Aerospace Designer Burt Rutan Hailed For Lifetime Of Achievement


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Aerospace Designer Burt Rutan Hailed For Lifetime Of Achievement

By Daniel Baxter

November 13, 2011 - Burt Rutan, legendary aerospace designer and founder of Scaled Composites, was presented Flightglobal's Lifetime Achievement Award for bringing to life some of the world's most unique and innovative aircraft leading to long-range flight breakthroughs and the beginning of commercial space travel. 

Flightglobal, part of Flight International magazine, and owned by Reed Business Information Ltd., a subsidiary of Reed Elsevier, presented Rutan the award on Saturday at a ceremony they hosted at the Dubai Air Show in which individuals, teams and innovations in the aviation and aerospace industries were recognized. 

"Burt's vision and leadership in aerospace design is embedded in many cutting-edge technologies today," said Paul Meyer, vice president and general manager of advanced programs and technology for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "His revolutionary ideas and systems have brought humanity closer to a time when mass transportation access to space is a reality." 

The iconic aircraft designer is best known for building Voyager and GlobalFlyer, the first planes to fly around the world on a single tank of gas without landing, and SpaceShipOne, the first privately-funded spaceship for human transportation.

The Rutan Model 76 Voyager was the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. It was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The flight took off from Edwards Air Force Base's 15,000 foot (4,600 m) runway in the Mojave Desert on December 14, 1986, and ended 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds later, on December 23. The aircraft flew easterly 26,366 statute miles at an average altitude of 11,000 feet. This definitively broke a previous record set by a United States Air Force crew piloting a Boeing B-52 that flew 12,532 miles in 1962. 

SpaceShipOne was a suborbital air-launched spaceplane that completed the first manned private spaceflight in 2004. That same year, it won the US$10 million Ansari X Prize and was immediately retired from active service. Its mothership was named "White Knight". Both craft were developed and flown by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which was a joint venture between Paul Allen and Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's aviation company. Allen provided the funding of approximately US$25 million. 

Rutan began his career in 1965 as a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where he worked on various aircraft including the C-130 Hercules and F-4 Phantom. "I had the best job in the world, even though it didn't pay much. As a project flight test engineer, I did a lot of flying and learned things that would later be valuable to me as an aircraft designer," said Rutan.

After his seven-year job as a flight test project engineer at Edwards, Rutan founded the Rutan Aircraft Factory in 1975, precursor to Scaled Composites. His start-up funding was provided by a $15,000 loan from his father, enough money for a facility at the small airfield in Mojave, Calif. While there, he pursued his passion in aircraft design and created the popular VariEze, a homebuilt aircraft that was stall resistant.

Five of Rutan's aircraft now sit on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In March of this year, Rutan retired after 46 years in the aerospace industry. Northrop Grumman Corporation acquired Scaled Composites in 2007. Scaled Composites operates as a separate company supporting Northrop Grumman and other customers.

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