SkiGull First Flight



PIA BERGQVIST – Burt Rutan’s SkiGull successfully took to the skies this week from the Coeur d’Alene Airport. The unusual airplane, which is designed to take off and land from water, snow and land, flew for 1.8 hours with test pilot Glenn Smith at the controls.

The test flight included basic stability and control tests in the cruise and landing configurations, the latter of which with flaps and skis extended. Speeds were limited to 80 knots and the SkiGull remained below 8,000 feet. Smith reported that the airplane flew straight with his hands off the controls. He also reported the speed and maneuvering stability as excellent. Lowering the skis and flaps resulted in no trim change and the stall speed appeared slower than that of the Piper Cub chase plane, Rutan said. However, he described this early evaluation of the airplane’s stall characteristics as unacceptable, with no buffet and a roll drop-off to the right.

The flight was conducted mostly at low power settings and the Rotax 912iS burned less than three gallons during the flight, Rutan said.

The first flight was conducted just a couple of weeks after we reported that water testing had started at Hayden Lake north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Rutan rejoiced after the flight, stating that it happened “just in time, since we got our first North Idaho snow just hours after the flight.”

Rutan built the SkiGull in his garage, a 20-month project that he described as “grueling.” He said he will never again get involved in the process of composite construction and finishing, though he will continue to design airplanes.