Burt Rutan

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The dictionary defines "visionary" as "one who indulges in fanciful theories," and while Burt Rutan certainly does that, he also turns those theories into flying machines. From canards to composites, his theories have changed the way airplanes look and function. He shares theories, memories, visions and a bit of philosophy in this month's Profile.

Burt RutanElbert Rutan was born in Dinuba, Calif., in June 1943. After receiving a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Cal Poly, he worked for the U. S. Air Force as a Flight Test Project Engineer at Edwards AFB, Calif., until 1972. After two years designing and developing the Bede BD-J5 he formed RAF, the Rutan Aircraft Factory. For the next 10 years, he shaped the landscape of homebuilt aircraft with the VariViggen, VariEze, Quickie, Defiant, Long-EZ, Grizzly, Solitaire and Catbird. The crowning achievement of RAF was the 1986 Voyager around-the-world flight piloted by Burt's brother Dick.

In 1982, Burt founded Scaled Composites to develop research aircraft. Currently, about 100 employees occupy three buildings on the flight line at the Mojave airport, a few miles from Edwards. The atmosphere at Scaled is part think tank, part welding shop, and both the brainpower and the tools to use it are plentiful. The latest Scaled project is the Proteus, named for the Greek god who could change shape to take on any form. The Proteus' configuration  can be changed for a variety of reconnaissance and telecommunications missions but perhaps its most intruiging configuration is as a kind of lifting body for suborbital space tourism.

Right now, Burt's not adding to his 3,000 flight hours. His latest passion is golf, which he began playing again after a heart attack in April 1998. We talked in the conference room at Scaled about test pilots, the homebuilt designs, the John Denver crash, and his vision of our future air transportation system.


Who taught you to fly?

Johnny Banks was a country-western DJ on the local radio station in Dinuba. His daughter was the first Miss Teenage America. A really phenomenal guy, and he taught me to fly. I paid him $2.50 an hour and the airplane was $4.50 an hour, the Aeronca Champ in the 1958-59 time period. I soloed after having logged five hours and forty-four minutes. We didn't have radios then and had to hand-prop, so there wasn't a lot to learn.

And have you ever taught anyone to fly?

I never taught anyone to fly and never had any ambition to. I've thought about going back to the college where I graduated, Cal Poly in '65, after I retire. I enjoy talking about design, about engineering and flight testing to college-type students. I never had any desire to be a teacher, though, like a high school teacher or a CFI. I don't think I'd be very good at that. I don't have the patience or the desire.

What were the Rutan brothers like growing up?


Pulling G's

My brother and I weren't that competitive because we were five years apart. We weren't playing with the same toys because we weren't the same age and while I was into the model airplanes, he was already grown and wanted to be a pilot. I didn't have any desire to be a dentist, like my dad was, and I was playing with toy airplanes and it just happened. Our parents didn't tell us what to do and didn't ever discourage us from doing this weird stuff, which was probably the reason they didn't ever try to talk me into being a dentist.

What does it take to be a great test pilot?

Someone who's courageous enough to go out and fly the card. Someone who has the courage to go out and do the mission but is smart enough to not do something that'll get him killed. It's hard to define that, but you can look around for the ones that survived and say that those were the great pilots.

For example, there may have been a lot of pilots who were braver and more courageous and better than Bob Hoover but they didn't make it through the war, so you can argue they were more courageous but you can't argue that they were as great as pilots because they were not as smart as Hoover was.

How about a good test pilot story?

I used to think that that was a fun, enjoyable, neat thing to do ... to go up and monitor the instrumentation and be a crewmember in the back seat of an F-4 for stability tests. I was in a flat spin in the F-4 and didn't have an accident, probably the only time that's happened. The next flight, which was another spin test — I wasn't in it — the airplane did crash, but the spin recovery system worked for mine. The airplane wasn't very stable and I'd come back white as a sheet, feeling awful the rest of the day, taxi off the mid taxiway at Edwards and open the canopy and heave this plastic bag full of vomit far enough away so that the intake wouldn't suck it into the engine and cause maintenance to be mad at you forever because when that happens, if you throw the bag overboard and it gets sucked in the engine, the airplane will smell forever inside.


