Innovative Aviation Designer Burt Rutan

Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., can view the record-setting aircraft that pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager flew nonstop around the world in nine days in December 1986. The Rutan Model 76 Voyager Took off from the runway at Edwards Air Force Base on December 14 and landed back at the base 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds later, having covered a distance of 40,212 km as certified by the FAI – Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. The Rutan Voyager was designed by Dick Rutan’s brother Burt, a visionary aerospace engineer who has created more than 360 original concepts for aircraft, with 45 of his designs taking flight, some with commercial success, and others as record breakers or research craft.

SpaceShipOne was another of Rutan’s designs to grab news headlines, as in June 2004 it became the first privately built and funded manned aircraft to reach space. After completing a second flight to space within two weeks, the aircraft was awarded the Ansari X Prize of US$10 million. The Ansari X Prize is intended to encourage innovation of low-cost spaceflight.

In March 2005, the single-engine Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, piloted by Steve Fossett, completed the first solo non-stop and non-refueled flight around the world in 2 days, 19 hours and 1 minute. The aircraft was designed by Burt Rutan and built by his company, Scaled Composites. Between February 7 and February 11, 2006, Fossett piloted the GlobalFlyer for the longest flight in history, covering a distance of 41,467.53 km. The aircraft now forms part of the NASM collection which includes six Rutan-design aircraft.

Rutan also designed a range of homebuilt aircraft, with his first being the VariViggen which he started building in 1968 in his home garage, and flew for the first time in April 1972. As he did not have wind-tunnel facilities, Rutan reportedly tied a model of the VariVigen to the roof of his station wagon and measured the forces while driving at speed on empty roads. The Rutan VariEze was based on the VariViggen, and in 1975, piloted by Dick Rutan, it set a world distance record in its class. The Quickie was a single-seat sport aircraft designed by Rutan, which was marketed by Quickie Aircraft for some years. The Canada Aviation and Space Museum has an original Quickie aircraft in their collection.