Rutan Long-EZ design celebrated at Mojave Air & Spaceport

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More than 100 Long-EZ aircraft sit on the flightline at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Oct. 19, 2019. The gathering was part of a celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the Long-EZ’s first flight on Oct. 12, 1979. (Photograph by Cathy Hansen)

A special gathering of Rutan fans and Long-EZ builders and pilots landed at Mojave Air & Space Port Oct. 19, 2019, to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the production Long-EZ First Flight at Mojave. The first flight was Oct. 12, 1979.

There is something special about transferring your spirit into a machine and it begins with the designer. In this case, the designer is Burt Rutan who designed one of the most popular homebuilt aircraft in aviation history. Rutan is known as the most prolific and imaginative aerospace designer in the world, having designed hundreds of concepts and actually built 46 different aircraft that flew successfully.

One of the most notable designs was SpaceShipOne, a Paul G. Allen project with Scaled Composites. On June 21, 2004, that SpaceShipOne and Mike Melvill rocketed into aerospace history and became the first private manned vehicle to go beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The successful launch demonstrated that the final frontier was opened up to private enterprise.

Burt Rutan (Photograph by Mike Massee)

Rutan, Scaled Composites founder and CEO at the time said, “Our success proves without question that manned space flight does not require mammoth government expenditures.” Rutan declared, “It can be done by a small company operating with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees.”

People from all over the world purchased plans for the Long-EZ and then they began ordering parts and building a composite airplane without a mold and perhaps not realizing it at the time, they were imprinting their own spirit into their flying machine.

After viewing the more than 100 Long-EZs that had flown in from the four corners of the United States, Burt, his brother Dick Rutan, and Mike Melvill headed over to the Stu Witt Event Center at Mojave Air & Space Port to address several hundred attendees before lunch.

“One of the greatest times of my life,” said Ben Watson of Seattle, Wash. “I got to literally hang out with my lifelong idols. I will never forget hanging out with the Rutan family, and Mike and Sally Melvill. So amazing!”

From left: Tonya and Burt Rutan; Jeff Rutan; a Rutan granddaughter; Angel Rutan, and Nell Rutan. Standing from left: Ben Watson, Cathy Hansen and Dick Rutan. (Photograph courtesy of Ben Watson)

Jeff Cloud of Marianna, Fla., said it was an “incredible event. Three guys who together designed and flew airplanes around the world, one without refueling, and flew into space as a private civilian venture. What a great list of accomplishments!”

Burt Rutan turned the presentation into “Open Mic Saturday” and asked all of the attendees to shout out questions to the panel of three aviation legends. Attendees gladly accepted the invitation and questions came from people who had traveled from all over the globe. Visitors from China, Portugal, Germany and the four corners of the United States reveled in asking a variety of questions. The gentleman from Portugal is building a Long-EZ and wanted to meet the man who designed it.

Melvill took a question about the exciting and terribly hazardous trip that he and Dick Rutan undertook in 1997, flying their homebuilt Long-EZs around the world with the EAA Friendship Tour.

They departed Mojave on April 4, 1997, and headed east. They crossed all the world’s oceans, visited 14 countries, traveled more than one and a half times the distance of the equator, and returned home to Mojave on June 24.

Mike Melvill and Burt Rutan answer questions. (Photograph by Mike Massee)

They traveled 38,791 statute miles, used 2,108 gallons of fuel (U.S. gallons) with a total flying time of 232 hours. Around the world in 80 nights!

On display was the XCOR EZ Rocket in which Dick Rutan set a world record. On Dec. 3, 2005, he set the point-to-point distance record for a ground-launched, rocket-powered aircraft, flying 16 kilometers from Mojave to California City in just under 10 minutes. It was also the first official delivery of U.S. Mail by a rocket-powered aircraft. In recognition of this achievement, the FAI awarded Rutan the 2005 Louis Blériot Medal.

Grills Gone Wild Catering were on hand for the event. “The food was fabulous,” said Dick Rutan. “It had all of the ingredients that I love, pulled beef, pulled chicken, homemade cold slaw. It was great!”

Kern County Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner commemorated the day by giving each of the aerospace legends a Kern County Certificate acknowledging their enormous contribution to aerospace at Mojave Air & Spaceport and a tribute to their achievements for the aerospace community. (Photograph by Mike Massee)

One attendee remarked, “I couldn’t believe how accessible these guys were!” Rutan stood at the front of the food line and shook everyone’s hand who came through.
Mojave Transportation Museum had posters with a blueprint layout of the Long-EZ, and the Rutan Brothers and Mike Melvill signed many souvenirs.

Strong winds swirled in the afternoon and created a need for pilots to scramble to their aircraft. Gusts reaching 30–40 knots were predicted, so the crowd thinned quickly. But the memories and the goodwill created at Mojave Air & Space Port live on.

Kern County Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner commemorated the day by giving each of the aerospace legends a Kern County Certificate acknowledging their enormous contribution to aerospace at Mojave Air & Space Port and a tribute to their achievements for the aerospace community.