JOHN YLINEN – What better place than AirVenture for Burt Rutan to unveil his last homebuilt aircraft design (he says), to a standing room audience of Homebuilders.
Unfortunately, because of a small design/construction error, Rutan had to call off the chance to bring it to AirVenture 3 ½ weeks ago. When they got the ship on its wheels, the tail wheel was 6 inches off the ground. No steering. He made up for that by showing detailed pictures, explaining all the design goals and how the man some call most creative aeronautical engineer of our time overcame them, and even added some that he did not originally think of. “Heck it is my last plane,” he said. This airplane is for him. He wants to travel to any place he wants to visit and not have to use an airport. Something he said that after 50 years of working on one, he has learned in the last 3 years he does not like.
As Rutan said, he wanted a two place aircraft that could land on water (fresh, and salt), snow, land, and runways. He wanted it to have good speed for cross country and long endurance so he could go from California to Hawaii. It needed to operate on automotive fuel, and be able to park in a one car garage. After getting the initial design decided, it occurred to him that since this was his last airplane why not add some other requirements. Heck why not.
In normal Burt Rutan fashion, he used novel, creative, and unorthodox ideas to solve impossible challenges. Rutan freely admitted that he is not a boat designer, so to ensure he had the hull and ski design right, he built a wood replica of it, put it on the front of a friend’s boat, and did speed tests with it. Rutan said he was glad he did it because he was wrong on much of this estimates. Turns out they were better than he thought.
Rutan did not want to have to get out of the SkiGull and use an oar to paddle to the dock. So he came up with the idea to use electric propellers on the wings to provide directional control. One of the side benefits of that is he can also use them to take off from a lake and get over the trees, and they can also keep the aircraft in the air should the Rotax engine fail for short periods of time. These propellers fold up into the wing when not in use, but can deployed when needed, ground and air.
The aircraft has a unique ski design with 4” wheels that cost $3.00 for land. The Ski is used for snow landings and aids in water landing to cushion the hard water and waves. He said only one other amphibious craft has used it, the SeaDart.
Rutan is using the latest carbon fiber materials and others that are not corrosive in salt water. The wings are very long like a glider and foldable. His design will be a motor glider and thus exempt from medical requirements.
He learned from his LongEZ days, and while the seat design is the same, the cabin is much wider and the second person is moved way back. The entire back area of the cabin behind the second person to the tail is baggage. He has developed a solution to adjust the CG based on configuration.
During Q&A, someone asked Rutan why he failed so miserable at retirement. He laugh and said “I gave it my best, I tried golf and got down to an 8 handicap.” But those that know Rutan know he only has one true skill and passion.
He and his wife intend to use this aircraft extensively to travel to the places they want to see. We wish them all the best and enjoyment of the freedom to fly for a long time.