Flying the card at Edwards AFB

I'll tell you another one I shouldn't. One of the tests was particularly tough. After doing a series of really kind of harsh maneuvers and sending my stomach contents to a plastic bag, I folded over the top of the bag, lapped it under the strap on my G-suit, and held it down tightly with my hand so my right hand was available to turn on the instrumentation and to make the notes in the log. And then we went into doublets at very high Q, so you're out there at above 700 knots, making the airplane go through some serious ups and downs and damping out, and I still have this picture in my mind of this bag of vomit — kabam, bam, bam — pounding against the side of my G-suit and the G-suit isn't perfectly smooth, you know, it has some rough edges, and this bag splitting open. Well, at least then I didn't have to hold it for the rest of the flight.

That's the good news...

But the bad news is when I throw it overboard there's nothing in it and so I get back to the hangar with this on one of the coldest, windiest days in winter, and I had to move the ejection seat to its highest position, and with a freezing cold wind blowing like hell I had to get under there with nothing but 50 different towels and try to get all of this from back underneath the cockpit of the airplane. That wasn't one of the more pleasant experiences.

Let's leave that subject. At Oshkosh you and Bruce Holmes of NASA gave us a vision of "Life After Airliners." How do you view the transportation system of the future?

Well, we're using the roads like we should, for individual freedoms, to go when you want to go, go as fast as you can go and go direct. Let's say you want to go to Sacramento. You drive a car. You don't take a bus to Sacramento. If you took a bus you'd have to go to San Francisco and stay in a bus terminal until the bus goes to Sacramento and you're going out of your way, you're taking longer, but what I've just described is airliners. Now why do we have most of our travel in Greyhound buses of the air but hardly anybody takes a bus on the ground? The reason is we would have had the same ratios of travel of these different modes if we didn't have a technology problem. It was too damn dangerous and difficult for a guy to shoot an approach to minimums on a back-course ILS at night in the rain with a kid crying in the back seat. It just flat was too dangerous. However, several technologies are coming in now and when we put them all together that danger is going to be a bogus excuse.

We're going to have a reliable, quiet, affordable engine soon — within the next five or ten years. We're going to have wonderful, intuitive collision avoidance, and we're going to have navigation that's proper and easy to figure out, just like we have in our cars now. If you drive a new Cadillac or a new Lexus, you have this wonderful self-programming thing. You push home and if you don't follow the instructions — which is hard not to do because they talk you right through it — it figures out a new flight plan and talks you through that. You don't push buttons or you don't look up a Jepp chart or move a knob. It's not just a moving map: It's an integrated thing that lets you keep your eyes pointed outside and it figures everything out — it's really nice. Imagine that for navigation.

You have it also interplay with collision avoidance to advise you around other airplanes and to take over if you're not paying attention so you won't run into 'em. Synthetic vision will let us see through the clouds and we can do that with radar. You put all these technologies together and you can argue that, hey, this problem is solved now, or at least it's solvable.

It's not solved because we still have this real shitty means of air traffic control which, by itself, limits the amount of folk it'll fit in a certain airspace. The idea is once you put all that together you can talk about essentially replacing the airlines, tripling the amount of airports and your average door-to-door trip domestically will be roughly half or maybe even a third of what it is now. You couldn't take 20 percent off the door-to-door average trip in the U.S. by having supersonic airliners. But if you have a 300-knot private airplane where you travel where you want to and land where you want to, now you can go at about one-third the average trip domestically, and you go when you want to and if you want to change your mind, you change it and go somewhere else.

This is coming because technology will allow it to now and I'm predicting that in about seven or eight years we'll know that it's on the way, and about 10 or 12 years it's going to be strongly maturing and it'll be here in 12 or 14 years, and when I say "it," this is big, this is really big. This is a new transportation system entirely. There used to be a time in this country when to get elected to Congress you had to support government funding of building roads, and I think that there will be a time within the next 15 years that in order to get elected to Congress you had to promise that you would support government support of the infrastructure that's needed for this new transportation system, so this is big.


