Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rutan back to Oshkosh

Have I mentioned how much I love the new EAA since Jack Pelton took over?

No? Oh, well an announcement from Oshkosh tonight reveals another step forward in an attempt to clean up the mess created by the previous EAA administration and its imports, who alienated just about everyone in aviation not worth alienating.

Here's today's news release:

Burt Rutan, the visionary aircraft designer whose innovations made history and changed the aviation world, will be back at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2015 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his iconic VariEze aircraft.

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015, the 63rd annual Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in convention, will be held July 20-26 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.

Rutan’s designs have been groundbreaking for more than 40 years, beginning with the VariViggen in the early 1970s through the concepts that became the SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo vehicles that are launching the era of space tourism. His use of canard wings and composite materials changed the look and efficiency of homebuilt aircraft, with more than 1,000 airplanes based on his designs now flying in the U.S. alone.

“There are few individuals in the history of aviation who can match Burt Rutan’s imagination and accomplishments,” said Jack Pelton, EAA chairman of the board. “His presentations are eagerly anticipated whenever he is in Oshkosh. Although he officially ‘retired’ several years ago, his innovative mind continues to push forward with new concepts and ideas that he’ll share at EAA AirVenture in 2015.”

Why is this significant? Because a few years ago, according to legend, someone high-ranking in aviation -- as Robert Goyer of Flying Magazine notes -- said Rutan is a "failure" and questioned why anyone would write an article about him.

The only thing I can come up with is perhaps that Rutan's impact on the certificated market has been minimal compared to his huge successes elsewhere. The Starship was a commercial failure, to be sure, though its small base of owners loved it out of all proportion to its overall sales figures. At some stage of their development, Rutan had an impact on the design of a few other certified or to-be-certified airplanes, including the Eclipse, the Visonaire Vantage and others. Moreover, the impact of Rutan's thinking on the thousands of engineers who daily apply their Rutan-inspired judgment in the crafting of the next generation of airplanes is impossible to calculate.

Then again, judging Rutan by how he measured up commercially is like judging Van Gogh by his commercial success during his lifetime. Each man painted his canvasses to please an audience of one. The results in both cases were spectacular works of art in the case of Van Gogh, and spectacular works of art/technology in the case of Rutan.

In terms of achievements, all Rutan did (in no particular order) was successfully design a private spacecraft and launch system, single-handedly invigorate the homebuilt aircraft movement, popularize the use of composites in aircraft design, dream up an airplane that successfully flew non-stop and unrefueled around the world, and create a worldwide intellectual aerodynamics movement that is vibrant and active to this day. And I'm leaving a lot of good stuff out. A lot.

The rumors around Oshkosh in recent years was that Rutan got wind of the comments and was justifiably upset, so much so that former EAA boss Rod Hightower released this statement at the time:

"EAA, and all our staff, have the highest regard for the legendary Burt Rutan and his incredible career. His many contributions and achievements – from being named one of Time Magazine's “Most influential people in the world” to his being awarded the Lindbergh Medal, and dozens of other aviation and business honors – show that Burt Rutan is a man of achievement who embodies the American spirit and all the good it reflects."

Maybe Rutan has been around Oshkosh since, maybe not. I haven't seen him since the White Knight was at Oshkosh before all of this broke.

No matter. Rutan is return to Oshkosh and Pelton and the gang are putting the EAA back together the way it once was.

Just don't ask Rutan about climate change.

No comments:

Post a Comment