and was
made available to builders, but the effort proved to be more than worthwhile. Today, Burt considers the Long-EZ to be the best of all his designs
Amazingly, the late 1970s saw all sorts of new designs coming out
of the RAF. In 1977 Burt designed the Quickie in collaboration with
Tom Jewett and Gene Sheehan. It would fly for the first time on
November 15, 1977, and would win the Outstanding New Design
award at Oshkosh in 1978. At the same time he was designing a centerline thrust twin, the Defiant, which made its debut at Oshkosh ’ 79,
along with the new Long-EZ.
In the early 1980s came the Amsoil biplane class racer, the really
unusual Grizzly bushplane, and the Solitaire powered sailplane that
won a Soaring Society of America design contest. By this time, however,
Burt was already operating on a second, parallel path. In 1976 he had
been contracted to design a proof-of-concept, jet-powered skew-wing
aircraft, the AD- 1, for NASA , a scaled-down Next Generation Trainer
for Fairchild, and a joined-wing ag plane called the Predator for a private individual. Burt quickly realized that these contracted jobs held
great promise, businesswise, so in 1982 he formed a new company,
Scaled Composites, to do that sort of work. An 85-percent scale
Starship for Beech Aircraft was an immediate result. Scaled Composites
would, in fact, become so successful that in the July 1985 issue of his
Canard Pusher newsletter, Burt announced that he was getting out of
the homebuilt business. At that point, more than 12,000 sets of building
instructions for the VariEze and Long-EZ had been sold, but bigger
things lay in the future, culminating with SpaceShipOne.
It was not a matter of Burt abandoning EAAers, however. He continued to attend the EAA convention each year, presenting talks
before standing room only audiences and taking part in many other
activities. A number of his Scaled Composites–developed aircraft
have been flown to Oshkosh for display—the Catbird, Boomerang, and
others—that while not intended as homebuilts, have been of great
technical interest to his fellow EAAers.
Circa 1980 after the RAF Long-EZ was completed and plans for the aircraft were available.