The Voyager

How will the airplanes change as this new system evolves?

When we get airplanes that have attitude controls or rate control, then they're going to be real easy to fly. Let go of the stick and the airplane is straight-and-level. If you push it a pound to the left and move it to the left, then you stay in a left bank. You let go and it goes straight-and-level. You know, this is something we can do now. It's not hard to fly. It doesn't take long to learn to drive a car and start it and to keep on your side of the road and you don't have to hand crank it like you used to, right? And it's pretty easy to learn that, but flying in the clouds in the system is so difficult and so dangerous, that it's put this artificial limit on the new transportation system. In the future, pilots won't have the same problems that they have now, as it relates to what they can do that can provide an unsafe trip. That will be solved by technology.

And the average guy can expect to participate?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. A lot of the costs of aviation are totally bogus and artificial now. I have worked as a director of a large, unnamed, general aviation manufacturer and I can tell you that a lot of the things that are horribly expensive in general aviation have absolutely nothing to do with what those costs ought to be in a competitive environment. (Pauses). I'm going to make sure I don't say the wrong thing. They're not driven by competition. I think those that will be building the new airplanes 12 to 15 years from now will probably not be the ones building general aviation airplanes now.

For the same reason that we don't have Santa Fe as an airline. For the same reason that 20 years ago you'd never heard of Microsoft or Apple or Amazon.com. This is going to be a real competition and you've gotta make something cheap or you lose. Now I'm not ruling out that the new transportation system will have what amounts to motor pool airplanes and the reason for motor pool, which means that you don't necessarily own the airplane that you fly. And this isn't like four of us get together and get a Bonanza which means that if one of us is flying, then we're all out of luck.

Motor pool means that maybe each community will have an airport. Now the airport may not be big, like what we know as an airport now. Think of an airport for the V-jet for example. You need a 2,500-foot runway, and you accelerate real slowly and you decelerate real slowly, considerably slower than you can accelerate in your sports car, and yet we're defining the real estate you need for the airport based on that, aren't we? Now if you land on a runway that is curved so that you pull about three Gs, just your wheel brakes will give you two-something-G deceleration, and you can build an airport in a 300-foot area instead of 3,000-foot area. I'm just throwing that out as a possible solution, but here's the thing: My vision that may occur here on this is that you won't use a car to take an airplane trip somewhere. You leave your house, you walk down there and you get in your air vehicle and it may not be yours. It's just that, hey, they're all the same, they're all real easy to fly, and you need an airport and a bunch of airplanes in every community, let's say, not every city, but every city block, maybe. And now you get lunch and you go 300 knots to where you want to go and you get decelerated also in a real small area. You don't need to hover to do this. Hovering is really bad for congestion, too. Imagine a bunch of helicopters trying to hover and spend time. You need to come in — you need to come in at 60 knots — and then decelerate in four or five seconds. That's what you really need to do. Otherwise, you have congestion. So visualize, instead of 18,000 airports, if we have, say, 50,000 or 100,000 of these little launch and recovery areas; let's say 100,000. So anywhere you want to go then is just a nice short walk to an area where you can get in a personal airplane where you can direct where it goes and it'll take care of you as far as running into anybody.


The VisionAire Vantage

How many copies of each of your designs are flying?

There were five homebuilts that RAF (Rutan Aircraft Factory) sold plans on — VariViggen, VariEze, Long-EZ, Defiant, and Solitaire. Um, there were about 100 sets of plans on the Defiant sold, maybe 20 airplanes out of those.

Eighty people didn't build them?

