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Adding 'Rutan Field' to Mojave Air & Spaceport name under consideration

Short Flights


February 2, 2019

Photo provided

Cory Bird and Burt Rutan in Voyager Restaurant.

At a recent Mojave Air & Spaceport board meeting, General Manager/CEO Karina Drees announced that there was a request for a discussion item to be brought to the attention of the MASP Board. She stated that she had been approached by a couple of people, Cory Bird, vice president and 28 year veteran of Scaled Composites and other members of the airport community, for adding the name "Rutan Field" to the Mojave Air & Spaceport name.

Board President Andrew Parker stated that everyone could discuss this subject, but no action could be taken at the meeting due to the Brown Act.

I said that Burt Rutan came to Mojave looking for a location he could afford for his innovative Rutan Aircraft Company, known to homebuilders as RAF. Some people wondered why Rutan chose this airport.

"Mojave had the airspace and the freedom," I said. The airport manager at the time was Dan Sabovich and he gave Rutan a building, rent free, to design, build and test his new flying machines.

Two of Rutan's first employees were Mike and Sally Melvill who decades ago bought a set of Rutan's Vari-Viggen plans out of the back of his trunk at the OshKosh airshow for $51, built the plane, flew it to Mojave from Indiana and both were hired that day. The Melvill's worked for Rutan for 29 years before retiring in 2007.

Sally Melvill said, "I don't think anybody needs convincing that Burt's name needs to be here. I don't think that's what it's about. I think it's more about where and how we can do that. Literally, the name 'space port' would not be there if it was not for Burt. The recognition is what's needed."

Rutan Aircraft Factory began business at Mojave Airport in 1974, developing the VariEze aircraft, later Burt Rutan's designs made first flights at Mojave Airport, including: the Quickie, Defiant and Long-EZ prototypes and the one and only Voyager aircraft, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, that made the epic flight around the world in 9 days, 3 minutes, 44 seconds, beginning on Dec. 14, 1986 and ending on Dec. 23, 1986.

Burt Rutan established Scaled Composites in 1982 and is now best known for the first privately funded manned space flight, with Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, winning the Ansari $10-million X-Prize on Oct. 4, 2004 with Paul G. Allen's SpaceShipOne.

Rutan's latest project at Mojave Air & Spaceport is StratoLaunch, again funded by Paul G. Allen. Rutan's Scaled Composites designed, constructed and conducted flight tests on the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic.

I explained that people who met Rutan followed him to Mojave to work for him. "Burt's the one who has brought the billionaires here. We have twenty-five-hundred people working at Mojave Air & Spaceport," I said. "And I dare say the majority of the twenty-five-hundred are here because of the thread that leads back to the genius that is Burt Rutan."

Ben Diachun, President of Scaled Composites presented a couple of points concerning adding the Rutan name to Mojave Air & Spaceport. "I believe 'Rutan Field' would be an excellent name or just inserting the name 'Rutan' after Mojave and that would also be an excellent addition."

Diachun continued by explaining what the company has experienced by co-branding with the Rutan name.

"For many years the company was known just as Burt's place or Burt's company," Diachun said. "No one knew the name, Scaled Composites."

"By elevating the name Rutan, you would create an awareness to a bigger population who already know Burt, but perhaps don't know the name Mojave Air & Spaceport," said Diachun.

"Scaled Composites would be willing to help support the naming with branding, signage and location, if you like. In addition, the company has a collection of memorabilia that could be used for a museum of sorts to recognize his legacy, if you are interested," Diachun stated.

MASP Board President Parker said, "I don't think there is any argument about the contributions, I think we just need to find the right fit for the Rutan name. So, we will all take that under advisement and ask that you keep your emails and suggestions coming. That is definitely something we will think about."

Zach Reeder, Flight Test Pilot and Project Engineer at Scaled Composites StratoLaunch said, "The benefit of changing the name is to remind ourselves what we're doing here, especially as the airport has grown. Having a stake in the ground to try to remember some roots while some of the people who were here at the beginning are still around to remind us."

Photo provided

Mike & Sally Melvill – two of the first employees at Rutan Aircraft Factory.

"Some of the first generation is still here, but if you go do anything with any of the schools in the area in Mojave or down in Lancaster, none of those kids have heard of the Voyager and none of them have even heard of SpaceShipOne, believe it or not," said Reeder. "I think that the risk that a few more years go by and the local community starts to forget what happened here, it's an important duty to the group that is here now to make a monument and I don't mean that in a physical stone sense, but leave a tribute that some pretty incredible, unlikely things happened here."

Reeder reiterated that people have come here for that 'nugget of vision' that has been cultivated through the years and that we run the risk of losing our agility if we don't keep promoting the rarity that attracts creative industrial anomalies and it is up to this board as to what we want to leave behind for the next generation and what it means to the community.

Looking forward to a decision by Mojave Air & Spaceport Management and the governing board.

See you on our next flight!


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