Randy Schlitter is the boss at RANS,
which can be a contraction of Randy Schlitter, or a
contraction in the possessive of a nickname, Ran's -- or a
couple other things Randy told me that probably shouldn't be
in print. He and his wife, Paula, have raised four sons and
an airplane business since its inception in 1983, a business
that has garnered no small amount of respect and
There's only one way to make it in the
aviation business, and that is to produce a good product.
RANS has shown that not only are their machines attractive
to both the pilot and non-pilot eye, but they are stout and
offer exceptional performance. This wasn't just a fluke.
Back when still a "young gun," Randy had
that sort of adventurous spirit that had him out in the
wild, ticking off the miles on his bike. Ever the sportsman,
he biked to Canada and back, tresses snapping in the wind,
enduring the grime for the time. While still a child, he
designed airplanes, slapping a few together and running down
the unending Kansas roads in the back of a pick up to see
how they would do. He was in on the early hang gliding
movement in the early '70s, and he designed a tri-wheeled
land sailer, complete with sail, for cruising the flat
plains of western Kansas. Another of his inventions, a
recumbent bicycle, which seats the rider in an extremely
laid-back position, was patented in 1973. He definitely
knows his way around a tool box.
RANS S-10 Specifications:
17 ft 10 in
4 ft 10 in
||300 ft (or less!)
Maximum speed (Vne)
Stall with flaps
Stall with flaps and power
When the first Rotax engines became
available, Randy designed and built the S-4 Coyote, a
closed-cabin, high-wing, ultralight, which his company still
sells. A two-seater, which isn't light enough for the
ultralight definition, was also developed. Suddenly, he was
in the aviation business. His reputation for constructing
quality aircraft resulted in a steady sales history, which
allowed him to continue to develop newer airplanes, until
the product line is chock full of craft to fill about every
slot that such light, inexpensive airplanes can fill.
I took the trip to Hays, KS, a few weeks
ago. It is a town of about 20,000 or so honest, hard-working
souls, who, from what I've learned in gas stations and
restaurants, all have the best of the attributes we ascribe
to small town people. Hays is a major watering hole for
travelers driving 1-70 between Kansas City and Denver. It
has a nice airport and perpetual crosswinds, which combine
to produce good pilots if you live there and white knuckles
if you don't.
I drove around for a good half hour
trying to find the RANS shop. I had the address and knew the
street numbers, but until I noticed a very small sign on a
green building behind a Ford dealer, I was beginning to
think I was in Russell, a small town a bit east of Hays.
RANS has nice facilities at the airport, but these are used
only for final assembly, maintenance and storage
of their fleet of airplanes and as a base for demo rides.
John Schlitter is Randy's brother. There
is a strong family resemblance, from the long curly hair to
the mannerisms in speech and movement. John flies most of
the demo flights, either at home base or at the airshows
they attend. RANS charges $50 per flight to separate the
tire kickers from serious customers, and for the bucks, you
get a pretty good workout in whichever airplane you're
interested in. I got lucky. The S-10 Sakota was parked
outside and ready to go. More about this later.
RANS has about 50 souls working in the
shop, which is really a series of shops connected with big
doors. Just about everything that needs to be done to
fabricate an airplane is done here. They weld up their own
cabin structures and fittings, cut their own tubing, make
their own sails and covers, and mold their own fuel tanks.
Fiberglass work is done in the same building, the upstairs
is stuffed with components, and it looks as if RANS could be
totally self-sufficient for a few weeks if UPS or the
trucking companies ever shut down.
Randy was suffering the effects of a flu
bug that hit the Midwest the week I got there, and I've seen
him looking better. I have friends that looks that good just
before they closed the lid. But business must go on, and
despite fever and a case of the blahs, he was there to show
us around. The more he showed us, the better he looked,
obviously proud of the shape of the shop and the efficiency
of the workers. They were just finishing an airplane that
was being shipped complete to Indonesia, ready to have the
wings and a horizontal unfolded, tank topped, and Rotax
An S-12 Airiale was about half finished.
A worker was installing the panel and wing root ribs, which,
when pulled together with bolts, tightens the wing covering
envelopes, which are colored, laced and ready to fly, as is
the rest of the airplane when the crate is opened and the
structure is completed.
We stopped for a moment to look over the
S-11 Pursuit, the second prototype, which is nearly ready to
sign off. This particular airplane is of major interest to
Randy. The first one crashed with Randy at the controls,
when fuel pressure was lost. He wasn't exactly unscathed.
With a spinal compression injury and burns, he was lucky to
make it out.
This is one of the unavoidable vagaries of the
business. Until that problem, the thing was flying quite
well, he reported, and the fact that it is a flying wing type aircraft, using a
lifting body concept rather than popsicle-like wings,
probably saved his life when it was low enough for ground
effect to buoy it up.
This second edition is a real shock to
the aviator's eye. It looks too big for the little engine.
There are no airplane-like lines to compare it with, and the
whole thing looks awkward in its unfinished state. All that
fiberglass covering the structure is quite misleading. A
close examination of the fuselage structure reveals a lot of
though has gone into this airplane. In typical RANS fashion,
the cabin section is a steel tubing cocoon that nearly
surrounds the pilot. With skins attached, the twin-finned,
wide-backed, bubble-canopied airplane looks like a fighter,
and this is why there is so much interest in the project.
With 65 horses, the thing should fly about 140 mph, and that
is a hot trot!
Randy's not in a great hurry to finish
the Pursuit, mainly because of the amount of other business
he has to tend. Despite the poor economy, RANS is going
strong, and projections look very good for 1992. When the
S-11 is done, it's done. Though he will sell this model, it
is actually a step towards the airplane he ultimately wants
to build -- a four-seat, 200-mph, lifting-body airplane. But
that's another story.
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