Rare Rutan aircraft donated to the Institute for Aerospace Education

By SaVannah Rash

Spirits were high at the Mayer household in Nelson County on Saturday, Nov. 2. Students from all across Kentucky were scrambling in frenzied excitement over the generous donation made by John Mayer to the Institute for Aerospace Education, a rare Rutan Defiant.

While the incomplete plane was being loaded onto a series of trucks and cars, Mayer shared his life story, explaining how he went from a small farm to a large-scale farming business that transcended state lines and allowed him the time and money to pursue aviation as an effective agribusiness tool as well as a pastime.

Students surround John Mayer (middle)

Students surround John Mayer (middle)

Mayer, the third child of 12, was raised in Nelson County, where he is a successful farmer with 6,000 acres of land across Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Farming and cultivating the land has always been his passion and believes he excels because of his dedication to his work. “Find what your talents are, have a passion for them, and pursue them,” was his advice to the students who helped load the plane for transport to Campbellsville.

Mayer said he used aviation as a way to become a better farmer.

Defiant donation farm 2“Aviation has given me the opportunity to fly over the central corn belt of the United States and learn each year the enormous productivity of American agriculture,” he said.

Mayer first got interested in aviation after his first flight, which was taken in a crop duster when he was young. He learned about the work of Burt Rutan’s composite airplane designs and bought the rights to own a Defiant aircraft in 1984 from the Rutan Aircraft Factory. Arthur Bessinger did most of the work with Mayer until 1995, after which work halted on the Defiant.

After some thought and consideration, Mayer decided it was best to give the next generation the opportunity to complete the project that he held dear to his heart.

“At the age of 74, I decided it was time for someone else to pick up the cause,” he said.

The twin-engine composite airplane was developed by Burt Rutan, the founder of Scaled Composites and the Rutan Aircraft Factory. Rutan is known for the creation of such groundbreaking aircraft as SpaceShipOne, VariEze, Long-EZ and the Voyager, the first plane to make a non-stop flight around the world without refueling.

Defiant donation at farm3The Defiant was created to be a light, safe twin engine airplane that could land safely if one of the engines should fail. It is a unique airplane, with an engine in the front and one in the back to provide a push and pull configuration for better speed and performance. Only 19 Defiant aircraft are registered with the FAA as of 2005, and only a few plans and kits were sold.

This makes the plane an interesting challenge for the students of Taylor County High School’s Flying Cardinals, who are charged with the Defiant’s completion. With the help and supervision of volunteer A&Ps, students will do any and all work necessary to make the plane fully operational. After the plane has been fully refurbished, it will be used for flight lessons for students in the program.

The Taylor County Cardinals, led by Deborah Hinton and William Shoemaker, work in a hangar donated by the Taylor County Airport. Jim Shulthise will be the lead A&P mechanic working with the students as they refurbish the Defiant.

Mayer decided to donate the plane to the Institute for Aerospace Education with the help of Larry Mooney, IAE chairman. Formerly the Kentucky Institute of Aerospace Education, the IAE has extended its reach beyond Kentucky to neighboring states. The nonprofit organization, is based in Frankfort and headed by CEO Dr. Tim Smith, helps schools integrate aeronautical studies into curriculums, promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The Institute for Aerospace education also sends select students to Oshkosh to experience AirVenture, the largest aviation convention in the United States. There, they see one-of-a-kind aircraft, aerobatic shows, learn aviation history, and make connections in the industry that will help them for a lifetime. The Institute helps students pursue careers in aviation by giving them the education and resources to be pilots, air traffic controllers, A&P mechanics, airport managers, or whatever aviation career they choose. Countless students have pursued careers in aviation and have received great job opportunities because of the help of the Institute and its many volunteers.

For more information: IAE.aero


SaVannah Rash is an aviation student at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville, Kentucky.


  1. Hubert Gammill says

    I also have a partially finished Defiant project that I would donate like this situation or sell to some individual. I live in South Carolina and am still flying at 80 years of age but know I will not get back to working on this project. I have met and talked with Burt and his brother Dick who was one of the two Pilots who flew the Voyager non-stop around the world. 803-874-4118

  2. Curtis Barry says

    Readers might be interested in learning how Burt Rutan’s Defiant got its’ name.
    Burt decided to have a Name the Plane contest. The prize for providing a name picked by Burt would be a 5 year subscription to his newsletter, The Canard Pusher. I was anxious to build a Varieze so I entered.
    Whilst sitting in my cousin’s living room in Layton, NJ, warmed by a Vermont Casting Defiant woodstove, my cousin suggested submitting the name “Defiant”. It sounded good to me so I entered…..and won! Sometime later at Oshkosh I mentioned to Burt how I got the name for the contest, saying “your plane is named after a woodstove”. The look on his face was priceless…..I can still see it!
    I did later build a Varieze, N778CB. It was a fine aircraft, wonderful to fly and great for cross country flying. The initial idea to build it was receiving an issue of Air Progress and seeing Burt’s Varieze on the cover….I was “hooked” from that moment on.
    I also must mention that I had the pleasure of meeting Burt’s parents at a fly-in at Caldwell Wright Airport in NJ which they attended in lieu of Burt. It was there that I first saw the Varieze “in the flesh”……one of the first kits to be completed……maybe the first, I can’t remember.

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