14 November 2011

Rumours of Rutan: Design Revolution in Retirement?

Aircraft designer Burt Rutan is working on a new aviation project in the Idaho lake house where he retired only seven months ago after a 45-year career that produced SpaceShipOne, Voyager and dozens of other ground-breaking air vehicles.

"I found after working on 40 airplanes in 40 years it probably is impossible to stop," Rutan said in an exclusive interview. "So I'm working on a new one." _FlightGlobal
Burt Rutan is one of the few winners of the coveted "Al Fin Portrait of Competence Award." When such a person retires from his day job, he is not likely to sit around twiddling his thumbs. There are rumours that Burt Rutan is working on a new design for a flying boat.
There’s been plenty of speculation within the aviation world about whether Rutan would stop designing airplanes now that he’s retired from Scaled Composites. Imaginative and prolific, Rutan has been at the leading edge of aerospace design since the 1970s, and few thought he would simply play golf all the time. True to form, Rutan is working on a new aircraft design.

Rutan is famously secretive about designs that have yet to fly, though now that he is “retired” he is letting out a few more details than usual. The engineer told the Experimental Aviation Association he is tinkering with a design influenced to some extent by the lakes and rivers of Idaho, where he now lives after spending more than 40 years in the Mojave Desert. He also mentioned being influenced by the unusual Russian air/watercraft, like the MD-160 Lun-class ekranoplan, he saw shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

...What Rutan did say is he hopes to design a very efficient winged boat that could be used on a major body of water like Lake Coeur d’Alene and converted into a seaplane to navigate the small lakes and rivers nearby. There are a few other designs out there that use ground effect to “fly” just above the surface of the water, but no one’s seen anything like the design — known simply as 372-3 — Rutan is hinting at. _Wired
Coeur d'Alene is certainly a beautiful lake, but Al Fin prefers Pend d'Oreille, and points north. Regardless, if one has a flying boat, his selection of lakes, rivers, bays, coves, inlets, estuaries, and lagoons becomes quite enlarged.

Rutan is not likely to be wasting his time. Whether he emerges from his present project with a salable product or not, he is likely to be learning a great deal. What a pity that it could not be easier to transfer lessons learned -- and the motivation to learn them -- from one person to another.

Cross-posted from Al Fin Potpourri

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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