Burt Rutan: Wikis


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Burt Rutan
Born June 17, 1943 (1943-06-17) (age 66)
Estacada, OR,
United States
Occupation Aerospace Engineer
Spouse(s) Tonya Rutan

Elbert Leander "Burt" Rutan (born June 17, 1943) is an American aerospace engineer noted for his originality in designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. He is famous for his design of the record-breaking Voyager, which was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, and the sub-orbital spaceplane SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for becoming the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space twice within a two week period. He has four aircraft on display in the National Air and Space Museum: SpaceShipOne, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, Voyager, and the VariEze.


Life and career

Born in Estacada, Oregon, 30 miles southeast of Portland, and raised in Dinuba, California, Rutan displayed an early interest in aircraft design. By the time he was eight years old he was designing and building model aircraft. His first solo flight piloting an airplane was in an Aeronca Champ in 1959, when he was sixteen. In 1965 he graduated third in his class from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly-SLO) with a BS degree in aeronautical engineering.[1][2]

From 1965 to 1972 Rutan worked for the U.S. Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base as a flight test project engineer, working on nine separate projects including fighter spin tests and the LTV XC-142 VSTOL transport.[3] He left to become director of the Bede Test Center for Bede Aircraft, in Newton, Kansas, a position he held until 1974.[citation needed]

Rutan returned to California in June 1974, to create his own business, the Rutan Aircraft Factory. In this business he designed and developed prototypes for several aircraft, mostly homebuilt. His first design was the Rutan VariViggen, a two-seat pusher single-engine craft of canard configuration. The canard would become a common feature of Rutan's designs.[4]

In April 1982, Burt Rutan founded Scaled Composites,LLC, which has become one of the world's pre-eminent aircraft design and prototyping facilities. Scaled Composites is headquartered in Mojave, California, at the Mojave Air & Space Port.[5]

In a 2010 interview, Rutan articulated his motivation for developing suborbital technology projects with SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. He is developing suborbital spaceflight technology because in this "we can achieve some breakthroughs," making such flight "orders of magnitude safer and orders of magnitude more affordable. I'm taking this step because I think achieving something that has never existed in manned spaceflight — and that is high volume and public access — I think it is important to do that and to do it as soon as possible." [6]

Rutan is married to Tonya Rutan.[7]

Air and space craft designs



VariViggen and VariViggen SP

His first design, the VariViggen, which he began building in his garage in 1968, first flew in April 1972. It had the rear wing, forward canard, and pusher configuration design elements which became his trademarks[4]. In lieu of wind tunnel testing, Rutan developed the aerodynamic parameters for the VariViggen using a model rigged atop his station wagon, and measuring the forces while driving on empty roads.

The VariViggen was the Rutan model 27. A new set of outer wings, with winglets, was later developed by Rutan for the VariViggen, producing the VariViggen SP, Rutan model 32. The VariViggen was named in honor of the Saab 37 Viggen, a canard-configured fighter jet developed in Sweden. One VariViggen, built in France and named Micro Star, was powered by two Microturbo TRS-18 jet engines in lieu of the usual piston engine.[8]

VariEze and Long-EZ

The VariViggen design led to the successful Rutan VariEze homebuilt experimental aircraft designs, in which he pioneered the use of moldless glass-reinforced plastic construction in homebuilts. In 1975 his brother Dick Rutan set a world distance record in the under-500 kg (1100 lb) class in the VariEze, and these aircraft went on to set other world records in this class.[9] They were also the first aircraft to fly with NASA-developed winglets.[10] The original VW-powered VariEze used by Dick Rutan to set the forementioned records was the Rutan model 31. The later, standard homebuilt VariEze was the Rutan model 33. Most VariEzes have been powered by Continental O-200 engines.

