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Mystery Plane

With the announcement of the approaching retirement of Burt Rutan, it seemed fitting that this month’s Mystery Plane would be one of his lesser-known designs. This petite, single-place, fiberglass “X-Fighter” is the brainchild of Burt, with the collaborative efforts of Gene Sheehan and Tom Jewett. Controversy ensued and was played out in the pages of Sport Aviation as to who should be credited for the design, but ultimately the teamwork of Sheehan and Jewett brought the design to market in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with the “Outstanding New Design” award won at EAA Oshkosh 1978.

In the spring of 1977, Gene Sheehan and Tom Jewett began a ground-test regimen of a small, direct-drive piston (industrial) engine capable of developing 15 to 25 hp. Pleased with the results, they approached Burt Rutan to design an airframe that could use this engine and have exceptional performance. What they proposed was a single-place VariEze. What Burt designed was his RAF (Rutan Aircraft Factory) Model 54, the “X-Fighter” so named from the then-new film Star Wars.

Larger view

It was later called Quickie, the name Burt had previously reserved for his RAF Model 44, a quick-to-build, minimum man-hour-construction airplane designed in 1975. Ultimately, the Quickie is a single-seat tandem-wing design that was light yet rugged. Construction began in August 1977, with construction time being two-thirds as much as the VariEze.

The most unique aspect of the Quickie is the canard doing double duty as a lifting surface and landing gear, but what’s truly remarkable is that it was designed for pilots as tall as 6 feet, 5 inches,and 210 pounds.

Although Burt was heavily involved with the design and also flew the prototype, he and his company, Rutan Aircraft Factory, had nothing to do with the marketing of the kit.

As expected, when the Quickie appeared at the very next EAA Oshkosh (1978) the
Custom Built Judges declared it the Outstanding New Design. The plane was flown from Mojave, California, to OSH a total of 2,025 statute miles, with a flying time of 18 hours and 55 minutes, an average of 106.5 mph from the 18-hp Onan engine. The round-trip fuel consumption averaged 65 mpg. Within two years from its first flight, 350 kits were sold and a 22-hp optional upgrade to the 18-hp Onan was developed and offered as a retrofit to existing engines.

With the engine upgrade, the Quickie Aircraft Corporation (QAC) claimed that the aircraft is capable of 140 mph with a 15,000-foot ceiling and a 600 feet/minute climb rate. Takeoff distance was reduced to 450 feet, and fuel economy “throttled back” was reported to be over 100 mpg. The additional hp also allowed for a 40-pound increase in gross. The upgrade kit included a Kevlar engine mount to replace the aluminum unit supplied with earlier kits.

QAC filed for bankruptcy in 1986 but not after delivering over 400 Quickie kits, in addition to over 2,000 of the two-place versions, the Q2 and Q200. Although the Quickie was sold as a kit and is an orphaned design, it is still possible to build from plans, or in some rare instances, virgin kits. As with most designs, there’s a following on the Internet with an active user group, so support is just an e-mail away.

The original Quickie was designed around the 18-hp Onan industrial engine, which is still available to some degree, but several other engines have successfully powered the plane. Perhaps the most successful is the now obsolete Rotax 503. However, the 582, half VW, and even the four-cylinder VW have a proven track record. But with the recent success of the Generac 990-cc V-twins, the 20-hp Kohler, the Briggs & Stratton Vanguard, or even the Honda GX series, it seems that fitting an engine won’t be an issue.

Plans are available through the Quickie Builders Association(QBA), but they’re reprints from the kit and don’t provide detailed drawings for some of the assemblies included in the kit. Anyone considering building a Quickie shouldn’t have much trouble with these details so long as the resources of the QBA are drawn upon.

Specifications from various sources


22.3 feet




Total wing area

67.3 feet




Gross weight

850 pounds




Useful load

410 pounds




Fuel capacity

20 gallons




Takeoff distance

1,050 feet




Landing distance

650 feet




Rate of climb

900 feet/minute




75 percent cruise speed

175 mph



180  vne

Range at 75 percent

870 statute miles



60 mpg

Stall speed

55 mph




Not Just a Quickie
By Nathan Peck, EAA 717223, nathanpeck@gmail.com

For stunning images of this plane in its current state, please see this month's photo gallery.


This little airplane has helped define the course of my life. In short it was built by my father, Jerry Peck (a Lutheran pastor) and his friend and church board member Gordon Reneberg. They finished it in 1982 after about two years of construction. Only a few flights were successful in its early days. Home base was a small but perfectly manicured grass farm strip in north central Kansas. The plane’s anemic Onan powerplant (22.5 hp) offered terrifying departures. Dodging power lines was part of the ordinary Quickie experience, that is, if you were able to keep it tracking straight on the runway during takeoff. Eight hours of that craziness and several broken propellers were enough. My dad sold his half of the plane to Gordon, and Gordon soon parked the plane in the back of his barn.

