Scaled Composites Voyager
|LONG-RANGE RECORD PLANE||Virtual Aircraft Museum / USA / Rutan / Scaled Composites|
By the early 1980s there were few aviation records that had not been already set or achieved. The Rutan Voyager which was conceived in 1981 would in one flight become the first aircraft to fly nonstop around the world without refuelling, so breaking the records for the longest timed flight and the longest distance flight. Burt Rutan utilized his experience in the design of ultra-light home-build aircraft such as the VariViggen and the VariEze when he and brother Dick Rutan, along with Jeana Yeager, determined to try to gain the Collier Trophy. Dick Rutan, a former Vietnam fighter pilot, and Yeager had already set a number of lesser records in earlier Burt Rutan designs.
Configuration of the Voyager's design was itself extraordinary. There were two engines mounted at either end of the cockpit, but the forward tractor mode engine was only utilized during take-off and the initial 70 hours of the journey when the Voyager was at its heaviest. Similar to earlier Rutan designs, there was a forward canard wing accompanied by a rear main wing, but the Voyager's design connected these by means of a twin boom fin arrangement. The cockpit and single cabin accommodation were side by side. Composite materials, including graphite fibre, kevlar and paper honeycomb, accounted for 98% of the Voyager's airframe and no metals were used. In fact, substantial parts of the Voyager's structure were manufactured of this specially treated paper.
Construction of the Voyager began in 1982 at Mohave in California, with the project being funded by private means and donations. Successful completion resulted in a first flight on 22 June 1984. The unladen weight of the Voyager was a mere 425kg and the flexibility of the wing caused a deflection of up to 1.5m in flight. The aircraft was designed to carry a vast amount of fuel for the unrefuelled flight around the Earth and the 3181kg capacity was distributed around 17 tanks aboard the craft, accounting for over 70% of its gross weight. Regular rebalancing of this load between tanks would be an important feature of the in-flight duties. The accuracy of Rutan's calculations was so critical that only 48kg of fuel remained at the end of the Voyager's historic flight.
The Voyager, crewed by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, required the full length of the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in order to lift off at 08:01 Pacific time on 14 December 1986, and the wobble of the wings caused their tips to scrape the runway. The loosened tips had to be released in flight by airframe manipulation, but there was no critical damage. The routing of the Voyager took into account avoidance of severe weather, including typhoons, and had to negotiate the geo-political realities of that era. Critical failures were limited to a fuel blockage in the rear engine that occasioned temporary restart of the frontal unit. However, the flight lasted nine days until the Voyager touched down back at Edwards Air Force Base at 08:05 on 23 December 1986. The physical and mental strain placed upon the crew in this confined space, under constant pressure, was as much a feat of endurance as that of the machine itself. A record for the first unrefuelled flight around the world had been made, and the distance record - previously held by a B-52 - was doubled. The Voyager had earned its place at the Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, where it resides today.
Robert Jackson "The Encyclopedia of Aircraft", 2004