Vari Eze (1976)

Rutan later revised the VariEze design, providing more volume for fuel and cargo, resulting in the Rutan model 61 Long-EZ, designed to be powered by a Lycoming O-235, although some have used Lycoming O-320s or Lycoming O-360s. The Long-EZ also has a revised wing spar design that is not subject to the 2.5g positive, 1.5g negative, maximum load factor limit applied to the VariEze after the discovery of problems with some VariEze wings.[11]

Ames AD-1

In the 1980s NASA issued a contract to Ames Industrial Company of Bohemia, New York to develop a small, low-cost aircraft to investigate Robert T. Jones's (a NASA researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center) oblique wing concept. Ames turned to Rutan, who designed a small, fiberglass airframe, powered by two Microturbo TRS-18 jet engines. This was the Rutan model 35, the Ames AD-1. After completion of the test program, the AD-1 was retired and is now on exhibit in the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.[12]


Rutan was approached by Gene Sheehan and Tom Jewett to develop a single-seat personal sport aircraft. A tandem wing configuration resulted from their collaboration. The aircraft was powered by an 18 hp Onan industrial engine. The prototype was the Rutan model 49. Quickie Aircraft then marketed a slightly improved version as the Quickie.[13] This was the Rutan model 54 Quickie.

Two derivatives of the Quickie were subsequently developed, both expanded to include two seats. Quickie Aircraft had Gary LaGare develop the Q2, while Viking Aircraft developed the Viking Dragonfly.[14]


Rutan designed the model 72 Grizzly to investigate the possibility of a STOL canard aircraft. It was retired after testing.[15]


Rutan was approached by his brother Dick about designing an airplane that could fly nonstop, unrefueled around the world, something that had never been done before. Around-the-world flights had been accomplished by military crews using in-flight refueling.[citation needed]

Rutan developed a twin-engined (piston engines, one pusher and one tractor) canard-configured design, the Rutan model 76 Voyager. The pusher engine would run continuously; the tractor engine would be used for take-off and the initial climb to altitude, then would be stopped.[16][17]

The aircraft was first flown with two Lycoming O-235 engines. After development work, it was reengined with a Continental O-200 (modified to include liquid cooling) as the pusher engine and a Continental O-240 as the tractor engine.[citation needed]

As a proving flight, Dick and his partner Jeana Yeager made a record setting endurance flight off the coast of California. In December 1986, they took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California and flew around the world (westward) in nine days, fulfilling the aircraft's design goals. The Voyager was retired and now has the honor of hanging in the Milestones of Flight exhibit in the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) main exhibit hall,[18] with the Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis and Bell X-1.


The Sailplane Homebuilders Association (Now the Experimental Soaring Association) opened a competition for a homebuilt, self-launching sailplane. Rutan designed the model 77 Solitaire for this competition, which it won. The sailplane was canard-configured, with a retractable engine ahead of the cockpit.[19]


Desiring a new personal airplane, Rutan designed a five-seat, single-engined pressurized airplane, the Model 81 Catbird. The airplane was configured as a three-surface aircraft (canard, main wing, and tail). After serving as Rutan's personal airplane, it was retired. The Catbird is notable for winning the CAFE Challenge aircraft efficiency prize in 1993.[20]

Lotus Microlight

Rutan was approached by Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Racing, to design a single-seat ultralight aircraft. Again, a canard configuration was developed, the Rutan model 91. Colin Chapman's untimely death brought this project to an end, after the aircraft had flown.[21][22]

Pond Racer

Concerned about the dwindling numbers of WWII aircraft, with many being consumed by use as Unlimited Class racers at the Reno Air Races, Bob Pond contracted Scaled to design an Unlimited Class racer. The result was the Pond Racer. After design studies, a twin-engined, conventional configured layout was chosen. The aircraft was powered by two 1000 hp Electromotive-Nissan VG-30 3-liter GTP piston engines running on methanol. The aircraft was built and tested before delivery to the customer. It appeared at the Reno Air Races in 1991, 1992 and 1993. The aircraft was destroyed in a forced landing crash on September 14, 1993, killing pilot Rick Brickert.[23]


A departure from the canard design was the Scaled Composites Boomerang perhaps one of the unconventional designer's most unconventional aircraft. The aircraft, the model 202 Boomerang, is an asymmetric twin-engine tractor configuration aircraft with one engine on the fuselage and another mounted on a pod. A November 1996 Popular Mechanics feature article said it "looks more like a trimotor that lost its right boom and engine".[24]


