Burt Rutan, a master of aerospace design and development
Mira Oberman Agence France Presse/Austin, Texas
Burt Rutan has been quietly wowing aviation enthusiasts for decades.
But now, for the second time in less than six months, one of Rutan's designs will be thrust into the public spotlight.
Last week, Rutan's model 311 circumnavigated the globe without stopping, without refueling and with a single pilot at the controls.
The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer succeeds became the first plane to do so with a solo pilot.
Rutan is no stranger to record-breaking designs.
In October, his SpaceShipOne won the 10 million dollar "X Prize" for sending a privately-designed craft into space twice in two weeks.
Rutan also designed the Voyager, which was used by his brother Dick Rutan and Jeanne Yeager in 1986 to set a record of nine days for a non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world.
Rutan expects his latest model to make it in less than 80 hours.
Born in Oregon, Rutan spent much of his childhood in the central California town of Dinuba. He developed an early fascination with airplanes, gaining his pilot's license by the time he was 16 and winning numerous awards for his model airplane designs.
Rutan began working for the U.S. Air Force shortly after he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from California Polytechnic University in 1965.
After spending nearly a decade as a test pilot and Air Force engineer, Rutan moved to the Mojave desert where he began designing light airplanes that hobbyists could build at home. His avant-garde designs became popular due to their novel use of light-weight composite materials and the relative ease with which they could be built and flown.
These designs led to the development of the Voyager, a craft so light and so powerful it was able to travel 24,986 miles (40,210 kilometers) without stopping or refueling.
The Voyager currently hangs in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The Rutan brothers were presented with the Presidential Citizen's Medal by then-president Ronald Reagan. They also won the Collier Trophy, aviation's most prestigious award.
Rutan spent much of the 1980s and 1990s developing research aircraft for the Pentagon, the US space agency NASA and the private sector.
Since its founding in 1982, his company Scaled Composites has been the world's most productive aerospace prototype development company. It has built three NASA X-38 crew return vehicle structures, developed the full-scale flying prototype for the VisionAire Vantage business jet, and developed the Williams, International V-Jet II, among others.
Rutan began developing a design for a rocket-powered plane that could function as commercial space ship about six years ago. The project took off when Rutan met Microsoft co-founded Paul Allen, who eventually committed US$20 million.
The success of SpaceShipOne led to a commitment by Virgin Atlantic, which is also financing the GlobalFlyer project, to develop commercial space flights by the end of the decade.
Rutan has received a number of awards for his work, including both the Grand Medal and National Medal of the Aero Club of France, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots J.J. Doolittle Award, the Royal Aeronautical Society British Gold Medal for Aeronautics and a number of honorary doctorates. He was invested in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1988.
Rutan is not expected to be at the launch of the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, though he may go to Kansas in time for the landing about 80 hours later.
mo/cl/mk US-aviation-Virgin-GlobalFlyer-Rutan-profile AFP
GetAFP 2.10 -- FEB 27, 2005 08:21:17