Well, 10 percent's a good finish rate on any homebuilt that's built from plans, and Defiant probably is around 20 percent, so it's twice the normal. The Solitaire was a real failure in the marketplace. It was kitted; it wasn't just plans — you had to buy the completed fuselage in molds — and I don't think there were 20 of them ever even started and only three or four flying. Long-EZ was the biggest one in terms of numbers and the plans were sold by the thousands. The problem is you can't track 'em because they're not called Long-EZs. My best guess is that VariEze and Long-EZ combined were somewhere around 1600 to 1800. You'll see as many as a 120 of those at Oshkosh in one year. VariViggen was small numbers also. I would say there're less than 35 VariViggens have ever flown and it was such a lousy airplane (chuckles) we started discouraging it, actually, starting about 1977. I mean, if you take a VariViggen and a Long-EZ, both carrying two people and baggage, both at the same speed — let's say the maximum speed of each — the Long-EZ burns less than half the fuel flow and it's got four times the range. The airplanes have no comparison in terms of utility. VariViggen was a lot of fun. It was like a fighter to fly, but to go somewhere in it — it's an awful airplane.

Who comes up with these interesting names?

Defiant was a contest in the newsletter. I thought, what a great name ... DEFIANT! Anyway, this guy won and then I saw him later at Oshkosh and he says, 'You know how I named your airplane? I was up in a cabin on a cold winter night and I had my feet up by the stove and the manufacturer was Defiant,' so Defiant was named after a wood stove and I never knew it.

I was enamored by the Swedish Viggen fighter and the VariViggen had this reflex control, front-to-back. I was going to call it MiniValkyrie at one time — name it after the B-70 — but a person I worked with at Edwards suggested VariViggen and it stuck.

Then along came the this high-efficiency, all-composite design, which was making the point that instead of taking four years to do, you can do it in four months, at least we did it in three-and-a-half months instead of four years, so the thing was very easy to build. I had mentioned that to my sister as one of its qualities and she suggested, 'Call it the Very Easy.' So we spelled differently and that's my sister's suggestion on that.

I wanted the Long-EZ to be related to the EZ. I wanted to get away from this VariEze name but EZ kind of struck better in describing the real long range of the airplane because the Long-EZ, to this day, is phenomenal from that standpoint. You can fill up a standard Long-EZ and go up and fly for 24 hours. Anybody. Standard Long-EZ. Fill it up with gas and fly it just above its minimum speed, trim it out there, and lean it out real good and you'll fly for 24 hours. Try it! I said that to my brother on the Defiant. I told him, 'This airplane will fly more than 12 hours,' and he went up and he flew it for 15.3 hours. A Long-EZ you can fill up and go 2,000 miles if you slow down.

The Pond Racer and Beech Starship projects didn't turn out as planned. Can you share some lessons learned?

The Pond Racer was something that a person who had a mission wanted a solution to. His mission was to stop all these guys from destroying a Mustang every year and 12 engines every year at Reno and he wanted new technology in the racers so that it would take over and replace this environment that was destroying war birds. By that standard the project was a failure. You go up to Reno today and they're all warbirds, so his mission and the Pond Racer solution to that failed. One of the reasons that it failed is the airplane never really flew with its propulsion system putting out the power. We didn't crack the nut on providing that 2,000 horsepower propulsion. Now if he did and that airplane ended up beating the warbird — which it could have if it had had the propulsion working up to the original plan — then, because of competition, there would have been a lot of new technology engines and new airframes and today, as early as today, I think you would have seen half or the majority of the Reno racers would be not destroying WWII equipment. But the problem is it failed because it didn't win.

Starship. Yeah. I'm going to skip that one because that's a phenomenal story to tell and it'll be in the book that I plan to write. Let me just say that some of the things that are wonderful things for the autobiography may offend current customers — people that we do business with, and I'm not going to tell that story until I retire — but I am going to tell the inside story. It's fascinating and it's never been told.

Give us a sample of an idea that you scrapped before it was finished.

We built a prototype rocket, two-stage rocket that was supposed to fly for a company who was not yet mature on rocket design and we build things pretty fast around here but by the time we finished building it, they had discovered that their concept was wrong and that their rocket didn't look anything like what we were building and they came to us and we agreed there's no benefit in flying this.

How about something in the homebuilt category?