The Model 281 Proteus is a tandem-wing high-endurance aircraft designed by Burt Rutan to investigate the use of aircraft as high altitude telecommunications relays. The aircraft's requirements were designed by Angel Technologies and Broadband.com. Its first flights were in 1998. It holds several altitude records, set in 2000.[25]


SpaceShipOne now hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with the Spirit of Saint Louis and Bell X-1 "Glamorous Glennis"

Rutan made headlines again in 2004 with SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately built, flown, and funded craft to reach space in June of that year, winning the Ansari X Prize a few months later on October 4. SpaceShipOne completed two flights within two weeks, flying with the equivalent weight of 3 persons and doing so while reusing at least 80% of the vehicle hardware. The project team was honored with the 2004 Collier Trophy, awarded by the National Aeronautic Association for "greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America." The craft embodies Rutan's unique style, and is another of the "icons of flight" displayed in the NASM Milestones of Flight exhibit.[26]

This achievement was quickly commercialized — Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, announced that it would begin space tourism flights in 2008 using craft based on the designs of SpaceShipOne. Dubbed SpaceShipTwo, these new craft, also designed by Burt Rutan, are intended to allow six "experience optimized" passengers to glimpse the planet from 70–80 miles up in suborbital space. Production of the first of five planned SpaceShipTwo craft has started, with the first test flights currently scheduled for 2007-8. An explosion at the Scaled Composite factory at the Mojave Spaceport on July 26, 2007 killed three engineers and seriously injured three others. They were testing components for SpaceShipTwo, but as of August 2007 Scaled Composites remained dedicated to perfecting the design of SpaceShipTwo.[27]

Burt Rutan is also working with t/Space in the development of an air launched, two-stage-to-orbit, manned spacecraft. It is intended to have a taxi capacity to carry passengers to the International Space Station. As of June, 2005 air drop tests of quarter scale mockups had verified the practicality of air release and rotation to vertical.[citation needed]

White Knight Two

Richard Branson, on July 28, 2008, unveiled Scaled Composites White Knight Two "Eve," at the Mojave Spaceport. Flight tests were set to begin in September 2008.[28][29] The launch customer of White Knight Two is Virgin Galactic, which will have the first 2 units, and exclusive rights to the craft for the first few years. Branson prophesy the maiden space voyage will take place in 18 months: "It represents... the chance for our ever-growing group of future astronauts and other scientists to see our world in a completely new light." Virgin Galactic contracted aerospace designer Burt Rutan to build the mothership and spacecraft.[30][31]


On March 3, 2005, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, an aircraft similar to the Voyager design, but built by Rutan's new company Scaled Composites, with stiffer materials and a single jet engine, completed the first solo non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world with adventurer Steve Fossett as pilot. Reducing weight was critical to the design, and Rutan is quoted as facetiously telling his staff that when they finish building a part, they must throw it up in the air for a weight test, and "If it comes down, it's too heavy".[32] Between February 7, 2006 – February 11, 2006, Fossett and the GlobalFlyer set a record for the longest flight in history: 41,467.53 km (26,389 miles), the third absolute world record set with this aircraft[33] before being flown to the NASM Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Global Flyer is the sixth vehicle designed by Burt Rutan in the NASM collection.[34]

Climate change

On July 29, 2009, Burt Rutan drew a full house for his presentation at the Experimental Aircraft Association's EAA Airventure 2009 Oshkosh Conference entitled "Non-Aerospace Research Quests of a Designer/Flight Test Engineer" where he discussed his thoughts on his hobby of climate change.[35] Although he admitted in his presentation that he was not a climate scientist, he stated he spent most of his career on data analysis and interpretation and how it is used or misused.[36]

"I put myself in the (Those who fear expansion of Government control) group, and do not hide the fact that I have a clear bias on [ Anthropogenic global warming (AGW)]. My bias is based on fear of Government expansion and the observation of AGW data presentation fraud - not based on financial or any other personal benefit. I merely have found that the closer you look at the data and alarmists’ presentations, the more fraud you find and the less you think there is an AGW problem... For decades, as a professional experimental test engineer, I have analyzed experimental data and watched others massage and present data. I became a cynic; My conclusion – “if someone is aggressively selling a technical product whose merits are dependent on complex experimental data, he is likely lying”. That is true whether the product is an airplane or a Carbon Credit."

