|Still the One|
I rosily remember the first flights of my VariEze as surging and almost violent escapes from the sluggish earth with the airplane hunched up and powerfully romping through the air. That can’t be accurate because I also remember the smooth lithe rippling grace of the plane sloughing off and fast outrunning my previous flying encumbrances.
Ten years now. It first flew in September of 1996. So fifteen years of building and flying. But wait. The plans arrived fifteen years before that. Thirty years.
Starting to build in 1991 included a step back for an objective look at the other 700+ homebuilt options out there. Nothing was close. From my perch the VariEze led the pack. And now years later, it’s still the one. That would seem crazy, now with even more options out there, especially considering the VariEze’s significant weight and space limitations. But building, and then worse, going airborne in any airplane you built yourself is already pretty deep into some abnormal classification.
One of my shirts has a favorite EZ photo on back, a nose shot of the diminutive 399 lb N7EZ. I think Dick Rutan is in the pilot seat, talking to Burt standing next to the plane. The plane comes up to about Burt’s waist.
The other favorite is a faded CP photo still hanging in the garage. The caption says, Burt Rutan Taxis out for his last flight in his favorite plane – N4EZ. His words on landing, “Best airplane this company ever built!!”
Today the LongEZ is a more practical airplane. Done well, they can almost match the efficiency of the VariEze. And over the years there are certainly plenty of newer, more dazzling and impressive planes. But getting ready for the trip to Rough River I again appreciate the simple and enjoyable operational qualities of the VariEze.
A good compromise
Design weight - 520 lbs. That’s the rub. And the challenge none
of us have met. That was the hatchling VariEze’s initial designed
fighting weight in the January 1977 CP back-page spec sheet brochure.
Later after ailerons and such the CP lists a desired max empty weight
of 575, then finally a maximum-maximum of 620 lbs. Any prospective buyer
would have this 620 lb number emblazoned on his smart-shopper checklist.
That was RAF’s (Rutan Aircraft Company) final max no BS empty weight
of the design. Using Long-EZ gear helps, but doesn’t change RAFs
warning that Burt used the 1050 lb gross weight was used over a thousand
times in designing the VariEze.
So many airplanes, so little time
What price pizzazz? Along that C-120 time, some of us went to see a college-buddy/doctor’s new spiffy Bonanza. He was in a partnership deep dive with several of his physician phriends. The Bonanza’s phine lines and paint job reminded me of the sleek Jet Ranger helo, the charms and demands of which I had just walked away from.
Sitting on the ramp he lit up the colorful
radar and stormscope. I was feeling lackluster as he flicked through
the switches. I flew the simple Cessna 120 often going to see my folks
and making leisurely low level ranch runs. It matched my flying needs
almost perfectly. But sitting in the Bonanza back seat I was beginning
to feel outdistanced. I leaned up and asked “So how much flight
time do you have in it so far?”
At my first KC GIG a gentleman opened a little more of this new EZ world, talking of using his twin to take his wife back home somewhere on the west coast and then returning in his LongEZ to continue on the next leg of his journey; and how much he preferred the long lean legs and freedom of the EZ.
Another extreme, at one fly-in about a dozen
planes headed out for lunch and I gladly accepted the offer to jump
in the back of someone’s
00-360 Long-EZ. The flight was a parody. As we climbed to 8000 ft I enjoyed
gazing out at the other dozen planes slowly dancing around us. In front
he was caught up tweaking his high tech headset, fighting frequencies,
wrestling with the Loran and orchestrating with oxygen and wiggling the
wing leveler and fingering fuel flow and encrypting engine data capture,
then more oxygen then radar and I don’t know what all. It was like
an octopus fell in his lap. I don’t think he ever looked outside.
Starting out building, I was planning on the 75 hp, 175 lb engine. But everywhere I looked I saw bigger engines. Later I noticed how extravagant furnishings were actually creating problems for some planes. Look Out. But all you had to do was fly in any EZ. It would ruin you and you could never feel the same about spam cans.
Did you notice that top speeds aren’t listed in the CP brochures?
That’s the first thing we want to know. But no.
Not so far. What we recognize and reward is raw speed. And glitzy gizmos and a maxed out paint job. Because it’s sexy, and easy to measure. But living the EZ dream is much more - flying to the horizon – to the far corners, and often back in our own bed that night. With rare but required exceptions, we are not flying at top end. The smart guys think Best L/D. That’s where we live. That’s what the first VariEze was designed and built to do.
