Friday, September 29, 2006

Ready to fly ?low and slow?

Express Staff Writer

Hailey dentist Ron Fairfax assembles a small airplane called a Rans S7S. The two-seat airplane will cruise at speeds between 80 and 100 miles per hour and can take off in about 350 feet. Photo by David N. Seelig

Most pilots flying in today's gadget-heavy, highly regulated and controlled air space yearn for the low-altitude, slow, stick-and-rudder flying experience that was commonplace in their grandfather's day.

That time has come for Hailey dentist Ron Fairfax, a member of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority and pilot-owner of a sleek, 230-mile-per-hour, V-tail Beech Bonanza V-35 B that won an international speed record.

Fairfax and a partner, Randy Johnson, are building and assembling in a Friedman hangar a two-seat Rans S7S airplane that cruises between 80 and 100 miles per hour, can land and take off in about 350 feet and can glide without power 12 times farther than its altitude, known as a 12:1 ratio.

As far as Fairfax knows, his Rans will be only the second one in this area. The other is owned and flown by Travis Dilleha, of Picabo.

The kit for the aircraft, some 4,000 of which have been delivered by the Hayes, Kan., company, requires buyers to assemble 51 percent of the finished plane. (For really slow travel, Rans also builds recumbent bicycles.)

With the initial investment of $18,500 for a kit that doesn't include an engine, plus purchase of a 100-horsepower Rotas engine for another $14,000, Fairfax will have an aircraft that sells for $75,000 completely assembled.

Fairfax's aircraft should be completed by late October, he says. When finished, its empty weight will be about 700 pounds. Pilot ands passenger sit front to back.

"Draw a circle with a 100-mile radius around the Wood River Valley," Fairfax explains, and that's where he'll fly the Rans—"low and slow," he confirms. He'll include challenging backcountry airstrips whose altitude, location between towering trees, and steep drop-offs are perfect for a small plane with short takeoff and landing requirements.

Yes, Fairfax concedes, the Rans has every characteristic of a "toy airplane." Instruments are the bare basics, compared to the sometimes-elaborate navigational gadgets in larger, more expensive aircraft.

A licensed pilot for 25 years with some 2,800 hours logged, Fairfax's 1970s "other plane" (no kidding) won a London-to-Paris race for single-engine aircraft prior to his purchase 12 years ago.

Although Fairfax flies the Bonanza at customary cruise speeds in the 230-miles-per-hour range, he has taken it up to 24,000 feet, which is about the maximum ceiling, he says.

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