Richard “Dick” Rutan
Earning his pilot’s license on his 16th birthday, Dick Rutan embarked on an amazing aviation adventure that continues today. When asked how he defined success he told a crowd of students, “Success for me is when I can stand underneath the airplane at the National Air and Space Museum and say ‘I built this and flew it around the world.’ That, to me, is my real success.” Continuing, he said, “You have to find your own pathway, even if it involves taking risks, and don’t accept limitations.”
- As an Air Force pilot he flew 325 combat missions in the Vietnam War with 105 of them with the top-secret MISTY group.
- Chief test pilot for the Rutan Aircraft Factory in Mojave, California and set numerous world speed and distance records in the Rutan Long-EZ.
- Made the first nonstop, non-refueling around the world flight in the Voyager aircraft in nine days in December 1986.
On December 14th, 1986, the Voyager aircraft took off from California’s Edwards Air Force Base. Mission commander Dick Rutan had but one goal: circle the globe without stopping or refueling. While the flight was a far cry from Rutan’s combat missions over North Vietnam, the historic voyage was just as intriguing and equally dangerous. Nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds after takeoff, Dick returned a weather-beaten Voyager to Edwards, having accomplished what has been called aviation’s “last first,” a successful nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world. For many pilots, a flight of this caliber would be the crowning achievement of their career, an accomplishment surpassed by no other. For Dick Rutan however, the Voyager mission was just the next addition to a long list of remarkable accomplishments.
Born in Loma Linda, California in 1938, Dick’s intense childhood interest in flight led his mother to declare that he was, “born with aviation fuel in his veins instead of blood.” On his 16th birthday Dick completed his first solo flight, after only six hours of dual training. Later that day, his mother drove him to the DMV office so he could get his driver’s license.
In high school Dick became infatuated with the F-IOO Super Sabre and vowed that he would someday fly one. After graduation, he joined the United States Air Force Aviation Cadet Program.
Later, he served the Air Force as a Tactical Air Command fighter pilot in Vietnam, where his dreams of flying the F-IOO would come true. Dick flew 325 combat missions in the Vietnam War. 105 of those missions were with the top-secret MISTY group, a special, forward air control unit that used their two-seat F-IOO fighters to mark targets over North Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
During Dick’s last strike reconnaissance mission with the MISTYs, disaster struck when his F-1OO was hit by enemy ground fire over North Vietnam. Miraculously, Dick and his fellow pilot managed to maneuver the burning Super Sabre to a safe location on the coast, where they successfully ejected and were later rescued.
By the time he retired from the service in 1978, Dick had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and earned a number of prestigious accolades including the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 16 Air Medals and the Purple Heart. Following his retirement, Dick joined his brother, 1995 NAHF enshrinee Burt Rutan, at his Rutan Aircraft Factory in Mojave, California.
As the company’s chief test pilot, Dick demonstrated his aerial prowess by setting numerous world speed and distance records in the Rutan Long-EZ, a popular home-built airplane. His accomplishments in the Long-EZ earned him the 1982 Louis Bleriot Medal, awarded each year to the respective holders of the highest records for speed, altitude and distance in a straight line.
Dick’s flight skills earned him a spot in the record books again in 1986, when he commanded the first non-stop flight around the world in the Burt Rutan-designed Voyager. The epic voyage was the end result of nearly six years of planning, hard work and preparation.
A team of 99 ground volunteers handling everything from communications and weather to business concerns worked to make the flight a success. To cover the journey’s 26,366 miles, Voyager was equipped with a maze of gas tanks holding more than 3.6 tons of fuel, 72 percent of the plane’s takeoff weight.
For their efforts, President Ronald Reagan awarded Dick and Burt Rutan the Presidential Citizens Medal, which honors U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation.
The massive publicity generated by the Voyager flight has since allowed Dick to hit the lecture circuit, spreading his message of hard work and achievement to others. This commitment is further underscored by the Dick Rutan Scholarship fund, which has gifted many thousands of dollars to young scholars.
Despite his hectic speaking schedule, Dick is still highly active in the world of aviation. He is currently working with X-COR, LLC, test piloting re-useable, rocket-powered aircraft. “If you can dream it, you can do it.” For Dick Rutan, it’s a philosophy that he both practices and preaches. His accomplishments are testimony to this. He has held more than a dozen NAA/FAI aircraft world speed and distance records and received multiple honorary degrees.
His aviation awards include the Collier Trophy, the History of Flight Award, the Gold Medal Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, the Paris Aero Club’s Grande Medallion and Medalle de Ville Paris and the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s own Milton Caniff Spirit of Flight Award, for the Voyager odyssey.
A pilot in his teens, a hero in Vietnam and a true legend of aviation; we proudly enshrine Dick Rutan in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
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