Burt Rutan also states he was raised Republican but now seems to think that both official parties have grown too big and socialist for his more libertarian leanings.[citation needed] He describes his interest on the topic deriving from his "interest in technology, not tree hugging". Burt Rutan's house was featured in a November 1, 1989 article in Popular Science entitled: "21st Century Pyramid: The Ultimate Energy-efficient House".[37]

Rurtan will also not interview with Scientific American, as he claimed that the magazine has "...improperly covered man-made global warming. They drink Kool-Aid instead of doing research. They parrot stuff from the IPCC and Al Gore."[38]


(Alphabetical with year(s))

  • Aviation Week & Space Technology "Laural Legend" award (2002)
  • Aviation Week & Space Technology Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Aviation Week & Space Technology Current Achievement Award (2005)
  • Chrysler Design Award (1997)
  • Collier Trophy for ingenious design and development of the Voyager and skillful execution of the first non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world (1987) and for designing and launching the first commercial manned launch vehicle SpaceShipOne (2004)
  • Design News Engineer of the Year (1988)
  • EAA Outstanding New Design (1975, 1976 and 1978)
  • EAA Freedom of Flight Award, (1996)
  • EAA Homebuilders Hall of Fame, (1998)
  • Engineers Council Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson "Skunk Works" award (2000)
  • Grand Medal of the Aero Club of France (1987)
  • International Aerospace Hall of Fame (1988)
  • SETP James H. Doolittle Award (1987 and 2004)
  • Lindbergh Foundation, Lindbergh Award (2000)
  • National Aviation Hall of Fame (1995)
  • National Medal of the Aero Club of France (1987)
  • Presidential Citizens Medal presented by Ronald Reagan (December 29, 1986)
  • Professional Pilot Magazine, Designer of the Year, (1999)
  • Royal Aeronautical Society, British Gold Medal for Aeronautics (1987)
  • SAMPE George Lubin Award, (1995)
  • Scientific American Business Leader in Aerospace (2003)
  • Time Magazine "100 Most Influential People of the World" (April 18, 2005)
  • Western Reserve Aviation Hall of Fame, Meritorious Service Award (1988)
  • National Model Aviation Museum Hall of Fame (2006)
  • Robert A. Heinlein Award (2008)