Well, we never kitted the Grizzly. We flew it. It wasn't a good idea because it wasn't a very good bush plane. A bush plane needs to have a high wing, not a low wing, and it can't have the flaps two or three feet off the ground dragging through the bush. For me, it was an experiment to show that I could achieve a high lift coefficient on a tandem-wing airplane and, yeah, it parked so that you had a sleeping bed level in it and whatever. I needed more power and it was pretty early that I understood that I should have gone up and spent more time in Alaska understanding what a bush plane really needs to be. I'd put that in that category.

What do you think happened to John Denver?

I had a very, very revealing experience just a couple weeks ago that really drove this thing home to me. I was not willing to accept that Denver screwed up as a pilot and flew straight into the ocean because a guy who's an aerobatic pilot and a Long-EZ is a nice, easy airplane to fly — he had already flown it three or four times — I wasn't willing to accept that he had screwed up, unless he was out intentionally trying aerobatics at low altitude instead of practicing up high, like you're supposed to. I was willing to accept that but I wasn't willing to accept that he screwed up and hit the water that fast just because of an engine failure. I said once in an interview that he may have run into a pelican or something. It didn't make sense to me.

The airplane had a left-right-off valve that wasn't like the Long-EZ, which is right in front between your legs, like the Tiger, for instance. Denver's airplane had one that was over the left shoulder and past the cushion and halfway down your back, while the control stick is over by your right knee. A guy who sells the ignition systems for homebuilts was racing that airplane down in Florida and he had the engine quit because of fuel starvation. He had to unstrap, pull up out of the altitude, unstrap and turn around to shift the valve and get the engine running again and then strap back up and go back into the race. He still won, actually. It's a fast airplane.

Before Denver took off, a guy helped him with vise grips to turn the valve and, for some reason, he flew it from Santa Maria to Monterey and then did that local flying and then left the pattern without fueling, and he just flat ran it out of gas on one side, tried to shift to the other side, and couldn't do it. He twisted off and torqued off the linkage; the valve is way back in the firewall, leaving it unported, so now it was sucking air. He was sittin' there at low altitude about 500 off the coast and he knew he had a engine failure unless he took care of this problem. And my guess is he wasn't willing to accept that maybe he'd be better off to make a controlled landing in the water and swim ashore. Now the reason I really understood it two weeks ago is I flew Doug Shane's airplane back from a business meeting two weeks ago and I checked in my logbook. I hadn't flown a Long-EZ or a VariEze in about 12 years or longer — I'm still looking for my older logbook — and Doug says, 'Hey why don't you reach around your left side and — I was in the front and Doug was in the back — and switch the fuel valve,' and I was absolutely shocked. First of all, I had to switch hands on the stick, then I had to come not just to my shoulder but I had to come clear around to the middle of my back.

Now a valve that you needed vise grips to turn and a valve that was not marked or made any sense for left-right, in other words, you couldn't say, 'I'm going to move it to the right for the right tank' Totally confusing. He hadn't been checked on it. He probably had never moved it in flight. And while you're trying to do that in a panic because, hey, if you can't get back to the airport you're going to lose your airplane and you're out over the rocks and the water. Trying to do that, I found myself in a serious unusual attitude and I think Denver found himself like that, or maybe even inverted. I think when he finally decided 'I'm not going to be able to turn the valve,' he looked at horizon and tried to pull to the nearest horizon and, and went straight in the water. I'm absolutely convinced — I tell you, you gotta do it to appreciate it. Next time you fly a Long-EZ, try that, and it makes a whole lot more sense to you that that's probably what happened.

Editor's Note: We interviewed Burt a few weeks before the NTSB report on Denver's crash was released.

If you could you share flying with some figure in history, who would it be?

Ooh, that's a good question (pauses). Well, the farther you go back, the more interesting it is. Uh, you know when the Spaniards conquered Mexico and the Mayans were there, one of the reasons that they came in there with just 16 boats and took over the country is they brought horses and those people had never seen horses and they saw a guy riding on a horse and they thought it was one animal. Now can you imagine how freaked out you would be by the advance in technology where you don't have horses and here's a guy galloping up. That's how you take a small group and conquer a nation is, hey, they say, 'That's a god,' so the further back you go in time, if you come up with a Long-EZ or, something that can fly, the more fun that would be (laughs), right?


