Design by Rutan
A retrospective of Burt Rutan's high-performance art.
- By The Editors
- Photographs by Jim Sugar
- Air & Space magazine, January 2012
(Page 2 of 5)
Ah, the serenity that comes with two engines: Lose one, and the other can keep you in the air. But most twins have an engine hung on each wing; if one shuts down, the pilot has to deal with a violent yaw. Rutan designed the Defiant with one engine at the rear to push, the other at the nose to pull. He built the four-place, 1,300-mile-range airplane for himself and decided later to sell plans. Very few were built; one was recently offered on the Internet for $85,000. (In 1984, plans sold for $490, and the cost of construction was estimated at $40,000.)
Rutan’s best-selling homebuilt, the Long-EZ is a pumped-up VariEze with a range of 2,000 miles. Dick Rutan and test pilot Mike Melvill flew two around the world in 1997 (the year that John Denver crashed his and died). In 2001, XCOR Aerospace replaced the pusher engine with a rocket, and seven years later, former NASA astronaut Rick Searfoss flew a demonstration of the EZ-Rocket at EAA’s AirVenture fly-in to promote a league for rocket racing, which never caught on.
After the Quickie Aircraft Corporation, Rutan’s next customer was NASA. The agency wanted to experiment with an oblique wing, which, according to the late, ingenious Robert T. Jones, an engineer at the agency’s Ames Research Center in California, would experience less drag at transonic and supersonic speeds. At low speeds, the wing was perpendicular to the fuselage; as the airplane gained speed, the wing pivoted up to 60 degrees. Research pilots at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, California, flew the AD-1 (named for Ames-Dryden) 79 times.
9. AMS/OIL Biplane Racer
Rutan designed the race plane to compete in the biplane class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. In 1982, the customer, Danny Mortensen, set a speed record of 235 mph in the airplane, which shared characteristics with the Quickie but was larger and 150 mph faster. In 1983, Mortensen crashed it during a race while flying at 200 mph. The aircraft was lost, but the pilot walked away.
10. Next Generation Trainer
In 1981, to get flight test data to support its proposal to the Air Force to provide a light jet trainer, Fairchild Republic hired the Rutan Aircraft Factory to design a 62 percent scale version of what would become Fairchild’s H-tail T-46 Eaglet. Rutan designed the model, procured two small jet engines (from Ames Industrial Corporation, which had built the same engine for the BD-5J microjet), and conducted an eight-week flight test program. Fairchild won the contract, but after only three were built, the program was cancelled.
The Griz failed as a bushplane; its low wing made it unsuitable for landing anywhere but paved runways. It succeeded, however, as a research project to test the performance of high-lift flaps on tandem wings and techniques for composite construction. Both Grizzly wings used the VariEze’s styrofoam-with-fiberglass-skin construction, but the booms’ skins were PVC core with fiberglass facings. The large wing area and flaps gave the Grizzly the capability for short takeoffs and landings. In a way, the Grizzly anticipated the Voyager round-the-world aircraft: In both, the booms that functioned as torsional braces between canard and wings doubled as fuel tanks.
In 1982, Rutan’s canard (of course) sailplane with a glide ratio of 32 to 1 and a retractable engine won the 1982 Soaring Society of America self-propelled sailplane competition, as well as a society award for outstanding design.
Designed for Colin Chapman, the founder of the British sports car company Lotus, the 300-pound Microlight had side-by-side seating for two and a 25-hp engine. Chapman died the day before the prototype flew, and Lotus eventually discontinued development.
One of the first projects undertaken by Scaled Composites was an 85 percent scale model of what would become the Beech eight-passenger, twin- turboprop Starship with a variable-sweep canard (see “Beached Starship,” Aug./Sept. 2004). Though aviation journalists loved it—“the most exciting aircraft to emerge from the Beech stable,” crowed the British magazine Flight International in 1986—Beech sold only 11.