Long-EZ N86WK
Long-EZ N86WK

This Long-EZ was built by Willis "Joe" Kusy in his Fairborn Ohio garage in the early 1980s. Joe built her stock, straight and true. He was a retired US Air Force test pilot and instructor with a lot of hours and too many landings to count. This is the only plane Joe ever built, and he frequently called the Rutan Aircraft Factory to make sure he was doing everything just right.

Joe enjoyed flying his Long-EZ, and made several trips to fly-ins like Rough River with his wife Millie. The aircraft log and collected notes definitely read like they were written by a test pilot. Joe was very pleased to have verified the excellent performance claims made by the factory.

I purchased the Long-EZ in September of 1997 as a fast and fun way to travel. I first became enamored of the unique and practical Rutan designs in the 1970's, when I was a high school student. For years, I didn't consider a Long-EZ of my own to be a possibility. One day in my early 30's, while looking in the yellow pages directory, I accidentally found Flight Instruction. The seed that had been dormant since high school germinated. I bought the Long-EZ as I was finishing my flight instruction. I put it together with the help of the local A&P mechanic. I taxied it around the airport a lot. I was careful not to tell the check ride examiner about my plane for fear he'd try to save me from jumping into a high performance plane and fail me on a technicality. As soon as he signed me off as legal to fly, he asked what I planned to do with the license. I pointed to the Long-EZ tied down on the ramp. To this day, I think he probably knew all along.

So with the ink still wet on my PPL, I started fast taxi tests. The plane had been disassembled and parked in Joe's garage for five years, so I wanted to build a lot of confidence in the plane as well as myself. I hadn't enjoyed trying to land the Cessnas I'd used for training. I was always too timid with them and they seemed to respond more to the random motion of turbulent air than they did my meager control inputs. I didn't want to get hurt or prang this beautiful plane because I didn't know what I was doing. I was very mindful of the fact that I had cheated myself out of an education by not building the plane, so I really went to school. I read ALL of the back issues of the Canard Pusher newsletters, and almost all of the back issues of the Central States Association newsletters. I read the online NTSB & FAA accident reports for all canard aircraft. I read the Long-EZ Owners Manual (aka The Pilot's Operating Handbook) three times, cover to cover, and studied all the performance charts and figures until I had the critical information committed to memory.

I logged eleven hours on the ground, including a lot of touch backs, where I'd lift the plane off the ground, chop power and set her back down. By that time, I was confident in the plane and myself. The other airport bums made a few good natured comments like “You ever gonna fly that thing, or just drive it around the airport?” and “That funny looking plane really does fly, doesn't it?”

I intentionally didn't set any date for the first flight. I took my time and flew when I was ready. I wasn't at all scared, but the first flight was exhilarating. Nothing about flying a spam can had prepared me for this. I had flown three commercial light aircraft with higher performance and had logged a few hours in the back seat of another local Long-EZ (big thanks to Jim Sprowl). But there was nothing like flying the Long-EZ. I knew I'd love it, but I think it took a week to get the stupid grin off my face after that.

The first landing was a piece of cake. The thorough preparation paid off, but by far the biggest benefit was the Long-EZ design. There are a number of factors that contribute to the wonderful handling characteristics, but I was so glad not to be landing spam cans anymore. Gone were the landings where I was fighting the random bucking of a Cessna on final. The Long-EZ lands a bit faster, but it's so stable on approach it's almost like it's on rails. In all flight modes, it seems to anticipate what I want. Only a gentle nudge on the control stick is needed and the Long-EZ gladly complies with my every wish.

Soon after that, I attempted a crosswind landing in Florida. It was finally a challenging Long-EZ landing. I aborted and landed on the perpendicular runway, but I could have set it down without serious damage to either of us. I checked the weather in the FBO and found a direct crosswind at 22 knots gusting to 29 knots. This is one impressive airplane. Every time I fly her, I'm amazed that the plane is so gentle and easy to fly, yet so responsive. The Long-EZ just feels right. Why can't all planes fly like this? Thanks Burt Rutan, Mike Melvill, Dick Rutan, John Roncz, and everyone else who made the Long-EZ the fantastic plane that it is.

I've taken several fun trips in the Long-EZ. I've flown her to Sun-N-Fun, took a friend on a snorkeling and camping vacation in the Florida Keys, flew another friend almost to Pittsburgh to look at a Long-EZ project, flew to Oshkosh, and have visited my parents a couple of times. The last trip to my parents was for Father's Day. I carried my folding 2-stroke scooter in the back. I hopped out, unfolded the scooter, donned a huge pack with a complete satellite TV receiver & dish antenna and the tools to install it, and putted the six miles to my parent's house. Happy Father's Day! They were surprised. I should be old enough not to be pulling stunts like this. The scooter ride from the airport was definitely the most hazardous part of the trip.

This stock Long-EZ flies at 165 MPH at 25 MPG and has a range of about 1200 miles. So far, for trips over 100 miles, it's usually much faster to fly the Long-EZ. It's always more fun.

I never seem to fly as much as I'd like. With the Long-EZ, anyplace in the eastern United States requires five hours or less of very pleasant flying, and the entire continental United States can be reached in at most 12 hours. Everything is so relaxed and calm at 10,000 feet, which is completely the opposite of the driving situation.

Open invitation to all canard aviators: Give me a day or so of warning by phone or email and I'll gladly meet you at my home field in Richmond Kentucky and treat you to a really good Thai / Chinese meal at Wan Pen, the Thai restaurant three miles from the airport. Or, if you'd prefer, we can eat pizza at the little college pizza pub in the quaint town of Berea, a couple of more miles down the road. Be careful to avoid flying over the Bluegrass Army Depot's nerve gas igloos just to the east of the airport. They really don't like that these days. I flew over them all the time for years and it's a spooky site for passengers to see from the air, but now there's a permanent TFR in place.

Bruce Layne
Lexington KY (I39)

email: blayne – a t -- thinkingdevices.com