Agile Responsive Effective Support (ARES)

Like the ARES during the Revolutionary War?

Yeah, or any war. Gee, a figure in history ... You know I'm kind of a modern historian. I'm fascinated by the real history, not the story that you get from those that write history. Because they're the winners, you know, and they have an agenda. But if you go back and see what really happened, there are some absolutely fascinating history just starting from 1939. You don't have to go back thousands of years to get into some stuff that's interesting, so I am a history nut, but I'll have to think about who ... who would you share flying with? Any of the inventors in the last century would have just loved to see an airplane fly.

DaVinci probably would have dug it.

Oh, DaVinci designed it. He just didn't have an engine. (Pauses) Good question. No answer.

Is there another homebuilt design coming?

Oh, yeah. I've got what I think is an absolutely fun thing to do in the homebuilt area, just absolutely so goddamn exciting — gotta do it — and I am getting bored right now, so I'm not sure when but it's coming. I'm doing a little bit more research to see whether or not to delve into that, but I'm excited. It's not what you think. It isn't just a faster Boomerang or something. I mean it's not a conventional airplane.

On a different subject, I am interested in homebuilt spaceships after this transportation system matures, which I think will be about the same run that we had as airliners, about 65 years, that's it, maybe 70 at the most. If we have 60 or 70 years of personal air transportation, then we're going to be doing suborbital lobs for transportation. The neat thing about that, as soon as you have burn-out, immediately, right now, you know for the whole flight whether you're going to have a collision. They look at everybody's velocity vector, there's no wind moving you around, no turbulence, and everybody's at zero Gs and you say, 'Hey, you're going to run into somebody,' so you give a little poof to the side and he says, 'Okay, now you'll miss him,' and you sit there and relax at zero Gs for the whole trip. The best way to do it in terms of having a lot of congestion is to reenter directly over where you're going and fall straight down to your destination because that's how you'd have the least chance of hitting somebody, if they're all doing the same thing.

Tell us about Proteus, your new multipurpose design. Is it a lifting body for space tourism?

Oh, the rocket. Uh, that's actually not a lifting body. I'm not going to tell you many secrets about the rocket but it totally is actually symmetric and doesn't — it doesn't maneuver for re-entry landing — and because of that it's robust and reliable. Anybody who tries to copy the Space Shuttle and then provide low-cost space tourism is crazy because the Space Shuttle's approach is absolutely the most expensive way you can possibly do it. I mean, look at the government. What if the government had done the airplane, peopled it ... EAA-type guys did the airplane, right? It was for a lot it was prizes. Spaceships weren't developed that way, okay? And if we had airplanes developed, the only airplane we'd have now is Air Force One, we wouldn't have any little airplanes, because all we have in space is stations.

One hundred thirty-nine people in 1911 alone — documented fatalities trying to learn how to fly in 1911 alone — so people had a different idea of how important it was in terms of taking risks to go out and fly in the air. And in five years, they had 40,000 pilots in 39 countries. That will never happen while government controls flying.

Who's the best pilot you ever saw?

I flew a lot with the Chuck Yeager of the '60s. Chuck Yeager was from the '40s and '50s, right? But the Chuck Yeager of the '60s was Jerry Gentry. He flew the first-run fighters; he flew the lifting bodies for NASA; he didn't fly X-15, but he would be one out of five guys that you would say the candidate to call him the Chuck Yeager of '60s, and I did several programs with him. He and I still work together; he's our Washington consultant. Back when he was flying the lifting bodies and flying spin programs on the fighter with us in the afternoon, I took him over to Mojave and put him in a Piper Cub and he'd never flown a tail-dragger and I had to take it away from him three times ... or he'd have ground looped. So you say, 'Well, is he the best aviator?' You can argue both sides of that issue.