Twelve years later (1994) I was a senior in high school and thought I needed something to fly. I was an aspiring 17-year-old pilot about to finish my private pilot certification. I sent a letter to Gordon offering to purchase the derelict plane. He graciously accepted. With my life’s savings ($2,000) in my pocket and a flatbed trailer in tow, I borrowed my dad’s Mercury Cougar and headed west to bring the plane home. At that time, we were living in Gardner, a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas. My dad had just finished building his Long-EZ (which he started right after selling his half of the Quickie), so hangar space wasn’t a problem, nor was runway length. We were fortunate to live four miles from a 7,000 x 200-foot runway. Perfect training ground for a Quickie!

The Quickie was rough when I bought it. In fact, it was always rough. I spent the summer fixing some hangar rash, sanding old and cracked filler, and spraying leftover paint from the Long-EZ. While I’m pretty sure I had permission to use the paint, I didn’t always ask for permission to use some of the materials lying around the hangar. It was a good thing for me my dad’s project was finished! It might not have looked too nice, but I was sure proud of it. Within days of earning my private ticket, I flew the Q for the first time in 12 years and began the ninth hour of the 40-hour test phase. 

Over the course of the next two years, the Q and I logged more than 400 flight hours. Not all of it was trouble-free, but all of it was a complete thrill. It opened many doors otherwise closed to me. By this time I was working line service for Executive Beechcraft at the New Century Airport, Kansas. My day was the same everyday. Attend classes, go to track practice, and skip part of my workout to go fly the Q. After flying, I would often park the plane next to the front door of the fixed base operation. It was completely out of the ordinary and an absolute conversation piece for the corporate pilots in and out of this facility. In effect, I was able to make connections with an array of pilots who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed me, and I was offered opportunities of which many others were envious. Not to mention the fuel benefit of working there! The Onan burned about 1.8 gallons/hour. Honestly, they got tired of writing tickets for 1.8 gallons every time I flew. So, more often than not, they didn’t! 

The Q suffered during my last two years of college. I had transferred to Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, and took the Q with me. Maybe a little gun-shy after a forced landing south of Kansas City (during an attempt to fly the plane to the EAA fly-in
convention in Oshkosh which I did make that year anyway, courtesy of the Save A Connie group and their Constellation – an entirely different story), I started to feel the Onan wasn’t putting out the power it once did. I didn’t have the money to overhaul the industrial engine, so the airplane sat on the ramp. In hindsight, I don’t think the engine was growing weak. The performance is so marginal with an Onan-powered Quickie that you can literally tell the difference when one gallon of gas is added. In this case, I was pretty fit at the time and had gained about 10 pounds. Additionally, the runway elevation was about 500 feet higher than it was at New Century. The Onan was just as strong as ever, just not strong enough. My poor little Q became a ramp queen.

Finally a college graduate, and with the connections the Q had helped make, I was what I always wanted to be: a professional pilot. A job flying a Bombardier Challenger then took me to Saint Louis, Missouri. With a steady paycheck in hand and the guilt of abandonment, I drove across Missouri to Emporia with my friend Karl Mazzei (the Challenger’s mechanic) to retrieve the Q once again. He offered space in his shed for me to work on the Q. It was there that I cut off the the tailcone (an optional modification) to make the Quickie trailerable. That was a move I should have taken back in 1994 when all of this started for me! Next, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get motivated and didn’t make steady progress for several more years. Finally, though, last summer (2009) the Q took to the air once again – 27 years after its original airworthiness. The Q with a Rotax 503 this time, it makes me angry, knowing how much fun the renovations were and how much fun flying it is, that I let 11 years of unairworthiness pass. This feeling is similar to when I purchased the Q in high school; I felt the 12 years Gordon parked the plane was a criminal thing to do.

More Power
Performance is dramatically improved from the days of Onan-powered flying, and therefore the safety margin is grossly enhanced as well. I haven’t been instantly converted to love what the Rotax offers, but it’s nice to know that after departure I don’t have to worry if there’s a train on the tracks a mile or two off the end of the runway! The Rotax 503 doesn’t necessarily belong on an aerodynamically clean airframe like the Quickie, but it does work. Takeoff roll is very Onanlike until about 60 mph. That’s when the Warp Drive ground-adjustable propeller starts to unload enough for the engine to start making some power. In fact, the speed for best rate of climb is 100 mph. Anything slower loads the prop enough that the engine doesn’t make power. Typically this equates to a solid 700 feet/minute climb. Typical cruise burns 4.4 gallons/hour and turns the engine 5,700 rpm, earning 122 mph. Winding up the engine to its max continuous rpm of 6,500 equates to 140 mph. Not too bad with an airframe red line of 150 mph! 

