Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Elbert L. "Burt" Rutan (born June 17, 1943) is an aircraft designer known for designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. He is most 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 suborbital rocket plane SpaceShipOne.
Born in Portland, Oregon and raised in Dinuba, California, Rutan displayed an early interest in airplane design. By the time he was eight years old, he was designing and building model airplanes. His first solo flight in a real airplane was an Aeronca Champ in 1959, when he was sixteen. In 1965 he graduated third in his class from California Polytechnic University with an aeronautical engineering degree. Rutan is married to his fourth wife, Tonya Rutan .
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 XC-142 VSTOL transport. Shortly after, he became director of the Bede Test Center for Bede Aircraft, in Newton, Kansas, a position he held until 1974.
Rutan struck out on his own in June of 1974 with the creation of the Rutan Aircraft Factory in the Mojave Desert, where he designed and developed prototypes for a number of aircraft, mostly homebuilt. His first design was the VariViggen, a two-seat pusher with a canard in front. The canard was later to become a standard feature in most Rutan designs. In April 1982, Burt Rutan founded Scaled Composites Inc., which has become one of the world's pre-eminent aircraft design and prototyping facilities. Scaled Composites is located in the Mojave Desert.
Over the years Burt Rutan has designed hundreds of aircraft, including the now-famous Voyager, which was piloted by his brother Dick in 1986 on a recordbreaking nine-day non-stop flight around the world. He made headlines again in 2004 with SpaceShipOne, which became the first private craft to reach space in June of that year and win the Ansari X Prize a few months later on October 4. SpaceShipOne completed 2 flights within 2 weeks, flying with the equivalent weight of 3 persons and doing so while reusing at least 80% of the vehicle hardware. The craft displays Rutan's unique form of design and aircraft concept.
On March 3, 2005, the GlobalFlyer, an aircraft similar to the Voyager design but with stiffer materials and a jet engine, completed the first solo non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world. Steve Fossett was the pilot.
- AIR&SPACE Smithsonian interview with Burt Rutan – By Diane Tedschi
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