PIA BERGQVIST – Burt Rutan has started testing his latest airplane design, the SkiGull, an amphibious design he says will be his last. This week, the legendary airplane designer took the airplane to Hayden Lake for some early water testing. The fuselage was launched into the water before the wings were attached and Rutan briefed test pilot Glenn Smith on what water-taxi maneuvers to perform.
Rutan then observed the test from a boat. The testing showed that the SkiGull’s design needed some tweaking, as the pitch angles at low speeds were not ideal. Rutan says he will now make modifications to improve the pitch angles and divulged that seaplane designs are “more difficult to perfect than airplane designs.”
The SkiGull is designed with a retractable, flexible ski system, which provides five times the shock absorption deflection of a typical landplane allowing the airplane to operate in rough water, even beach waves, Rutan said. The system will be pneumatically deployed during water takeoffs at 18 knots and deactivated at 12 knots during landing.
Rutan said the amphibious airplane will likely rarely go to an airport since it uses car and boat fuel and can be stored in a single garage. It is designed to resist corrosion, even in saltwater, and will have a docking system using two 12 hp electric motors driving a folding propeller. In addition to providing the capability of maneuvering the airplane on the water, including rotating and backing up, the docking system will be capable of flying the airplane about 8 miles in case the Rotax engine fails. Rutan also claims the unique airplane design will be capable of loitering for 35 hours at about 15 percent power without any noise footprint as long as the airplane stays above 500 feet.
Rutan said the SkiGull will be his last design and, having spent more of his life developing new airplanes than flying them, he wants to fly this one around the world with his wife Tonya.