  1. ^ "Burt Rutan, Curriculum Vitae". Royce Carlton Inc.. April 2005. http://www.roycecarlton.com/speaker-print-format/Burt-Rutan-Curriculum-Vitae/. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  2. ^ "Science, Technology and Society 2002-2003 Resident Scholar Program biography". Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy. http://www.isepp.org/Pages/02-03%20Pages/Rutan-2.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  3. ^ "Burt Rutan to Receive Heinlein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aerospace". National Space Society. 2008-04-15. http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=25222. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  4. ^ a b M.S.Rajamurthy. "Rutan – The Canard Guru". National Aerospace Laboratories, India. http://www.nal.res.in/pdf/msrrutanguru1.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  5. ^ "Printable map to Scaled Composites". Scaled Composites, LLC. http://www.scaled.com/map.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  6. ^ Burt Rutan, Aerospace Engineer, BigThink, interview with Burt Rutan, 3 March 2010, accessed 2010-03-06. Video segment at 8:40 ff.
  7. ^ Leonard David (27 September 2004). "Set to Soar: First X Prize Flight This Week". Space.com. http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/xprize_preview_040927.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  8. ^ "Micro Star". The Price of Passion – Minijets. http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fminijets.org%2Ftypo3%2Findex.php%3Fid%3D31&sl=fr&tl=en. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  9. ^ List of records established by the 'Rutan VariEze'. Accessed 5 January 2006.
  10. ^ Winglets by Gail S. Langevin of NASA. Accessed 5 January 2006.
  11. ^ [1] RAF service bulletin published on www.cozybuilders.org. Accessed 20 February 2010.
  12. ^ "Hiller Aviation Museum Briefing" (PDF). http://www.hiller.org/files/docs/breifing_Q4_05.pdf. Retrieved 2006-10-27. 
  13. ^ Maksim Starostin. "Rutan / Scaled Composites Aircraft". Aviastar Aircraft Directory. http://www.aviastar.org/air/usa/a_rutan_-_scaled_composites.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  14. ^ Dave Morris. "Dragonfly FAQ". Dave Morris' Dragonfly Page. http://www.davemorris.com/Dave/dfly-faq.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  15. ^ "AirVenture Museum: Rutan Grizzly 72 - N80RA". EAA Aviation Center. http://www.airventuremuseum.org/collection/aircraft/Rutan%20Grizzly%2072.asp. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  16. ^ "Burt Rutan". Plane Spotting World. 2008-04-09. http://plane.spottingworld.com/Burt_Rutan. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  17. ^ Maksim Starostin. "Scaled Composites Voyager". Aviastar Aircraft Directory. http://www.aviastar.org/air/usa/rutan_voyager.php. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  18. ^ "Rutan Aircraft Designs". US Centennial of Flight Commission. http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/GENERAL_AVIATION/rutan/GA15.htm. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  19. ^ http://www.sailplanedirectory.com/zwfmot.htm#Solitaire Sailplanedirectory.com entry
  20. ^ CAFE Foundation
  21. ^ "Colin Chapman's Lotus Microlight". The Canard Zone (forum). http://www.canardzone.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1332. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  22. ^ "AutoWeek Burt Rutan and Colin Chapman Article". Lotus Talk (forum). 2004-09-28. http://www.lotustalk.com/forums/f103/autoweek-burt-rutan-colin-chapman-article-6245/. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  23. ^ Fitzgerald. "AIRPLANE PAGE". http://members.pioneer.net/~fitzrr/index13.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  24. ^ Boomerang!. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  25. ^ FAI world aviation records database, accessed August 30, 2008
  26. ^ SpaceShipOne Joins the Icons of Flight on Display at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  27. ^ Doligosa, Felix, Jr. (2007-07-27). "Query into tragic test begins : But finding the cause of the deadly blast may take up to six months, officials say>". Kern County news. http://www.bakersfield.com/102/story/199769.html. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  28. ^ "2008 AirVenture Oshkosh schedule". http://www.airventure.org/2008/news/080605_ss2.html. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  29. ^ Leonard David (June 6, 2008). "Virgin Galactic Spaceline: Mega-Mothership Set for Rollout Debut". SPACE.com. http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/080606-virgin-mother.html. Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  30. ^ bbc.co.uk, Branson unveils space tourism jet
  31. ^ space.newscientist.com, Virgin Galactic rolls out SpaceShipTwo's 'mothership'
  32. ^ David Noland (February 2005). "Burt Rutan and the Ultimate Solo". Popular Mechanics. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/air_space/1262012.html?page=3. 
  33. ^ List of records established by the 'Scaled Composites M311'. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  34. ^ National Air and Space Museum to Welcome Steve Fossett’s History-Making Airplane for Permanent Display at Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  35. ^ [2]
  36. ^ [3]
  37. ^ [4]
  38. ^ Cohen, David. The Maverick of Mojave (Opinion Interview), New Scientist, 30 January 2010, Issue 2745, pg.26. Retrieved via NewScientist.com 10 March 2010.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Burt Rutan (born June 17, 1943) is an aerospace engineer, notable for designing SpaceShipOne.


  • "If you don't have a consensus that it's nonsense, you don't have a breakthrough."
    • From article: Taylor, Chris (Nov. 29, 2004). The Sky's the Limit. Time Magazine, p. 67.
  • "I strongly feel that, if we are successful, our program will mark the beginning of a renaissance for manned space flight. This might even be similar to that wonderful time period between 1908 and 1912 when the world went from a total of ten airplane pilots to hundreds of airplane types and thousands of pilots in 39 countries. We need affordable space travel to inspire our youth, to let them know that they can experience their dreams, can set significant goals and be in a position to lead all of us to future progress in exploration, discovery and fun. Thanks to the X PRIZE [Foundation] for the inspiration."

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