Rutan Dreams Of Electric Flight


Burt Rutan, in one of the seven talks he will be giving during EAA AirVenture this week, addressed the World Electric Symposium at the EAA museum on Friday, and said the “most impressive thing I have ever seen anywhere in aerospace” was a remotely controlled, dynamically soaring glider that he watched fly from the top of a mountain. He went on to talk about the electric aviation advances he would most like to see. First would be a self-launching sailplane. He also described an electric backup propulsion system that would consist of two pods that could be snapped on to the wings of an airplane and provide just enough power for an approach or a go-around, in the event the main engine fails. It could also boost power for high-density-altitude takeoffs. Such a device could save a lot of lives, Rutan said. But he added that the prospect he is most excited about is an idea inspired by remote-control model aircraft.

“I’ve been coming here since 1971, and the airshow hasn’t changed that much,” he said. “But go watch these guys who are flying RC 3-D maneuvers.” Rutan referred several times to YouTube videos that show RC aircraft doing amazing things, such as flying onto a wall and sticking there, or diving straight toward the ground and stopping abruptly. He said he’d like to see an aerobatic aircraft with four propellers, which would give the pilot full control even at zero airspeed. Rutan said he’d also like to see indoor pylon racing with unpowered RC aircraft. “That’s a new sport that I just invented, and I’ve challenged the guys at Scaled to do it,” he said. The ultimate aim of his talk, he said, was “to inspire you to try new stuff.”