Around the Patch

Inside the bicycle works.

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We shop airplane designs when what we should be doing is shopping the kit company. Few fates are as tightly wed as the builder and the kit company. Count that as builder support, updates to manuals, ongoing service information and, to a slightly lesser degree, replacement parts. (At least were far better off than owners of production-line aircraft, who may be charged obscene prices for small-volume certified parts, if they can get them at all.)

Would-be builders considering a RANS really owe it to themselves to visit the factory. Yes, this is true for every kitbuilt, but your trip to Hays, Kansas, will be unexpectedly gratifying.

It isn’t the Midwestern hospitality that will get you but the thriving shop. Randy Schlitter and his crew have diversified admirably. His bicycle business is doing well, as is the airplane side. “We have a backlog on the Coyote of something like 100,” he says.

Demand is good. The ability to fulfill it is better. To that end, Schlitter has over the years invested in tooling and machinery that allows RANS to be nearly self sufficient. “Our only real problem is getting good aluminum tubing,” he says, echoing other manufacturers scrabbling for a small piece of the raw-materials pie.

2008 marks 25 years of building airplanes for RANS, though the core company dates back another nine years to three-wheeled “sailtrikes.” Bicycles became part of the mix in the early 1980s, and they continue to be a large part of the business.

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Its just this kind of diversification that serves RANS well. When the airplane side is slow, its possible to pick up the slack with two-wheelers.

But theres something more, something hard to describe in concrete terms. I would call it a kind of corporate serenity. Schlitter doesn’t feel the need to bash competitors-at least not in my presence-and his design choices have the texture of comfort and confidence. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to “out weird” anyone for a marketing advantage, or to try oddball materials in an effort to set himself or his designs apart.

Aircraft designers are capable of outthinking themselves, perhaps at the insistence of those who believe we need radical designs to prove Experimental aviation is vital. They forget, if you’ll pardon the circular logic, that what works, ah…works. Randy Schlitter seems able, these days, to avoid that trap. Some will see his current designs as overly traditional. I happen to think they’re just plain smart.

I was impressed by the RANS facility. Aviation is-has been, will always be -cyclical. Those companies with other forms of income are able to survive the down cycles, to live to tell the tale.

Moving Up To, Ah…2003

KITPLANES is going to leap ahead in its virtual presence come this Aprils Sun n Fun show by posting near-real-time news and blogs from our staff and cast of knowledgeable and opinionated contributors. Were also planning a regular roundtable discussion to be presented as a podcast, reviewing news of the day and other developments at the show. If we can find the batteries to the camcorder, we might even do some video. Sure, sure, there are other news outlets-including our own AVweb.com to slake your thirst, but none has our unwavering focus on homebuilts. Cirrus introducing a new paint scheme? Who cares? Cessna got a new gold-plated lavatory in the Citation XXVII? We say, meh.

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