When brother Dick Rutan decided to customize his Long-EZ, he was in for both trouble... and fame.

Dick Rutan's N169SH 'Old Blue' is a classic Cafe 400 racer.

N169SH is easily recognized by its blue color and wing tanks.

Without its wing cannisters and sponsor markings, N169SH
(here behind Voyager) looked pretty much like other Long-EZs.


Status: experimental version of Long-EZ built by Dick Rutan

Type:  pusher canard aircraft

Powerplant: 1 x 180 hp Lycoming IO-360 F1A6

First flight: 1980

Dick Rutan's Long-EZ-B, a special version of the most popular Rutan-designed homebuilt airplane. Built in 1980, the beautiful light-blue aircraft, which is affectionately known by all as "Old Blue", has logged thousands of flying hours and participated in numerous airshows and races and set numerous world speed and distance records. The Long-EZ-B was a basic Long-EZ which Dick Rutan modified to his liking. However, his brother Burt and the RAF team were not aware of most of the modifications, which were not approved by either. "I do not intend to do as complete a test program on my airplane as RAF did on N79RA [the Long-EZ prototype]. Thus, they are in no position to verify or recommend my modifications" said Dick Rutan.

Why change a winning design? Rutan explained it simply: "I thought I wanted more power, more roll rate, more negative g and IFR equipment. I installed a bigger engine, longer ailerons, different canard airfoil and several other changes. All these mods took more time to build, cost more and after first flight, I found they didn't work. When I should have been very happy after it flew I was not. Instead of having an aircraft I could use I found I had a "prototype" that needed work. The big engine over-heated, the revised canard airfoil resulted in loss of speed-stability at high speed, and very poor stall characteristics (a nose drop). The standard Long-EZ rolls about as fast as mine and because of a poor prop match, Burt's Long even out-ran me on the first flight!"

Unsurprisingly, Dick Rutan first wished he had stayed more standard. His airplane now was a compromise, "a whole bunch more effort that I feel is not worth it. (...) I don't recommend any of the changes I've made and wish I had not. The best advice I can give is to keep it stock, build it light, and resist the temptation to change, especially anything structurally." But eventually, he fixed the problems with time and effort, to the effect that his one-of-a-kind aircraft became a crowd gatherer and showstopper everywhere it appeared, except probably in the famed Cafe 400 efficiency race, where it would surely have done great if not for a fateful accident (see insert left).

Among the Long-EZ-B's numerous feats, it established a World Class distance record for the Long-EZ In July 1981, with a 4563.35 miles straight line distance in C1B (1000kg). That was the great circle distance between Anchorage, Alaska and Grand Turk Island in the British West Indies, near Puerto Rico. But the flight that truly made history took place six years later. In 1997, Dick Rutan in his 'Old Blue' [N169SH] teamed with friend Mike Melvill in his Long-EZ [N26MS] and flew over 30,000 nautical miles east on the Spirit of EAA Friendship World Tour.

The Friendship Tour began after Melvill mentioned he’d like to fly his EZ back home (South Africa) and asked Rutan to be his wingman. Rutan told him he would do it if they could keep going around the world. Both aircraft had been built side by side by Rutan and Melvill almost 20 years before and were now sharing the fame of this "Around the World in 80 Days" historical flight—although the trip took slightly over 80 days (240 hours of which was spent in the air)— and logged over 61,000 km. After the historical flight, Mike Melville's Long EZ retained the wing tanks, but the rear cockpit was returned to its normal configuration, while Dick Rutan's "Old Blue" was still be equipped with the wing tanks, extra fuel tank in the rear seat, and HF radio installation.

Dick Rutan was awarded the Louis Bleriot Medal by the prestigious Federation Aeronautique Internationale during a ceremony in Brussels, Belgium in recognition of his record-setting flights in both the Long-EZ-B and the Voyager. A mere four years later in July of 2001, Rutan found himself climbing into the cockpit of another Long-EZ, only this one holds a bit of a twist. The prop engine has been replaced with two 1,800-newton thrust rocket engines. It is the experimental EZ-Rocket by XCOR Aerospace, a company for which Rutan has been the test pilot many years in a row.

Population: at least 3 [N169SH (c/n 0169)]

rop: Bruce Tift
Mods: Long Range Tanks
Hours: 4000

Crew/passengers: 2

Main sources:
- Out of the Cradle interview
- The Canard Pusher

A fateful landing for N169SH...

On Saturday, June 25, 1983, Dick Rutan and his passenger were in Corning, California, participating in the Cafe 400 efficiency race. Shrotly after passing a checkpoint, a portion of a propeller blade separated and the pilot shut down the engine. He elected to land on an interstate highway by merging into traffic. However, he was unable to cleat over an overpass and had to go under. Subsequently, the aircraft touched down early. Before stopping, the canard hit and scratched an automobile and the aircraft collided with the center divider of the highway, collapsing the nose gear and damaging the canard. Neither Rutan nor his passenger were injured.

The propeller was made from wood and was specially designed for racing. The tip and outboard trailing edge of the failed blade had split and separated. Reportedly, the propeller had been flown thru driving rain at full power. According to a service manager of a propeller manufacturing firm, the blade failure may have originated where it was struck by an object, but this was not verified.