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Elbert Leander "Burt" Rutan (born June 17, 1943 in Estacada, Oregonmarker) is an Americanmarker aerospace engineer noted for his originality in designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. He is often described as the "second true innovator" in the field of aerospace materials technology; his most important predecessor was German engineer Hugo Junkers, who pioneered the design of all-metal aircraft in 1915. 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 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.


Born in Estacada, Oregonmarker, 30 miles southeast of Portlandmarker, and raised in Dinuba, Californiamarker, 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 Universitymarker (Cal Poly-SLO) with a BS degree in aeronautical engineering.

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

Rutan returned to California in June 1974, to create his own business, the Rutan Aircraft Factorymarker. 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.

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

Rutan is married to Tonya Rutan.

Air and space craft designs


VariViggen and VariViggen SP

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. 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, was powered by two Microturbo TRS-18 jet engines in lieu of the usual piston engine.

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. They were also the first aircraft to fly with NASA-developed winglets. 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.
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.

Ames AD-1

In the 1980s NASAmarker issued a contract to Ames Industrial Company of Bohemia, New Yorkmarker to develop a small, low-cost aircraft to investigate Robert T. Jones's (a NASA researcher at NASA's Ames Research Centermarker) 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 being tested at the NASA Dryden Research Center it was retired to the Hiller Aviation Museummarker in San Carlos, Californiamarker.


Rutan next developed a twin-engined canard-configured aircraft, the Rutan model 40 Defiant. The aircraft was configured with the two piston engines mounted in the fuselage, one pulling and one pushing. After several years of use as Rutan's personal airplane a homebuilt version was developed, the Rutan model 74 Defiant. The prototype is now at the Hiller Aviation Museum.


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. 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.

Amsoil Biplane Racer

Dan Mortensen approached Burt Rutan about designing an aircraft for use in the Biplane Class at the Reno Air Races. Rutan chose a layout similar to the Quickie. The Lycoming IO-320 powered aircraft was the Rutan model 68 AMSOIL Racer. The aircraft was first raced in 1981. In 1983 it crashed during a heat race. Pilot Mortensen sustained minor injuries but the airplane was almost totally destroyed. The aircraft was rebuilt for static display and was displayed over the Pylon Bar at the Grand Sierra Resortmarker, formerly the Reno Hilton in Reno, Nevadamarker until 2007. It now resides in the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI.


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

Fairchild NGT Demonstrator

Ames Industrial was contracted to build a twin-engine demonstrator of Fairchild Republic's design for the US Air Force's Next Generation Trainer competition. Ames contracted to Rutan to design and build the airframe. The aircraft, powered by two Microturbo TRS-18 jet engines, was the Rutan model 73. The aircraft was retired after test flights helped Fairchild win the NGT contract with the T-46 (although the T-46 was later rejected by the USAF).


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. About this time, Quickie Aircraft was working on an aircraft for the same mission and Jim Bede had designed the BD-2 LOVE with that goal in mind, but had effectively given it up.

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.

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. Initially, MT propellers were used, but after several propeller failures, a switch was made to Hartzell propellers.

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 Basemarker 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 Museummarker (NASM) main exhibit hall, 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.


Desiring a new personal airplane, Rutan designed a five-place, 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.

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.

Beech Starship POC

Beech Aircraft Company contracted Rutan to participate in the design of a twin turboprop business aircraft. Initial design studies (model 89) were for a three-surface aircraft. At Beech President Lyndon Blue's direction, the aircraft was instead configured like a scaled-up LongEZ, powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A engines, mounted on the wings in pusher configuration. The result was the Rutan model 115. An 85% scale prototype was built and flown. From this, Beech developed the Beechcraft Starship.


Rutan was contracted by David Record to design an agricultural aircraft. Initially, a joined-wing design was chosen, the Rutan model 59. This was revised to a three-surface configuration, the Rutan model 120. A prototype was built and flight tested. After delivery to the customer, the airframe was destroyed in a crash, but the pilot was not injured.


Rutan formed an expanded company, Scaled Compositesmarker, in 1982. DARPA contracted Scaled to design and build a special-mission utility twin aircraft. After studying several configurations, a three-surface design was chosen, the Rutan model 133 Advanced Tactical Trainer and Transport (ATTT). Powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprops, this aircraft was built and flown. After initial testing, the conventional tail was replaced with a "Bronco tail". The aircraft is now retired and stored at Edwards Air Force Basemarker.


Scaled Composites was purchased by Raytheon, the parent company of Beech Aircraft. Rutan was tasked with designing a cabin twin aircraft that could alternatively be powered by piston, turboprop or turbofan engines. The resulting three-surface configuration aircraft was the model 143 Triumph. Construction started on two airframes, but only one was completed, powered by two Williams FJ44 turbofan engines. After being flight tested, the aircraft was retired and is now on display in the Plant 42 Heritage Air Park in Palmdale, Californiamarker.


