The Vashon Ranger is a rarity in the aviation world - developed, flown and tested all before the official announcement was made of the plane's existence. John Torode, the head of Dynon, financed the design, development and flight-testing of the Ranger, with design and construction in Woodinville, WA and flight testing at Paine Field in Everett, WA.
As news of the Ranger debuted in all the major aviation magazines, I had the chance to attend one of the first public debuts at Harvey Field in Snohomish, WA, just east of Paine Field, in March 2018. The Vashon team flew in two Ranger aircraft on a very rainy afternoon, and presented a detailed summary of the Vashon design, with an excellent design and engineering presentation by the Vashon Chief Designer, Ken Krueger. Ken had design experience both at Boeing and Van's aircraft, and he described the requirements used to design a light sport "utilitarian flying Jeep" and keep the cost down to around $100K, culminating with a great flying aircraft that included fully capable Dynon displays and even an autopilot in the base model.
When I met Ken again at the 2019 NW Aviation and Trade Show, we discussed the Ranger design, plus my recent cockpit design work on the Boeing T-X. Ken offered a Ranger flight opportunity if we could coordinate an open window in May. I was flying to Paine to help with Nanchang upkeep, so the timing worked well on a beautiful spring afternoon. I met Ken at the Vashon Aircraft hangar, located in the North Corporate Hangar section, just south of the Boeing 777/787 delivery ramp. Ranger N131VR was available for a demo flight, and we conducted a walk-around and discussed the Pilot Operating Handbook details that Ken had previously sent me.
Entering the cockpit, the 46-inch width surprised me with the amount of available shoulder room. Both Ken and I are over 6 feet tall, and both of us had sufficient shoulder, head and leg room. We set my rudder pedals on the ground, and since the nosewheel is free-castering, I wanted to ensure I had full throw for differential braking, although once we started taxiing, staying on the taxiway centerline was a non-event. Startup of the O-200 was simple, and since I'd previously flown with Dynon displays, the 10.3" Dynon SkyView HDX displays in the Ranger demonstrator were easy to use and interpret.
I requested an intersection takeoff, and the acceleration from the O-200 and the short takeoff roll with the Ranger wing design surprised me, as we used only about 400 feet of Paine's 9010 foot-long runway 34L. I pitched up to a climb attitude, and we seemed to levitate at nearly 1000 FPM. I immediately felt at home with the flight controls, since I love flying with a stick, and the control harmony and crisp response reminded me of the RV-12, which Ken also had a hand in designing. Since we only had a short time before another demo, I cruised just west of nearby Hat Island, and ran through a quick series of slow flight, stalls and slips. The good roll rate made for a smooth entry into a few steep turns, and in a few minutes I felt right at home in the Ranger. The excellent cockpit visibility provided great views of the Puget Sound and traffic around the Paine airfield.
Due to another upcoming demo flight, we headed back to Paine for a normal pattern and landing. I selected partial flaps on downwind, then selected full flaps on final at about 55 KIAS, but left in a bit too much power for my intended landing spot. A quick slip burned off the excess altitude, and after touching down we only rolled for about 600 feet, coming off the brakes to get to the taxiway after such a short roll. The Ranger will be great aircraft to explore some of the wonderful shorter runways in the great Northwest!
Overall quick impressions after my short first flight: The Vashon Ranger is a delightful aircraft to fly, with nicely harmonized flight controls, short takeoff and landing characteristics, great visibility, surprising interior room, and is economical but with a sophisticated display suite. I felt right a home after a short time in the air, and look forward to exploring more with the Ranger in the future.
Here's a good summary of the Vashon Ranger from AOPA, although they spelled Ken Krueger's last name incorrectly in the article.
While I was preparing for my demo flight, I noticed a set of floats in the corner of the Vashon hangar. Ken noted that the floatplane configuration was a side project for Vashon's owner John Torode, and the project was nearing first flight, planned for the W36 seaplane base at Renton. On June 10th, Ken texted a photo of Ranger N219VA on floats at Ace Aviation at Renton, and invited me to attend the first flight event. Since the Vashon team is based at Paine, they flew another Ranger down to Renton with John Torode and the first flight pilot, Tyler Pattison. I enjoyed helping with the first flight preparation, aiding the Vashon team with my Renton gate access, and also was able to photo document the successful first flights by Tyler Pattison on floats. Well done Ranger team!