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Want to Fly a Rutan Homebuilt? RAFE Says Now You Can

By James Wynbrandt

July 26, 2017 - Burt Rutan inspired tens of thousands of homebuilders with his canard aircraft, and Ryszard Zadow is determined to see that heritage — and the memories of those who built Rutan aircraft — preserved, while giving almost any pilot the opportunity to fly one.

That’s the goal behind the nonprofit Rutan Aircraft Flying Experience (RAFE), which Ryszard is promoting at AirVenture 2017. “We’re trying to expand the canard community, and bring more people in and keep it going,” said Ryszard, founder and president of the 501C(3) organization.

“It’s an opportunity for people outside looking in, who wanted to get involved in flying a Burt Rutan aircraft but never could, because they didn’t want to build or buy, now they can sponsor the airplane, and then they can fly it,” he added.

The idea for RAFE began three years ago while Ryszard, a longtime Long-EZ builder and owner from Daytona, Florida, was walking the AirVenture flightline. “You used to see hundreds of EZs, there were 12,” he recalls. “So I asked my friends, ‘Where is everybody?’ They said, ‘Everybody’s old, nobody flies anymore.’” A year later, Ryszard officially launched the organization, looked for donated Rutan airplanes, and used a “sponsorship” model borrowed from the Commemorative Air Force to get them back in the air. “We own the plane, we have people sponsor it, and then they can fly it,” Ryszard explained.

Rutan sold more than 15,000 sets of plans for the Long-EZ alone, Ryszard says. “There’s no way of knowing how many are out there.”

The aircraft sponsorship fee is $2,500. “Ideally a group of people get together to sponsor and form a unit called a canard base,” Ryszard said. “We assign them a donated airplane, and they become custodians of it.”

It’s not just about preserving these homebuilts, but “memorializing the builder,” he added. “Every homebuilt airplane is a story. It’s part of that person’s family, not just a machine.”

For the second year in a row, Ryszard arrived here in N365DB, a Long-EZ built by David Brown. “This airplane is the embodiment of EAA homebuilding,” he said, noting Brown spent 30 years building the aircraft, but never had the opportunity to fly it to Oshkosh before he passed away. His widow donated the airplane to the organization, and asked Ryszard to fly it to AirVenture last year with her husband’s ashes aboard.

Ryszard is presenting a forum on RAFE today at 11:30 a.m. on Stage Three in the Forum Plaza, and Friday at 2:30 p.m. on Stage Nine.

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