Pilots of the odd shaped, home-made airplanes seen flying the friendly skies of Kane County and northern Arizona every Labor Day weekend for the past 28 years have at least one thing in common...no fear of flying!

The 28th annual Rutan Fly-in was held September 1-4 in Kanab. Participants came to enjoy camaraderie and competition, set amidst some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the west.

The event is named for famed 74 year old aviator Burt Rutan, an innovator in aircraft design who eventually established the Rutan Aircraft Factory. There he designed and developed prototypes for aircraft, primarily for amateur builders.His first design, the VariViggen, was a two seat pusher single engine craft of the Canard configuration. Other Rutan designs were the popular VariEze and Long-EZ.

Rutan didn’t stop at small, experimental aircrafts – his eyes were on the stars! He later founded Scaled Composites, which became one of the worlds’ pre-eminent aircraft design and prototyping facilities, where he became known for his development of suborbital technology projects with SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo.

So the Rutan Fly-in has a lofty namesake!

“We have 38 aircraft here, with 70 people in attendance at the Fly-in this weekend, and 19 attendees were first timers,” said an enthusiastic Laura Noel, who coordinates the event with husband Allen Floyd. “That is a record attendance! We have visitors from as far away as Canada and England, with one participant who flew his plane from New Hampshire.”

Noel said attendees share not only a love of aviation, but specifically home built aircrafts. “These planes are Canards, a design that has a little forewing forward of the main wing, with the engine in the back. Most of these guys have built their aircraft, and they do make modifications all the time.”

Commenting on why they hold the annual Labor Day event in Kanab, Noel explained the area is very popular with the Canard enthusiasts. “Everybody loves to come here! They enjoy Kanab’s small town, laid back atmosphere. The people are all so welcoming. Jeff Turner (airport manager) is great to work with, and we loved staying at the Canyons Collections properties this year.”

“I built my plane in 1980,” said attendee Gary Hertzler, adding that he had participated in most of the Kanab Fly-ins. “I always wanted fast planes that could go long distances. I set two world records, one for a closed course – that record still stands. The other one was for a straight course, I flew from Mohave, California to just short of Washington, D.C.”

Hertzler said he has an 118 horsepower engine in his plane, and that it can fly top speeds of 230 mph. “I usually fly it at cruising speed, which is about 180 mph. At that speed, it’ll get about 55 mpg – that’s better than a car!”

As for cost of the home built airplanes, Hertzler said that varies greatly. “In 1980, I spent about $7000 on my first plane. Some of these planes are well over $160,000.”

Patrick Elliott and Linda Walker like the Kanab Fly-in so much, they traveled from England by commercial flight to attend!

“We flew our plane here two years ago,” explained Walker, saying they would do that again next year. “We have so many friends who attend.”

“This place is so special,” said husband Patrick, saying his home-built airplane took some time to finish. “Sixteen years and two weeks, to be exact!”

Elliott explained he undertook the project while still a pilot for British Airways. “I loved the idea for the design, but then I found out you had to make it yourself!”

“My only stipulation was that it (the plane) wasn’t coming in the house,” said Walker with good humor.

Laura Noel said attendees don’t want to change the fly-in too much – they like it the way it is. “But we do need to try to get some younger people interested, to keep it going.”

` Husband Allen Floyd agrees. “We’re custodians of these events. They’re passing the torch on to us. In the future, I’d like to see it growing. I’d love to see more Kanab residents come out to see the planes and visit with the pilots. Everyone loves to share aviation. We love coming here.”

On Sunday morning, the pilots got to participate in a timed, triangular course event that took them near Big Water and back. Participants were divided up into three heats, with pilot Dave Ronneberg posting the fastest time in his Berkut 540, making a fast trip, topping out at 252 mph.

Make plans to attend next year’s Labor Day Rutan Fly-in at Kanab Airport.