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The Ex-Files: Burt Rutan’s Experimental Aircraft Soar Over Oshkosh

In July 1987, eight months after it became the first plane to fly nonstop around the world, the Voyager made one last landing on its way to the Smithsonian at the EAA AirVentures fly-in in Oshkosh, Wis., the world’s largest gathering of aviation enthusiasts.

The plane was designed by Burt Rutan and piloted by his brother Dick and Jeana Yeager. The Voyager fly-in was just one of many great moments at Oshkosh engineered by Rutan, who is rightfully known as the godfather of the experimental and homebuilt aircraft movement.

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Above: Burt Rutan’s Boomerang. Top three images: The Beech Starship. All image credits: Adam Senatori/GE Reports

Rutan has brought to Oshkosh designs for homebuilt planes like VariViggen and VariEze, as well as the unconventional composite corporate jet Beech Starship, and other flying gems like the Boomerang and Catbird.

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Rutan’s CozyJet Mk3 plane uses the same T-58 jet engine made by GE – it was developed for civilian helicopters – that Carroll Shelby used in a turbine car that raced in a 1968 Indy 500 race.

To commemorate Rutan’s design genius, the organizers created the Rutan Legacy Day here at Oshkosh on Tuesday, and filled a chunk of the afternoon flyover show with his planes. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to present his latest design, the SkiGull. We will bring it to you tomorrow.

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This year is the 40th anniversary of Burt Rutan’s  iconic VariEze plane (above). “That plane ignited the home-built aircraft movement,” says GE Aviation executive Brad Mottier. “It gave high performance on little horsepower. Following that, Burt arrived with kits for people to build, and the next year they flew in with those planes.”

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Burt Rutan’s Speedy.

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The Catbird set several world records in its class. On April 19, 2014, pilot Zach Reeder maintained average speed of 211.27 mph over a 5,000-kilometer (3,106 miles) closed course.

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The Boomerang on the ground.

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Rutan also designed the Williams  V-Jet II.

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