E-1 Getting an Upgrade

We’re into the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest! The forecast said the fog would burn off by 10 a.m. this morning, but I took the picture below at 10:05:


Even if it does clear up here, because a valley separates my house and Harvey Field, where I keep my Decathlon and Arnold keeps the E-1 and his other airplanes, it’s not unusual for the weather to be clear over my house but still foggy at the airport.

Fortunately, the Harveys have this nifty weather cam you can use to check the weather (click here for the weather cam). One good thing about days like this is there is no temptation to go fly, so I should be able to get some work done. Unfortunately, I have yet to drive a single rivet on my RV-8 tailkit. But I have managed to do a few things towards setting up my workshop.

In other news, click here for a story of mine that ran in the October issue of Air&Space/Smithsonian. I don’t think Arnold had this same problem on his record-setting flight!

And yes, the E-1 is getting an upgrade to the engine! Arnold has found a modification kit that should make the engine run a bit cooler and take care of the problems that have grounded the E-1 since last summer.

It’s not unusual for experimental aircraft to have problems with the engine overheating. The vast majority of small piston-driven aircraft use air-cooled engines, and getting the cooling right is more art than science. You want the cowl that covers the engine to be as small as possible to reduce drag and weight, but a smaller cowl also means less room for the air to move around.

No word yet on an installation schedule for the modification, but I’ll let you know as soon as I have more details. In the meantime, the E-1 move to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum in Oshkosh has been rescheduled for next spring.

Streamlining the E-1

E-1 Wheel Pant

The E-1’s Innovative Wheel Pants
(Arnold Ebneter Personal Collection)

After doing some tests, Arnold found that he needed to coax a few more miles per gallon out of the E-1, so he decided to streamline the landing gear.

Reasoning that most of the drag came from the turbulent flow behind each wheel and tire, he decided to cover just the backs of those parts, fashioning two wheel pants that looked like little flat footballs. When he was finished, the simple solution looked a bit odd, but it worked.


The Vari-Eze and Another World Record

The 1975 Fly-In at Oshkosh took place just a few weeks after Lesher’s world distance record, and Burt Rutan’s new Vari-Eze was the star of the show. Hearts pounded and jaws dropped as delirious pilots proclaimed, “That’s it! That’s what I’ve been waiting for!”

Pilots liked the BD-5, but the Vari-Eze had the two seats desired by many builders and was said to be capable of flying non-stop from California to Illinois for only $30 in fuel. Rutan sold plans for the airplane from his company, Rutan Aircraft Factory.

However, the Vari-Eze didn’t just show up at Oshkosh — it showed off its stuff that week with a new world record for distance over a closed course set by older brother Dick Rutan. For a closed course record, the pilot flies several circuits over a fixed set of points on the ground, landing back at the point of departure – similar to running laps around a racetrack. Dick, a major in the Air Force at the time, required two attempts to break the record – the engine blew up on the first try and he made an emergency landing in Green Bay.

Resourceful helpers back at Oshkosh scrounged a VW engine from another engine, slapped it onto the Vari-Eze, and Dick tried again two days later. This time he made it, breaking the previous closed-course record set by Lesher in his Teal by more than 83 miles. However, the absolute distance set by Lesher on July 2 still stood, and it would be another nine years before that record fell, to another Vari-Eze. In 1986, Dick Rutan, along with co-pilot Jeanna Yeager, set an even bigger record – they were the first to fly any aircraft non-stop around the world, unrefueled, in yet another of Burt’s designs, the Voyager.

In the early 1980s, a pilot named Gary Hertzler tinkered with the Vari-Eze design by redesigning the exhaust system, changing the inlet to the engine, adding a special propeller, and coating the airplane with exceptionally smooth paint. Beginning in 1982, Hertzler won an award for fuel efficiency three years in a row. Just a few weeks after his third win in June 1984, Hertzler flew non-stop from Mojave, California to Martinsburg, West Virginia, for a distance of 2,221 miles, nearly 500 miles further than the original record Arnold had planned to beat.

Click here for pictures and more information about the Vari-Eze.

Arnold Ebneter’s First Airplane Design

In 1947, although Arnold had yet to take the engineering classes he needed to learn the mysteries of designing airplanes, his lack of knowledge didn’t stop him from fantasizing about what he might do. After only one month at Rensselaer, he was already trying to find a way to turn a two-seat PT-23 into an airplane with three seats. Why exactly he wanted to do this is not clear, but he was sure he could do it.

Even better would be to make money with an airplane. In April, he wrote his parents and told them, only half-jokingly, that he wanted to build an airplane and win the light aircraft division of the National Air Races held in Cleveland, Ohio in September. To prove he could do it, he included a sketch of the proposed airplane at the bottom of his letter. He named his design “The Dreamer.” The Dreamer is shown below. He never completed the design or built the airplane, but some of the features below can be seen in the airplane he eventually built to set a world distance record. But more on that much later!

The Dreamer

Arnold’s Idea for the 1947 National Air Races: The Dreamer