“Okay, hop up here, slide across and swing your legs up and over!” I slipped inside and it fit like a glove. I felt my pulse quicken as the racing style harness clicked shut. My heart skipped a beat as the clear canopy was lowered and locked into place. Head set on, check. Mic working, check. And remember, don’t touch any of the knobs, levers, or switches, big check!

I heard the voice in my headphones ask, “You okay back there?” It was my pilot, Colorado ReMax real estate agent Troy Paggen. We were about to take off in his Berkut, a tandem-seating two-seat, homebuilt canard aircraft, at the 27th annual Rutan Fly-In, held each Labor Day weekend in Kanab, Utah.

I have had the pleasure the last several years to report on the event for the Southern Utah News. I have watched these beautiful planes take off and soar over the Vermillion Cliffs and back. I never imagined I would be invited to go up in one! Paggen and his wife attended the fly-in last year for the first time. His wife was unable to attend this year, leaving the back seat available.

As we taxied down the runway, I realized I had a smile I couldn’t wipe off my face if I wanted to. “Here we go!” and away we went. I had ridden in a small plane before, but never anything this small. I immediately felt the plane weaving and bobbing in the wind.

“Don’t worry,” said Paggen. “It’s like the rocking motion of a boat.”

“Oh great,” I said. “ I get seasick!”  I was glad Paggen had given me a ziplock gallon baggy prior to take off... “just in case.” 

My concerns and potential nausea took a backseat to the view that was all around me. It was incredible. Troy kept the ride as smooth as possible, explaining the weather and effect thermals had on the plane.

Off to the side I could see commercial pilot and co-organizer of the fly-in, Allen Floyd. He went up as our wingman in his Long-EZ he finished building shortly after last year’s fly-in.

The winds were starting to pick up and the late morning heat had definitely set in. Troy says he tries to avoid the heat of the day when he flies. The clear canopy can make the inside of the plane feel like a green house. So, it was time to turn back and get my feet on the ground. The delicious luncheon provided by Houston’s was in full swing, but I was still inundated with questions from the attendees wanting to know how my flight was. It was awesome.

So what is the Rutan Fly-in and why go? The fly-in is a tribute to Burt Rutan, the aerospace engineer who designed the first airplane to circle the world non-stop without refueling. He also designed SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded non-governmental aircraft to fly into space.

Rutan’s first design was a two-seat pusher single engine craft with a canard design. A canard is the small wing located in front of the main wing of the aircraft. 

And, why go? Manfred and Andrea Frank, from just outside of Stuttgart, Germany, planned their southwest holiday to arrive by car in Kanab for the fly-in. Manfred started as glider pilot, but eventually wants to build an engine compartment in Germany, go to Florida to build a fuselage, and end up in Colorado Springs to do the modifications. He said, “I came here to learn from the others and get information. Everyone here is so willing to share their knowledge.”

And here, the knowledge abounds! Regulars to the fly-in include: Mike Melville, the pilot/astronaut for SpaceShipOne and sole or joint holder of nine FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) aviation world records in various categories; Dave Ronneberg, who created the Berkut aircraft; and Jim Price, the world record altitude holder of 35,027 feet in a single engine craft, just to name a few. You never know who you might meet or where they call home. I do know, they all are excited to talk and show you their planes.

This year’s event hosted 54 attendees, a total of 26 planes, of which 24 were Canards. Sixteen planes arrived early and seven folks were first timers. According to Laura Noel, the other co-organizer of the Rutan Fly-in, 20 attendees ate at the Rockin V on Friday night. Folks ordered four-dozen donuts and two cakes from Glazier’s (along with $250+ in groceries/supplies), lots of wine/beer from the liquor store and the gas station, and $200 worth of pizza from Lotsa Motsa. 

They dined at Houston’s, Parry Lodge, Nedra’s, and Jakey Leighs, and spent thousands of dollars on aviation fuel, lodging, and rental cars. A few folks toured the parks, checked out the galleries, and visited Best Friends. Several bought souvenirs locally, and many bought custom T-shirts from T-Time. 

The highlight of the weekend was the “Timed Event” on Sunday morning. FAA rules prohibit the planes from racing, so instead they fly a timed three-legged lap to Big Water and back. The pilots not only compete against each other, they try to break their own lap time from the previous year.

The winners were: Berkut “Type Heat” (with three planes): Brian Uhler, 277.49 mph in a Berkut, Heat One (with five planes): Allen Floyd, 210.51 mph in a Long Ez, and Heat Two (with six planes): Chris Woodard, 205.78 mph in a VariEze.

Noel said, “The new airport facility is fantastic! Jeff Turner is the most helpful and kind man. He helped us more than anyone, and is an integral part of making this event a success. We are so lucky to have him helping us and running the airport. We’d really like to thank the city, and the Tourism Board for their support also. We would love to let more of the locals know about this event next year, since many of them I spoke with in my time running around town were unaware of our event.” 

A special thank you to Troy for the ride, Laura and Allen who suggested it happen, and to all the attendees who cheered me on. It was a great experience, but next year, I think I will stick with my notepad and stay on the ground.