The push to name Mojave Airport “Rutan Field” began in August 2018 when then-General Manager/CEO Karina Drees received a letter requesting to address the Mojave Air and Space Port Board of Directors.
Cory Bird, now president of Scaled Composites, was the first person to make a presentation requesting that the historic airport be named “Rutan Field” noting all Burt Rutan’s achievements since he first located Rutan Aircraft Factory at Mojave Airport in 1974.
Zach Reeder said, “It wouldn’t be a spaceport if it hadn’t been for Burt Rutan!” Reeder was a test pilot and project engineer at Scaled Composites and later, at Stratolaunch. At Scaled, Reeder flew the Firebird Demonstrator, Proteus and Task Vantage in addition to a Baron, Duchess, Extra 300, and L-39. He also restored Burt Rutan’s record setting Catbird aircraft in 2011 and still flies it today.
Name change finally approved
At the first 2022 Mojave Air and Space Port board meeting on Jan. 18, directors voted unanimously to approve a resolution officially changing the name of the airport by adding the Rutan name. During discussions at the meeting, it was said that introduction of the new name will be done gradually. General Manager/CEO Todd Lindner said, “The plan is to start with the items most visible to the public, such as the monument signs at the entrances of the airport.”
The five directors for the MASP Board include: Jim Balentine, William Deaver, Diane Barney, Chuck Coleman, and Robert Morgan. Barney was elected to serve as the new board president.
According to the staff report, “Adding the Rutan name to the facility would recognize aerospace designer Burt Rutan and record-setting brother Dick. Their aviation achievements have played a key role in the evolution of the aerospace industry and the success of the Mojave Air and Space Port organization.
“Many thanks to Lindner for working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to accomplish the mission of putting ‘Rutan Field’ on the Aeronautical Chart with the Mojave Air and Space Port name.”
History of adding Rutan name
Requests were presented four years ago to add the Rutan name to Mojave Airport and in previous board meetings and discussions, Dick Rutan and others even emphasized the importance of how the Rutan name must be recognized by the FAA, giving the examples of Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.
In 2019, at the January board meeting Drees announced a request for a discussion item to be brought before the MASP Board. She stated she had been approached by Cory Bird, who then served as vice president (and now serves as president and CEO) and was a 28-year veteran of Scaled Composites, as well as other members of the airport community about adding “Rutan Field” to the Mojave Air and Space Port name.
The 2019 Board President Andrew Parker said that everyone could discuss this subject at the meeting, but due to the Brown Act no action could be taken, since it was not an action item on the agenda.
Burt Rutan came to Mojave in the mid-1970s looking for a location he could afford for his innovative Rutan Aircraft Company, known to homebuilders as RAF.
Two of Rutan’s first employees were Mike and Sally Melvill. Decades ago, they bought a set of Rutan’s Vari-Viggen plans out of his trunk at the Oshkosh Air Show for $51. They built the plane, flew it to Mojave from Indiana, and were both hired that day. The Melvills worked for Rutan for 29 years before retiring in 2007.
Sally Melvill attended the 2019 board meeting and 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 ëspace port’ would not be there if it was not for Burt. The recognition is what’s needed.”
This reporter was also at the meeting and she 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 2,500 people working at Mojave Air and Space Port. And I dare say the majority of the 2,500 are here because of the thread that leads back to the genius that is Burt Rutan,” she said.
Ben Diachun, who served as president of Scaled Composites in 2019, presented a couple of points concerning adding the Rutan name to Mojave Air and Space Port. “I believe ëRutan Field’ would be an excellent name or just inserting the name ëRutan’ 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 doesn’t know the name Mojave Air and Space Port,” said Diachun.
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.”
Reeder, who was flying test and served as project engineer at Scaled Composites StratoLaunch that year, 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.”
“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 they run the risk of losing agility if they don’t keep promoting the rarity that attracts creative industrial anomalies, and it is up to the board to decide what they want to leave behind for the next generation and what it means to the community.
Chuck Coleman, Bob Morgan and Diane Barney were instrumental with the name change, as well. They ran for a seat on the airport district board especially to ensure that the Rutan Brothers be significantly recognized.
Coleman often said, “What would the Mojave Airport look like now if Burt had decided NOT to set up his base with RAF, then Scaled?”
During SpaceShipOne flight tests and the Ansari X-Prize flights, Coleman piloted his Extra 300, which was one of the official chase planes.
Coleman is an air show performer and a certified flight instructor with more than 3,000 hours in the Extra 300 series aircraft. Chuck is also an Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) mechanic with Inspection Authorization (IA) credentials. He has performed in hundreds of air shows and given 2,500-plus rides in air show aircraft and has deployed around the world in aircraft used for scientific research. Chuck has a Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering degree from the University of Michigan and has built and restored multiple aircraft as well as provided maintenance and test pilot support to the aviation community.
Bob Morgan has worked with Burt Rutan for decades as an aeronautical design engineer. He was lead engineer for White Knight Two.
Diane Barney, always a fan of Burt Rutan, worked at Scaled Composites when she first came to Mojave in 2015, and now serves as president of MASP Board of Directors. She is an aircraft owner, general aviation private and commercial pilot; aerospace flight test engineer, U.S. Air Force veteran who recently earned her MBA; and has her own engineering consulting business.
CEO/General Manager Lindner gave the final push and worked diligently with the FAA to get “Rutan Field” on the aeronautical charts. “It took another six months after the board had approved the change, but it’s completed now,” he said.
Seeing ‘Rutan Field’ listed on Aeronautical Charts
After such a long wait this is a welcome sight for all who have worked with and admired the accomplishments of the Rutans around the world.
In an email, Sylvia Jutila, Voyager Volunteer said “Seeing ëRutan Field’ listed on the aeronautical charts is well deserved recognition for Dick and Burt Rutan, and George and I are grateful to see it happen while both brothers are still living.” Dr. George Jutila was the Voyager Flight Surgeon.
Rutan established his business at Mojave in 1974
Rutan Aircraft Factory began business at Mojave Airport in 1974, developing the Vari-Eze 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. The Voyager was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. It 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 October 4, 2004 with Paul G. Allen’s SpaceShipOne.
Rutan’s latest project at Mojave Air and Space Port 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.
Burt Rutan retired from Scaled Composites in 2011. Burt and his wife, Tonya, along with Dick and his wife, Kris now all reside in Coeur d`Alene, Idaho.
“In the unlikely setting of the desolate High Desert of Southern California, the Mojave Airport would become an oasis which was destined to attract some of aviation’s most talented innovators and test pilots,” said Dick Rutan. “Its open skies, remote location, freedom from bureaucracy and supportive management policies made it the perfect venue for creativity and innovation. If you had an idea, you were encouraged to come test it. It wasn’t considered a crime to fail, however, it was considered a crime not to try. In that environment, technology advanced, long-range records were set, and civilian astronauts were created.
“It is an honor to see the Rutan name on the new aero charts, and I am thankful to all who worked relentlessly to bring that to fruition.”