California Microwave contracted Scaled to develop a slightly scaled up Long EZ for use as an optionally piloted UAV. The resulting aircraft was the model 144 CM-44. The aircraft, powered by a Lycoming O-360 was flight-tested and delivered to the customer.


After discussions with DARPA, Scaled began design of a single-seat turbofan ground attack aircraft. The canard-configured aircraft was the model 151 ARES. the aircraft was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney JT15D turbofan, offset to port, with a 30 mm cannon, offset to starboard. The aircraft was flown, tested and then stored for a number of years; in 2008 it was reactivated as a flight test vehicle.

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.


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".


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 Its first flights were in 1998. It holds several altitude records, set in 2000.


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.

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 Spaceportmarker on July 26, 2007 killed three engineers and seriously injured three others. They were testing components for SpaceShipTwo, but Scaled Composites remained dedicated to perfecting the design of SpaceShipTwo.

Richard Branson, on July 28, 2008, unveiled Scaled Composites White Knight Two "Eve," at the Mojave Spaceportmarker. Flight tests were set to begin in September 2008. 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.

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.

White Knight Two Flight Test Summaries

The following list includes summaries of the flight test activity of the White Knight Two (WK2) aircraft. White Knight Two is the mothership/ launch aircraft for SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and potentially other large payloads. It is equipped with many common system components to SS2 (cabin, ECS, speed-brake actuators, avionics, trim servos, air data, test data, video & TM). Thus, the flight test program of WK2 includes many tests that focus on SS2 systems qualification and maturity.

Flight: 05Date: 20 May 9Flight Time: Aprox. 3 hoursPilot: SieboldCopilot: NicholsFTE: NoneObjectives:Aft center of gravity handling qualities evaluation. Initial evaluation of pressurization and environmental control systems (ECS).Results:All objectives completed. Pressurization and ECS worked as designed. Airspeed increased to 188 KTAS. Max altitude 20,000 ft. After landing, conducted an emergency response drill, including both Scaled and Mojave Air and Space Port resources.

Flight: 06Date: 2 June 9Flight Time: 3.1 hoursPilot: SieboldCopilot: NicholsFTE: NoneObjectives:Weight expansion at mid cg. Further pressurization/ECS functionality checks to 35,000 ft. Gear-down speed envelope expansion.Results:All objectives completed. Pressurization and ECS worked as designed. Speed envelope expanded to 250 KTAS with the gear down. Peak altitude increased to 35,000 ft. Starship was onboard for video and safety chase. Two low approaches were followed by a full stop landing.

Flight: 07Date: 8 June 9Flight Time: 6.1 hoursPilot: SieboldCopilot: AlsburyFTE: NoneObjectives:Weight expansion at mid cg. Further pressurization/ECS functionality checks to 45,000 ft. Speed envelope expansion. G envelope expansion. Airborne engine relightsResults:All objectives completed. Pressurization and ECS worked as designed. Speed envelope expanded with the gear up and down to 340 KTAS. Peak altitude increased to 45,000 ft. Wind-up turns were performed to 2.5g's. Engines were shut down and restarted per plan.

Flight: 08Date: 11 June 9Flight Time: 1 hourPilot: SieboldCopilot: NicholsFTE: NoneObjectives:FAA Monitored flight for pilot "Type Rating"Results:Rating Issued

Flight: 09Date: 15 June 9Flight Time: 7.5 hoursPilot: SieboldCopilot: StuckyFTE: NoneObjectives:Weight expansion at mid cg. Further pressurization/ECS functionality checks to 51,000 ft. Speed envelope expansion. Airborne engine relights.Results:All objectives completed. Pressurization and ECS worked as designed. Speed envelope expanded with the gear up to 370 KTAS. Peak altitudes increased to 52,400 ft. Performance, stability and handling evaluation performed at altitude. Engines were shut down and restarted per plan. Practiced instrument approaches.


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 Fossettmarker 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". 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 before being flown to the NASM Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker. Global Flyer is the sixth vehicle designed by Burt Rutan in the NASM collection.

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.[50400] 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.[50401]
"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 merits are 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. 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".[50402]


(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 Worksmarker" 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 Famemarker (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. List of records established by the 'Rutan VariEze'. Accessed 5 January 2006.
  2. Winglets by Gail S. Langevin of NASA. Accessed 5 January 2006.
  3. entry
  4. CAFE Foundation
  5. Boomerang!. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  6. FAI world aviation records database, accessed August 30, 2008
  7. SpaceShipOne Joins the Icons of Flight on Display at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  8., Branson unveils space tourism jet
  9., Virgin Galactic rolls out SpaceShipTwo's 'mothership'
  10. List of records established by the 'Scaled Composites M311'. Accessed January 5, 2006.
  11. 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.

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