Aviation record-setter: Dick Rutan, first to fly around the world without refueling, dies at 85

Rutan achieved the milestone with Jeana Yeager when they departed Edwards Air Force Base flying for 9 days in a specially constructed aircraft designed by his brother Burt Rutan.
Dick Rutan, the first to circumnavigate the globe in a plane without refueling has died at 85.
Posted at 9:15 PM, May 04, 2024

Richard 'Dick' Rutan set a record for aviation in the 1980's becoming the first person to circumnavigate Earth by aircraft without refueling, Guinness World Records wrote. He did it along with his co-pilot Jeana Yeager — both Americans — in an aircraft designed by Rutan's younger brother Burt. Dick Rutan died on Friday evening at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — his brother Burt and others were by his side, theAssociated Press wrote.

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In 1986 Rutan set off from Edwards Air Force Base in California with Yeager and an off-duty crew member in the cabin area on his brother's Voyager craft, which now sits in a Smithsonian Institution museum in Washington, DC, USA. They were able to fly around the globe in 9 days 3 minutes and 44 seconds on that historic flight, at a distance of 24,986 miles.

Along the way there were worries about the plane's ability to handle turbulence, and various possible mechanical failures. Burt said, “Dick never doubted whether my design would actually make it around, with still some gas in the tank."

"He played an airplane like someone plays a grand piano," his brother Burt would later say. Dick was a decorated Vietnam war pilot. He seemed to live on his own terms, adventurously.

Bill Whittle, a friend, said Dick died on his own terms after a severe lung infection, deciding to go without the assistance of oxygen during his last hours, the AP wrote.

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The family seemed to have flying in their spirit. Dick's brother Burt designed SpaceShipOne, which became the world's first privately-built manned craft to reach space when it had a successful launch in 2004 with the help of financing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the Coeur d'Alene Press reported.

The Rutan-designed spacecraft won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the achievement, after carrying three people into a suborbital spaceflight, the National Air and Space Museum said.

Dick Rutan would go on, after his major aviation record, to embark on other adventures, like a trip to the North Pole in a Russian biplane that sank through the ice, his brother said. Greg Morris, the president of Scaled Composites told the AP Dick was “Bigger than life."

He is survived by his wife Kris Rutan, and daughters Holly Hogan and Jill Hoffman — along with his grandchildren.