BURT RUTAN: AN EAA PERSPECTIVE
Lancaster, California, in 1968, and it was
nearly completed early in 1972 when it was
loaded into a moving van and hauled to
Newton, Kansas, where Burt had taken a job
with Bede Aircraft as director of development and flight testing. The prototype
VariViggen, N27VV, was flown for the first
time in April of 1972—by Burt, who was the
test pilot on all his early homebuilt designs.
When flown to Oshkosh three months
later, Burt would receive the Stan Dzik
Design Contribution award for the
VariViggen, the first of many awards he
would subsequently win at the annual EAA
convention. EAAers puzzled over the airplane’s unfamiliar delta wing/canard
configuration, but frequent flight demonstrations allayed any fears that this was some
sort of far-out, dangerous airplane, and an
article by Burt entitled “VariViggen…
Designer/Builder Report” that appeared in
the August 1973 issue of Sport Aviation
answered the questions most had on the
technical aspects of the design, its performance and handling characteristics. That
issue also featured the first of many Rutan-designed aircraft that eventually appeared
on the covers of Sport Aviation.
The VariViggen would prove to be popular enough that Burt was able to begin
selling building instructions for it, and soon
numbers of them were under construction
around the world. That made it necessary to
start a quarterly newsletter to answer builders’ questions…and to implore them to keep
communications to a minimum so new
development could take place.
The VariViggen’s success prompted Burt’s
departure from Bede Aircraft after two years
in Kansas. After checking out a number of
airports in southern California for affordable
facilities, he leased one of the “temporary” air
base buildings left over from World War II at
the Mojave Airport…the now legendary
Building 13…and began operating there as the
Rutan Aircraft Factory (RAF).
Americans love rags to riches stories, and
RAF certainly began as a prime example.
Building 13 was a thrown-up, minimal struc-
ture when new and had not improved over
time when Burt and his then wife, Carolyn,
hung out their shingle there in 1974. Their
facility was, in fact, so primitive that after my
wife, Golda, and I visited the Rutans there for
the first time, we wondered how we could
send them a care package of some sort with-
out offending them! Today, I wonder what we
would have thought if somehow we could
have been made aware that some three
decades into the future, SpaceShipOne would
be rolled out of a hangar just a short distance
away from Building 13! Although we always
believed Burt was destined for great things, in
our many subsequent visits to Mojave, we
always made it a point to drive by Building 13
to renew the perspective of just how far he
had come in the aviation world.
All that, however, was
just a prologue to what
was about to emerge
from ol’ Building 13.
The prototype VariViggen (N27VV)
on location during the filming
of Death Race 2000 in 1975. This
prototype is currently on display
in the EAA AirVenture Museum.
Burt poses with the VariEze under
construction in the spring of 1975.
The aircraft was built in four
months and flown to Oshkosh ' 75
by Dick Rutan.
N7EZ at EAA Oshkosh ’ 75, with
Burt giving aviation writer Don
Dwiggins a ride.