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30th Anniversary Celebration of the Epic Flight of Voyager

Short Flights

 

RC Voyager model with builder, Glenn Dunlap and Voyager Command Pilot, Dick Rutan in 2006 for 20th Anniversary.

Voyager aircraft designer, Burt Rutan and Voyager pilot, Dick Rutan, gathered with many of the Voyager project volunteers and supporters on Saturday evening, Dec. 17, 2016 to honor the 30th anniversary of the milestone non-stop flight around the world, unrefueled, at a dinner hosted by the Mojave Transportation Museum.

The many contributors made this celebration possible in the beautiful MASP Event Center and we warmly thank – Title Sponsors: Mojave Air & Space Port; Hartzell Propellers, Inc. (original sponsor of Voyager); Scaled Composites; TSC, LLC; Contributing Sponsors: Aircraft Spruce & Specialty (original sponsor in 1986); Hall Ambulance; Voyager Restaurant; and Volunteer Sponsors: Mojave Chamber of Commerce; Zach and Rebecca Reeder; Al & Cathy Hansen; Patty Gardner and Travis Behrens; Michele & Bob Slade; Ursula Finkbiener and Erma Martin

The audience was caught up in the dream as it began to unfold all over again. Burt and Dick reminisced about the experience of building and test flying this airplane at Mojave Airport. It now hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. Their presentation was straight from their hearts with all emotions unmasked. There was laughter and tears in the entire room as they complimented each other and teased, as only brothers can.

I remember at one of the past anniversary dinners, Dick mentioned a thought that came to him as he was sitting in the Voyager just before throttling up for take-off on the dry lake at Edwards AFB. "This dry lake is sacred aviation ground," Dick said. "This is where the sound barrier was broken, where the X-15 and Space Shuttle landed."

That comment stirred memories for me as I lived at Edwards Air Force Base during the heyday of flight test in the early 1950s.

December 14-23, 1986, when Voyager made the extraordinary milestone, first-ever non-stop, unrefueled flight, around the world with pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager in nine-days, three-minutes and 44-seconds.

Numerous test flights, plus a flight to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to attend the annual Experimental Aircraft Association's fly-in led Dick and Jeana to the edge of entry into aviation history forever.

Burt Rutan, genius aerospace engineer/designer, created Voyager for maximum fuel efficiency. Dick Rutan, Mike Melvill, Bruce Evans, Crew Chief and a host of volunteers built and conducted test flights on this graceful design at Mojave Airport, over a period of five years. Mike Melvill was the only other pilot to actually fly Voyager.

The circumnavigation flight was 26,366 statute miles, which more than doubled the previous record set by a B-52 Bomber in 1962. This fragile aircraft had a wingspan of 110-feet, had an empty weight of only 939 pounds. The gross weight on take-off at 7:59 a.m., from Edwards AFB, December 14, 1986, was 9,694.5-pounds.

I have had the pleasure of hearing the poignant Voyager story told by Dick and Burt Rutan on many occasions and each time I hear something new. Dick likes to remind people, "If you can dream it, you can do it!"

The cramped cockpit environment was most uncomfortable and sleep deprivation was the enemy. Imagine being locked in a phone booth for nine days while flying at speeds of only 80 knots navigating around thunder storms, near hostile countries threatening to shoot you down, worrying about whether or not you have enough fuel for the trip, running on one engine to conserve fuel and on the last leg of the flight suffering rear engine failure due to an air pocket in a fuel line, losing 5,000 feet of altitude while attempting to start the front engine, seeing the ocean coming up to meet you and then the front engine catching and roaring to life, which saves yours! Talk about anxiety!

My husband, Al and I were there with thousands of other people to witness the landing of Voyager on December 23, 1986. The Voyager story is one of great emotion, courage, vision and adventure.

Ten years ago, Voyager Volunteers came together in Mojave to celebrate the 20th anniversary and remember the flight. Glenn Dunlap of Cincinnati, Ohio constructed a one-quarter scale radio controlled model of Voyager and brought it to Mojave to fly off the same runway as the original Voyager. Dick Rutan stood on the ground and watched as Voyager lifted into the air and said, "That's the first time I ever saw her fly!"

Voyager, a piece of Mojave history, proudly hangs in the South Lobby of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C

A wonderful nucleus of people worked in Hangar 77 at Mojave Airport building Voyager. Crew Chief Bruce Evans, Mike and Sally Melvill, Burt, Dick and Jeana all worked together with a devoted group of volunteers for almost two years before the first flight on June 22, 1984.

Dick & Burt Rutan with celebration sponsor banner

The historic flight in 1986 came after several hair-raising, bruising shorter flights to test and prepare for the big event. The official National Aeronautic Association/Federation Aeronautique Internationale (NAA/FAI) distance traveled by Voyager in the nine-day, 3-minute, 44-second trek was 24,986.727 statute miles.

The wings drooped down on takeoff and the winglets ground off on the runway. One of the winglets came off during the ground roll and the other tore off in the air when Dick intentionally yawed the aircraft.

Many prayers were with Dick and Jeana as they flew day and night through thunderstorms and squall lines, near a typhoon, suffered failures of the autopilot and backwards fuel flow and finally an engine quit running as they came up the coast of South America.

They landed safely at Edwards AFB on Dec. 23, 1986 and it was an emotional reunion for everyone. Can't believe it has been 30 years! Happy New Year!

See you on our next flight!

 
 

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