Don Lee: Flight of The Voyager was an historic aviation event

Published 12:49 pm Monday, April 20, 2020

This week we will start the review of the epic flight of Dick Rutan and Jeane Yeager as they circled the earth in December 1986.

The flight lasted 9 days, 3 minutes, 44 seconds. Their plane, the Voyager, was a flying gas tank. Its empty weight was 2,250 pounds, but the take-off weight was 9,694.5 pounds with the fuel, two persons and provisions.

The plane was powered by two engines. The tractor engine in front was a Teledyne Continental O-240 and the pusher engine was a liquid-cooled one from the same company, but it’s the designation was IOL-200.

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The plan was to fly the cruise flight with only the pusher engine, since it was the lower-powered one and would use less gas. It didn’t have a starter and had to be hand propped to start. The other engine was only used in take-off and climbing.

The plane was designed by Burt Rutan and Dick Rutan was involved in the fabrication of the plane. Jeane Yeager headed up the fundraising campaign.

Dick Rutan was an accomplished pilot, serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam war.

He flew 325 missions and successfully ejected and was rescued when his plane was shot down. He was flying the North American F-100 Super Sabre plane when this happened.

He also was flying on a test flight in England after the war and lost an engine, which caused him to have to eject again.

Jeane Yeager headed up the campaign to raise funds for the fabrication of the Voyager. She had been flying since 1978, having received her private flying license in Santa Rosa, California. She set records for speed and distance flying the Burt Rutan- designed VeriEze plane.

I met and talked with both of them at the 1987 Experimental Aircraft Convention (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, after they flew the Voyager into Oshkosh. Their next stop was Washington, DC for delivery to the Smithsonian Museum.

I have had conversions with Dick on two occasions — one time, he was in line in front of me, waiting for a table at a Frisch’s Big Boy in Oshkosh, and this was before his historic flight. The other time was at the EAA museum in Oshkosh after his flight.

You can meet some interesting people at these conventions. You should try it sometime, but not this year, since I wonder if it will be canceled because of the scare of the coronavirus.

Early on in test flights of the Voyager, they had some problems.

During one flight, the front engine lost the wooden propeller and the intense vibration about tore the engine from the frame. This led to the decision to use an aluminum propeller. Hartzell of

Piqua, Ohio, manufactured specially-designed ones on an emergency basis. The new propellers were first flown on Nov. 15, 1986.

They did establish a new record of 111 hours, 44 minutes aloft with no stops for fuel by flying between San Luis Obispo and Stewart’s Point, California. When they lost the propeller, they did an emergency landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Stay tuned, I will continue the story next week.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at