The first cross-country trip to a fly-in (in Atchison, Kansas) revealed some obvious anomalies I didn’t think about prior to installing the Rotax. The two-cycle Rotax with dual Bing 54 carburetors has a fixed mixture. The flight out in the morning was fantastic with smooth air and cool temperatures. Later in the afternoon, the temp soared above 100 degrees, and the summer thermals caused neck-breaking turbulence. Due to a fixed mixture, I was unable to climb to cooler, smoother air and furthermore was forced to stay below 111 mph for the bumps, which made life miserable! 

Also, descending is difficult with this engine airframe combination. Unlike a Rotax-powered ultralight, the Q has comparatively very low drag. If memory serves correct, I believe it to have a flat plate area of about one square foot. In an ultralight pointed to the ground, the speed changes very little from level flight. In the Q, speed rises quickly. Normally, a pilot will reduce power, and his only concern may be that of shock-cooling the engine. With the Rotax on the Q, it’s extraordinarily easy to have an idle power setting, excessive airspeed, and engine rpm over 6,000, during which the pistons aren’t lubricated in the cylinders. My biggest complaint is that I’m always flying the engine as opposed to flying the plane.

It surprises me that there hasn’t been a resurgence in the single-seat Quickie, or the Quickie Q2 for that matter. There should be. The Quickie airframe is super easy to build from scratch for a first-time builder. Materials are easily available, and overall cost to build and operate is extraordinarily low. While the Q2’s preferred canard required a specially made tubular spar, the original plans-built canard worked quite well with vortex generators. There’s a plethora of engines, while unproven, appear superior in quality and power to the Onan that could work very well on a single-seat Q. Terry Crouch has over 8,000 hours, and thousands of those hours are on his Onan-powered Quickie. I believe the Quickie types received a poor reputation from their insufficient power and poor ground-handling qualities. Both of which have been remedied. 

Milestones for the Q
Multiple attempts to fly it to Oshkosh have failed due to factors either weather or mechanical. I plan to have it there in 2011, though. The greatest practical use of the Q was early in college when I often flew it several hundred miles to see my brother and even farther to the panhandle of Nebraska to see my grandparents – all under Onan power. Kansas was easy, but surviving Western Nebraska more than once was a milestone! Full fuel and warm temps equaled climb rates that were inferior to the rise in the terrain, especially between North Platte and Alliance, Nebraska! Only 1,200 feet of mean sea level change and 126 miles! One time I even returned to North Platte and offloaded two gallons of fuel to improve performance! Another time, there was Ogallala, Nebraska, in the rain…Another time, VFR (visual flight rules) dead reckoning over the sand hills with the incredible headwinds…

Wish List
I always thought I would have four or five airplanes. Nothing too expensive, but a practical fun collection. Haven’t completely talked my wife into it, but everyone needs a collection! I would have my Q, GP-4 for sporty cross-country and to offer rides, a single-seat Pitts or Midget Mustang for aerobatics, a sailplane, maybe an Osprey II for amphibious fun, and a Super Viking for four-seat IFR (instrument flight rules) cross-country. A Breezy would be a blast, too! Of course, this would be the “affordable” option! 

In my basement, I have a VariEze project with basic airframe complete, but it’s on hold. My dad and I are partners on a GP-4. He’s doing the building. The fuselage and tail have been completed including the canopy installation. The wing and main gear, engine, instrumentation, paint to go, etc, cost $$$.

The ultimate? Nemesis. Career goal: racing at Reno.

Credentials: ATP – 4,300 hours. Types: Challenger, Beechjet, and Falcon jet; more than 75 types flown. Favorite plane: Quickie!

Sorry about all of that! You get me talking about my Q and I won’t stop!

Original engine: Onan B48M, 22.5 hp – 400 flight hours
In June 2009, first flight with Rotax 503 DCDI – 75 flight hours
Airframe total time – 475 flight hours

Onan performance:
Empty weight – 294 pounds
Standard day climb – 100 feet/minute at 80 mph
Cruise – 100 mph true
7.5 gallons capacity
Burn – 1.8 gallons/hour

Rotax performance:
Empty weight: too heavy
Standard day climb – 700 to 800 feet/minute at 100 mph
Cruise: 122 mph true
11 gallons capacity
Burn – 4.4 gallons/hour


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