Best L/D is almost ignored. I bet most of us are going to have to brush up on what the heck it is. We probably don’t know our particular airplane’s most efficient/lowest drag speed! Or know how to determine it.
I bet most of us just assume that the fastest plane is the most efficient.
Is it? And with bigger engines, what are we loosing?
A favorite read is RAF’s defense of the 0-235 Long-EZ in CP 28 page 5. The earlier CPs contain similar brilliant rational on the VariEze. It’s totally inspiring, and a great description of efficiency and what these remarkable planes did, and can do if properly set up.
Meanwhile most of us stampede off shouting “the last one to the hamburger joint is a rotten egg”. We have done and will do speed. What would happen if we had track efficiency with the same fervor? With future fuel implications, how far ahead of us are those who already practice Best L/D?
The World’s Most Efficient
Ever heard of Gary Hertzler?
His veteran VariEze not only surpassed the
Catbird in 1994, but was determined to be the most efficient airplane
in the world. Five times more efficient than the Boeing 747 at that
time. Don’t believe
it? Try this
Gary’s 118 BHP O-235 VariEze's empty weight was 665.25 lbs. This is another weight that the smart shopper would have on hand. This is obviously the ultimate balance of performance and efficiency. The Babe, N4EZ, was 620 lbs empty when it was finally tweaked out. Gary’s Martian-mobile has only 45 lbs more mass while setting the ultimate practical efficiency mark that no one will ever surpass. Never.
Did you swallow that? Hope not.
I imagine a parallel universe where the VariEze stayed on course. Arriving at Jackpot and Kanab and Wendover and Spinks for the big weekend, EZ drivers and drivettes nose-over and tie down their pristine glassical rides. A laptop is plugged into their machine. As the newest arrival’s efficiency numbers scroll up on the scoreboard everyone including Maverick turns to see who’s the best. We still make the highly cerebral full throttle run around the desert, and love it. But later around the pool, the huddle talk is new proven materials and Best L/D, and how the development efforts have nudged up just right, right up to the yellow line...
While it’s desirable to cruise as fast as possible, it’s not always practical. A few EZs can cruise pretty close to Vne. Is that a problem? Does it matter if we are cruising in the yellow? And what engine is too much?
What do you think after reading this?
There might be more to Flying High and Fast than most of us think. What additional structural considerations arise when cruising forty miles an hour faster than intended?
Years ago cruising back from places like Jackpot and Kanab I used to
wonder about the apex of power and performance. Along the way it made
me want to build lighter.
Re-enter the 520 lb VariEze. Ha!
Many of you are already in the parallel universe efficiency hunt. I hope to know who you are. I applaud your overlooked efforts. Would love to hear your thoughts. That, in fact, is the whole idea here. To nudge the incentive your way and also maybe generate a little competition for you. Lead on.
The Rocket Races seem to include an efficiency angle, maybe using energy and fuel conserving strategies. I heard they require four pit stops per heat for excitement. Wonder what they are going to do at halftime? Maybe a guy-off-the-street EZ efficiency run? Is there someone that would beat an EZ?
If there ever is a Best L/D weekend somewhere, if you don’t have one yet, or if it’s worn out, Rob Martinson’s “When The Flag Drops The BS Stops” T-shirts would still have full meaning there.
VariEze on the plus side
Thanks to ailerons, vortelons and the speed brake, the control and landing characteristics of today’s VariEze are much improved from its initial rollout. Without them the VariEze might have gone the way of the Q2, an exciting concept but with only a few special examples out there, like the really nice Q200 at RR this year. Or the BD-5.
And of course, VariEze innovations are done. Kaput. No more new ideas.
What it is
Yep, crazy. So crazy you would actually enjoy the challenge of the spartan lifestyle, as if it would motivate you to stay young and lean to match your plane, and limber enough to still turn around to see the fuel gauges. So crazy that you might know your best L/D speed. So crazy that even after flying nice LongEZs, you still get a sideways grin climbing into your erupting VariEze heading out, wriggling into your well worn place at the controls where life is good and you close the canopy and it’s about to get better…
Remember now, clinically, all the statistics trend away from the VariEze. Until…
The nimble nodding steed ambles up, the throttle growls alive
- Now what’s the name of this danged