Dick Rutan Recalls Voyager’s 1986 Circumnavigation


Twenty seven years after the fact, Dick Rutan says he’s somewhat astonished that he and Jeana Yeager made it around the world in the Burt Rutan-designed Voyager, given the rudimentary avionics of the day and the fact that the airplane had so little surplus load factor that moderate turbulence would have torn it apart. As the keynote speaker at the 56th Aircraft Electronics Association Convention opening in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Rutan flashed a photo of his panel that was then state-of-the-art but which now features some boxes long since faded from the market.

Rutan recalled a number of knock-down arguments with brother Burt, not the least of which was his decision to install radar, a now-vintage Narco KWX56. But Rutan said he’d flown the equator and realized he and Yeager would never survive it without radar. “If I knew it was going to be that dangerous and take that long, I’d never have gotten on the train in the first place,” Rutan told the crowd. He also singled out a then little-known engineer from King Radio named Carl Wolf as being instrumental in the flight’s success. Wolf went on to become Garmin’s VP for aviation sales. Rutan has followed the development of avionics since his historic flight and says the airplane could be made lighter and better three decades after the fact.

In this podcast with AVweb from the AEA show, Rutan recalls the challenges of his historic flight.