Today in History – June 12, 1979 – 1st Flight of the Rutan Long-EZ, and the friendship journey that happened after.

12 June 1979 -First flight of the Rutan Long-EZ. The Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ is a tandem 2-seater homebuilt aircraft designed by Burt Rutan’s Rutan Aircraft Factory.

Rutan Long-EZ

The Long-EZ has a canard layout, with a swept wing with root leading edge strakes and wingtip rudders, and a pusher engine and propeller. The tricycle landing gear has fixed main wheels with streamlined spats and a retractable nosewheel. Its predecessor was the VariEze, plans of which were first available to homebuilders in 1976. The prototype, N79RA, of the Long-EZ first flew on June 12, 1979. The Long-EZ was a plans-only kitplane, and several variants of the basic design have surfaced over the years.

The aircraft is designed for fuel-efficient long-range flight, with a range of just over 2,000 miles (3,200 km). It can fly for over ten hours and up to 1,600 miles (2,600 km) on 52 gallons (200 liters) of fuel. Equipped with a rear-seat fuel tank, a Long-EZ has flown for 4,800 miles (7,700 kilometers).

The pilot sits in a semi-reclined seat and controls the Long-EZ by means of a side-stick controller situated on the right-hand console. In addition to having an airbrake on the underside, the twin tail’s wing-tip rudders can be deflected outwards to act as auxiliary airbrakes.

In 1996 Burt Rutan awarded TERF Inc. the job of publishing the plans for the Long-EZ and other of his aircraft under The Rutan Aircraft Factory CD ROM Encyclopedia for the purpose of further assisting new builders and maintenance for existing builders.

“In 1997, Dick Rutan and Mike Melvill flew in convoy around the world in two Rutan Long-EZ aircraft that they had built. This “around the world in 80 nights” flight was called The Spirit of EAA Friendship World Tour, and some legs of it lasted for over 14 hours.

It all began when Mike told Dick that he wanted to fly his own homebuilt airplane to his hometown in Johannesburg, South Africa…

Mike and Dick with map measuring distances for their trip around the world.

Mike asked Dick if he would like to fly along in formation. Dick’s reply was, “That’s halfway around the world – why don’t we go on around the whole world!” They flew the Long-EZs (pronounced Long-Easy) that they built side-by-side many years ago. In fact, they were the first two Long-EZs ever constructed. “We called the get-together the EAA Friendship Tour ‘Around the World in Eighty-Nights!'”

“There are many Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapters around the world, so the trip quickly became a tour from one EAA chapter to another. They had to plan a route that would be doable for their little homebuilts. Finding the shortest route across the Atlantic posed a problem, but they finally agreed on a route…

They traveled 38,791 statute miles, used 2,108 gallons of fuel (U.S. gallons) with a total flying time of 232 hours. Around the world in 80 nights!

Mike and Dick took turns telling about the frustrations dealing with customs in the countries they visited. One airport in Africa wouldn’t let them land because their facilities didn’t open until 8 a.m. They had just flown for 14 hours over the Atlantic Ocean and arrived there at 6 a.m. They had to circle for two hours or pay a $900 fine each. Now that’s outrageous!

Another place made them fly to another airport and taxi the aircraft for 3-miles to pick up one piece of paper from customs that could have been faxed to them at the original airport.”

Some of the trip was heavenly and extremely interesting. Tahiti, Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands were some of their favorite stops. The huge statues on Easter Island were mysterious and awesome. The animals on the Galapagos were unafraid and beautiful.

Dick & Mike after Friendship Flight

Mike painted names of all the places they visited on this remarkable flight, the date that they left Mojave and the date they returned.

Mike said people kept asking how they stayed awake during their long legs over the ocean – his reply was simple, “You can’t sleep when you’re terrified!”(2)

Source: Wikipedia:Portal:Aviation; (2)Excerpted from The Loop – EAA Friendship Tour with Mike Melvill and Dick Rutan

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