Mike Melville is a very good stick and rudder guy. He is extraordinarily good, extraordinarily good, and on many occasions, since he and I have known each other, he's made it dramatically obvious to me that I'm not very good compared to him. And the most recent one was the Boomerang's first flight. We did the taxi test together. I thought, 'Hey, this is a complicated airplane and I'm going to be in it, but I want him to fly it,' and we went out and did a stupid thing. As it turned out, it was alright, but we did our first lift-off of runway flights of this really unusual airplane and in gusting 30-knot wind with a lot of crosswind and he just wired it and did real nice takeoffs and landings, and I said, 'Okay, I want to try one myself,' and I was all over the place, and it was then that I realized 'You know, he really is a hell of a lot better than me.' (Laughs)

My brother's a pretty good stick and rudder pilot, too. He taught Mike how to fly formation and a few other stick and rudder skills. There's a judgment factor too, but since they're both still alive you've got to figure they've got pretty good judgment.

The Boomerang
The Boomerang

Who would you like to fly right seat with?

First of all, in the Boomerang, the right seat is the pilot's seat.

See, I'm not thinking outside the box, am I?

You know, I used to go out and fly and give rides every Saturday and I used to go out and fly for fun. I can remember the last time I flew a store-bought airplane for fun and it was a long time ago and I remember I just lifted off and was climbing away in Dan Cooney's airplane, which was a C-172, and I said, 'What in the hell am I doing this for? This isn't fun,' and I pulled off power, landed in remaining runway and packed it in. I flew for fun a lot with things like VariViggen, my first airplane. Some with the VariEze, certainly some with the Grizzly, and even still with the Boomerang, um, but in general, even with Boomerang, I don't fly for fun anymore. I'm not into aerobatics. I think it's because I got airsick doing it in the Air Force airplanes. I'm not the kind of guy who says, 'Wow, a loop was fun, now I want to try an outside loop.' It doesn't interest me so much and I love to watch aerobatic competition but I just can't relate to it, so what I'm getting at is I don't fly for fun. If I look at my logbook, it's always to show somebody the airplane or to go somewhere, and that's it. One thing I like to do is to fly every one of the airplanes at least once, and I kick myself because I had an opportunity to fly the Voyager and Dick was even twisting my arm to get me to come out and fly it when we, when we had this one issue. We were working and I said, 'Listen, I don't have time; I'll do it some other time,' and then I never got back to it. I never flew the Voyager and that's one airplane, uh, it's not the only airplane that I didn't — I didn't fly the Pond Racer, I didn't fly the biplane racer, Martinson's airplane that I designed. I did fly a jet VariViggen which somebody built in France, twin jet, two microturbos on top of each other.

That must have been a speed demon.

No, not really.

Too much weight?

Too much drag. Um, let me think  ... I did fly the Microlight; I did fly the Predator; I flew Vantage; I flew in the V-jet; I flew — I haven't flown Proteus yet but I plan to. I hate to say, 'Hey, I developed that airplane but I didn't fly it,' because I think that you can't design airplanes unless you're a pilot, just like you can't design a machine part unless you can run a lathe, and here at Scaled we don't ask someone to design welding unless he can weld. We don't ask him to design a composite part unless we can say, 'Go out there and lay it up yourself,' and if it's different, they do go out there and lay it up themselves. So, I do consider myself an expert in flying qualities, and the development of flying qualities through flight tests and so on, and the reason is in the first seven years out of college that's all I did, flying qualities flight test. I never did any performance flight test. I was a specialist on flying qualities for about 13 different programs and so I came out of that a recognized expert. When I say 'recognized expert,' I wrote MIL 83-691, which was the Air Force's spec for testing stall and spin in all types of airplanes.

I still think today, even though I don't do a lot of flying, I can get in an airplane and have a good feel for what it needs to improve it and how to do it. I'm not an expert in hardly anything but that, that one thing I would claim.


Jim Sugar has photographed most of Burt Rutan's designs. View more of his work at sightphoto.com.