Born in Dinuba
on June 17, 1943, Elbert L. (Burt) Rutan is an aviation
, and designer who learned to fly at the age of 16. Rutan's Awards include the Chrysler Award
for Innovation in Design, "Engineer of the Year" by Design News
, the British Gold Medal for Aeronautics
, the Collier Trophy
and the Presidential Citizen's Medal
. He entered the International Aerospace Hall of Fame
Burt obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic University in 1965, and worked for the US Air Force as a civilian flight test engineer until 1974, when he formed his first private company, the Rutan Aircraft Factory. The company provided him a vehicle to commercialize his radical designs, and he sold revolutionary light aircraft such as the VariEze, Quickie, and Long-EZ to hobbyists and serious pilots everywhere. The aircraft were distinguished by their wing-forward canard designs build with composite materials, concepts that flew in the face of traditional aviation paradigms of the time.
In 1982, Rutan founded Scaled Composites, Inc. and developed prototypes of seven aircraft including the Beech Starship, which due to shortsighted management and development errors on the part of Beechcraft, failed to achieve commercial success. This setback did not stop him, and in December of 1986, his Voyager aircraft left and returned to its starting point at Mojave, California, completing a 25,000-mile flight in 216 hours. It was a non-stop and unrefueled around-the-world flight, the first in history.
On October 25 and 27, 2000, his company Scaled Composites set three unofficial (pending ratification by NAA/FAI) world altitude records with the Model 281 Proteus aircraft. The three records were peak altitude (62,786 feet), sustained altitude in horizontal flight (61,919 feet), and peak altitude (of 55,878 feet) with a 1000-kg payload. It was this aircraft that set the stage for his effort to win the X-prize, a spaceplane system that was under secret development for two years. The effort uses a carrier aircraft called the White Knight, based upon the Proteus, carrying a small suborbital vehicle called the SpaceShipOne. Many believe that Rutan is a serious contender for the prize, as Scaled Composites has completed 34 manned research aircraft, and none were announced until they were ready to fly. The system is designed to get to 100 kilometers (about 62 miles up.) This altitude was established by the X-Prize foundation, and $10 million will be awarded to the first team to make it before the end of 2004.
Update December 17, 2003
The SS1 has broken the speed of sound in its second powered test flight. It is the first time in history a privately created aircraft (or in this case, spacecraft) has travelled faster than sound.
Update May 17, 2004
The SS1 broke Mach 2 and reached an altitude of 40 miles. This is the highest and fastest a privately developed and built vehicle has ever travelled.
Update June 21, 2004
THEY DID IT!
Michael Melvill successfully piloted the SpaceShipOne to a suborbital trajectory reaching over 100 kilometers (62 miles) high. He is the first private astronaut in recorded human history.
The Scaled Composites site is www.scaled.com