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Rutan VariEze Prototype - N7EZ

Burt Rutan’s prototype VariEze (“very easy”) made its public debut at the 1975 EAA Oshkosh Fly-In. Rutan was already well known among experimental aircraft enthusiasts for his VariViggen—a two-place homebuilt design based loosely on the Saab 37 Viggen jet fighter.

The VariViggen featured a rear-mounted pusher engine, a delta wing, and a canard wing. A canard aircraft has its tail planes located ahead of its main wing, instead of behind. The tail planes of a normal aircraft typically produce a downward force, canceling some of the lift created by the main wings. A canard surface creates positive lift, adding to the aircraft’s overall lift. Careful design of the canard surfaces can make the canard stall first, before the main wing stalls. A canard stall will then lower the nose and increase airspeed before the main wing stalls, initiating an automatic stall recovery, without a spin. This is the reason that many canard aircraft (including Rutan’s canard designs) are considered “stall-proof.” Aircraft that have successfully used canard configuration include:

* Wright Flyer and gliders

* Santos-Dumont 14-bis

* Israeli Aircraft Industries Kfir fighter

* Eurofighter Typhoon

* Saab Grippen

* Dassault Rafale

* Rutan Defiant

* North American XB-70 Valkyrie

* Cozy MK IV

* Beech Starship

* Grumman X-28A

Rutan originally intended to use N7EZ only as a research aircraft for testing canard designs and configurations. While at Oshkosh, N7EZ set a world closed-course distance record of 1,638 miles, flying for 13 hours, 8 minutes, and 45 seconds, on 40 gallons of fuel. But the airplane attracted so much positive interest that Rutan designed and built a slightly larger, more powerful version and offered plans for sale. That design became the very popular VariEze homebuilt.

Later, Rutan designed a long-range version of the VariEze, with more room, more fuel, and more payload. Like the VariEze, the Long-EZ was a hit with homebuilders. Several thousand VariEzes and Long-EZs are flying or under construction around the world.

Besides their innovative canard designs, the VariEze and Long-EZ introduced many homebuilders to composite construction—a sandwich of rigid polyfoam skinned with fiberglass. While Rutan did not invent composite construction, he refined the techniques for homebuilding and commercial manufacturing of composite aircraft structures. His designs and construction techniques helped make it possible for amateur builders to produce safe, fast, good-looking, and economical sport aircraft.

Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, came to worldwide attention in 1986 when his Voyager aircraft completed the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world. In mid-2004, his “SpaceShipOne” was the leading contender for the “X Prize,” a $10 million prize for the first team that can privately finance, build, and launch a spaceship able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles); return safely to Earth; and repeat the launch with the same ship within two weeks.

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