Rutan Birthday Bash


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Over 100 canard aircraft were in attendance.  Although the vast majority of the
planes in attendance were Long-Ezs,  several Cozys, and Velocities were present as
well as 2 Defiants, a dozen or two( maybe more) Vari-Ezes, 2 "Evolution EZ",
1 Speed Canard and 4 Dragonflys.

On June 28, 2003,  friends and family of Dick and Burt Rutan hosted a “surprise” birthday party for the famous brothers. Dick was about to turn 65 and Burt turned 60,  so the birthdays were celebrated together.

Word was put out to the canard community,  with over 300 respondents promising to attend, and attend they did!  'The official record for the most Canards in attendance outside the Rutan hangar was broken Saturday',  a stunned Burt Rutan reported to the guests.  In 1988,  82 versions of his various designs (mostly Ezes) participated in a fly-in to Burt’s Mojave California home base.  On Saturday,  the unofficial count was up to 89,  as Burt watched a spankin’ new Vari-Eze taxi by the open hangar door.  A more current count has it at 102 by the time everyone was on the ground,  partaking in the BBQ lunch being served. 

When the cat was let out of the bag,  and Burt was told of the impending “surprise”,  he knew that there would be no way that the 1988 record would be broken.  When Burt arrived at the airport around 10:30am,  he was like a kid in a candy store,  trotting up and down the ramp to check out virtually every plane he could.  He was visibly giddy when speaking with some of the pilots,  and quite frankly a bit miffed at a few of the design changes that he saw and wasn’t too happy with.   He was especially surprised to see 2-3 Vari-Ezes mixed through the sea of Longs,  and kept joking, "Weren't those things grounded in the 80's?" Although I didn't count the number of Vair-Ezes on the ramp,  I have reports that the actual number could be as high as 35.


With OAT at the Mojave Airport reaching in to the low 100’s people were still milling around taking it all in,  as this was one impressive collection of fast glass. 

Burt and Dick were scheduled to speak around 11am,  so there about we gathered in to the HUGE hangar adjacent to Scaled,  as Scaled’s hangar was fully occupied with SpaceShipOne and White Knight.  Even through lunch Burt had his crew working away at preparing  for the next step in his manned space program,  putting people on board SpaceShipOne, and hefting it aloft for more trials.  As of this writing,  SpaceShipOne has been airborne,  coupled to the underside of White Knight,  yet  no one has been on board during any flight.

Burt’s family went all out for this event.  The owners of the borrowed hangar were kind enough to roll out 4-5 of their F-4 Phantom projects to make room for a couple dozen highly decorated tables,  on which there was a helium balloon made up as a hot air balloon, weighed down with a load of popcorn.   For a donation of $5,  we received a laminated color collage of various Rutan photos, which we used as a placemat.  Some of us were also lucky enough to receive a commemorative golf ball.

Once we were seated,  there was a 10 minute or so large screen multi media display, of the boys growing up together.  I wasn’t surprised in the least to see R/C models as a big part of their childhood.  It was really cool to be let in on this part of their lives.  It was actually quite emotional,  visibly displayed by the boys,  but looking around the room,  I could see that many of us were genuinely moved as well.  I felt privileged and honored to be a part of this event..  


Burt's wife Tonya introduced the dynamic duo.  She mentioned that for the first time ever, these two were speechless. If you’ve ever heard Burt or Dick speak,  they are usually not short for words.  But this time,  things were different.  In essence,  they took turns with the microphone,  acknowledging one another’s accomplishments displaying mutual respect and admiration for one another.  They also acknowledged  their parents,  especially their Mother,  for instilling in them the attitude that they can do what ever they set their minds to.  Dick set his goals on becoming a fighter pilot in combat, where as Burt went on to become an aircraft designer in an era where all his peers were going into rocket science. Burt has now come full circle.  Later on in life,  Dick became Burt’s test pilot,  just as they did when they were kids, with Burt designing and building model planes,  and Dick flying and crashing them. Together they conspired to build and fly a plane capable of orbiting the earth without refueling,  and just as their mother taught them they could, they did it!


During the “stand up comic routine” of Burt and Dick,  which started out by Burt telling Dick to move the "O-F-F button (on the microphone) to the O-N position,  Burt began to speak on his manned space program.  He gave a shortened version of what he presented in France recently (at their version of OSH…  which he recommends that we not bother to visit, as it don’t hold a candle to the real deal).  Burt will make this same presentation at the upcoming AirVenture.  Once Burt concluded his verbal presentation, he invited us to visit his hangar next door to take a real close look at SpaceShipOne and the White Knight.  He told us that we could look,  but not bother the crew working on the ships. No photography was allowed.


After the stage show,  we were treated to a bit of  an air show.  One of the crew had built a tissue paper and balsa R/C model of SpaceShipOne, powered by an electric motor.  The model had fully functioning elevons and the tail was able to go in to “full feather”, the high drag, low speed re-entry configuration.   It was very interesting to see it maneuver around at very low speeds,  make very steep turns,  and even roll. Once the tail was tweaked up to the feather position,  if fell like a rock!  I don’t know how much power it would take to make a full scale version to fly around as an experimental aircraft,  but it sure seems like it would make a pretty nice plane.   


Group 2 lined up outside Scaled's hangar door, awaiting
their time to have a look inside.

Since the crowd was so large,  we couldn’t possibility all fit in the hangar at once,  so we split in to 2 groups.  The group I was a part of was allowed to eat first, while the other group went for the tour.  I understand that Burt went along and introduced the planes,  and fielded some questions. 

By the time I was ready to head over to the hangar,  an award was given out for the pilot who flew the furthest.  I heard one person say he flew in from New York,  but he was beaten out by the couple who flew in from Virginia.  It turns out that the person from NY flew in commercial,  where as the couple from VA flew their Long.

Even though I’ve already seen the White Knight and SpaceShipOne back in April, I was still in awe when I entered the hangar to see it's graceful span filling almost the entire room.  SpaceShipOne was parked just aft of the mothership,  undergoing preparations for it's next flight.  The nosecone was removed for access,  and for some reason the windows were taped off.  It was really a privilege to be allowed in to this otherwise "not open to the public" work space.


Click the image for a larger view

After I found my way back to the lunch hangar,  (I was sidetracked by the multitude of awesome planes on the ramp,  and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a photo from the scissor lift provided by Scaled for photo ops) I was in time to help clean up.  Early on we were asked to stick around to assist,  and it was my privilege to pitch in. 

My wife and I made some new friends who had flown in that morning from Baton Rouge LA via Torrance CA and Tucson AZ.  They needed a ride to a nearby motel,  and we were glad to oblige.  While we were at the motel waiting,  we were approached by another fine couple,  who needed a ride back to the airport,  so they could start their trip home to VA.  These were the long distance award winners,  and once again were happy to be of assistance.

All in all it was an excellent event,  and I feel fortunate that I was able to attend.  I’d like to thank Burt’s wife Tonya and all the others who helped put this together, and I really look forward to the day when we get notified that SpaceShipOne is “going for it”!

Updated July 3, 2003

 Patrick Panzera

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