The 2012 National Air and Space Museum Trophy in the category of lifetime achievement was awarded to prolific air- and spacecraft designer Burt Rutan. The Museum currently has five of Rutan’s historic designs, including SpaceShipOne (the first private manned spacecraft), Voyager (the first aircraft to fly around the world without refueling), and a VariEze, a composite homebuilt that was later modified into the Long-EZ (two of which were flown around the world in 1997).
On the occasion of his receiving the trophy, which will be presented in Washington, D.C., on March 21, Air & Space Senior Associate Editor Perry Turner asked Rutan a few questions about his work.
Air & Space: Most of your aircraft are one of a kind. Of those, which would you have most liked to have gone into production, and why?
Rutan: The Boomerang. Its advantages, over current production twins, are extreme for both performance and safety.
Did you have a personal experience that inspired you to design that airplane for safe operating after the loss of an engine? Why was that engine-loss scenario on your mind?
Self-preservation. I built it for myself—my personal airplane.
Tell me about your interest in electric power for airplanes. What inspired you to create BiPod roadable aircraft? Do you have any plans to make any other hybrids or other forms of electrically powered airplanes?
Two things inspired me to develop BiPod:
1. A new configuration, which promised more airplane-like flight performance, since all the new flying cars are really bad airplanes, which barely fly and cannot fly over the Rocky Mountains. I do not think a flying car is practical, unless it has a satisfactory level of speed, climb, takeoff distance, and range in the air.
2. I was fascinated with the concept of having multiple electric motors to drive individual propellers, which would make a truly roadable bipod "car" have short takeoff distance and excellent redundancy.
However, I think electric airplanes will not be practical until there is a three- to four-time improvement in battery energy storage per pound, with a battery pack that is affordable. When that happens, then there will be many new electric and hybrid airplanes.