Burt Rutan to Headline Star-studded “Spreading Wings” Gala at Wings Over the Rockies

Burt Rutan to Headline Star-studded “Spreading Wings” Gala at Wings Over the Rockies

By Greg Anderson, President and CEO, Wings over the Rockies

Greg Anderson

Greg Anderson

Wings Over the Rockies will hold its third annual gala on Saturday, November 12, with an evening to honor famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan with the museum’s “Spreading Wings” award.

Perhaps no other figure in aerospace has been more in the news recently. Winner of the Ansari X PRIZE, with the development of SpaceShipOne to achieve the first private, manned space flight, Burt also designed GlobalFlyer to successfully circumnavigate the globe with pilot Steve Fossett at the controls.

Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and described by Newsweek as “the man responsible for more innovations in modern aviation than any living engineer,” Burt receives dozens of speaking invitations every week. Wings Over the Rockies is honored that he has accepted our invitation to speak and receive the prestigious “Spreading Wings” award inaugurated last year with Carl Williams. Carl and Pat Wiesner, Wings’ board chairman, are co-chairing the 2005 event, and a great group of volunteers are working hard to make it one of Denver’s highlights this year.

Pat Wiesner, Adam Aircraft Industry’s founder George F. “Rick” Adam and I journeyed to Mojave last February to share plans about Wings Over the Rockies and extend our invitation to receive the award. Rick was instrumental in the request, because Burt designed the M-309 prototype that became the Adam A-500, the first complex general aviation twin to be certified by the FAA in decades.

White Knight and SpaceShipOne were in the Scaled Composites’ hangar, home to dozens of extraordinary designs from Burt’s storied career. His genius is not only in the capability for “original thought,” as described by civilian astronaut Mike Melvill, but also in the extraordinary team of dedicated employees who come to Scaled and commit their best efforts to Burt’s advanced designs.

Background of brilliance

Those designs are the product of a lifetime of curiosity, commitment and unconventional thinking. Following graduation from Cal Poly in 1965, and work as a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base for the Air Force, he started his own company in 1974, called the Rutan Aircraft Factory. Innovative airplane designs for homebuilders were sold through June 1985. Over 2,000 have been flown worldwide, including the popular VariEze and Long-EZ.

Scaled Composites was established in 1982, through which Rutan has designed, built and tested 28 manned prototype research aircraft and several unmanned aerospace projects for both commercial and government clients. Notable designs included the Starship business aircraft, Pond Racer, ARES light attack fighter and the Raptor high altitude research vehicle. One of his most celebrated accomplishments, of course, is the Voyager, the first airplane to fly around the world un-refueled in 1986, covering nearly 25,000 miles in 216 hours. GlobalFlyer broke the Voyager record earlier this year.

X PRIZE achievement

But it is SpaceShipOne that has set the aerospace world buzzing. Taking some eight years of development time, it won the X PRIZE with several breakthrough concepts, particularly through its feathering configuration to achieve reentry. The X PRIZE required two manned trips to 100 kilometers, the commonly held threshold of space, or some 328,000 feet above sea level. Burt’s ingenious design was to suspend SpaceShipOne beneath the spider-like White Knight carrier aircraft to 47,000 feet, where SpaceShipOne would release and fire its rocket engine to soar into space. An 11-second burn achieved Mach 1, and top speed was 3.3 Mach. The aircraft shut down its rocket engine at 160,000 feet and “coasted” to the 62-mile space altitude.

Mach 3.3 is 700 feet per second faster than an M-16 bullet. One of the hairiest moments in the project came when pilot Mike Melvill experienced 29 uncontrolled vertical rolls at Mach 2.7. Following four minutes at zero G, SpaceShipOne became a glider, encountering up to 5.5 Gs during a 12,000-feet-per-minute descent. Weeks later, Brian Binnie became the second civilian astronaut and achieved the final phase of the challenge.

Young people to benefit

The Adam M-309 is a Rutan design prototype for what became Adam Aircraft’s now certified A-500. Adam Aircraft has graciously donated the M-309 to Wings Over the Rockies, where it will soon appear near the main museum entrance.

The Adam M-309 is a Rutan design prototype for what became Adam Aircraft’s now certified A-500. Adam Aircraft has graciously donated the M-309 to Wings Over the Rockies, where it will soon appear near the main museum entrance.

Wings Over the Rockies couldn’t be more proud to have Burt exemplify its mission to “educate and inspire people of all ages” through the frontier of aerospace. Burt is passionate about the next frontier for our way of life, and particularly its impact on young people. He believes, as does Wings Over the Rockies, that aerospace can inspire young people to new horizons, and that we all have a responsibility to unleash their imagination.

Wings Over the Rockies will sponsor a Denver metro area spaceship design competition among middle and high school students through October. Winning entries will be selected by Burt when he speaks to students on the afternoon of November 12, and they will be displayed at the gala that evening.

Wings is expecting more than 1,000 guests to attend the gala. Sponsorship tables are available, as are patron tickets, both of which provide benefits that include a VIP reception with Burt. Individual tickets are available at $150. Proceeds from the event support the Wings mission and its impact on young people. Youth participants in some of Wings’ educational outreach programs will be on hand to share their stories of challenge and achievement as well.

In addition to an outstanding program, dinner and cocktails, entertainment for the evening will be “BeatleMania,” a nationally touring group who will bring back the sights, sounds and memories of the “Fab Four,” from “She Loves You” to “Sergeant Pepper.” It will be worth the price of admission to reminisce and dance and join the Beatles in a chorus of “Wooooo!”

In Oshkosh this summer, White Knight and SpaceShipOne stole the show at aviation’s biggest event. SpaceShipOne was bound for the National Air and Space Museum, to be installed in early October. Burt was still making news, announcing with Sir Richard Branson that a new entity had been formed, The Spaceship Company, to build five SpaceShipTwo craft with $130 million from Branson. Rutan spoke about hundreds of ordinary citizens being able to go into space in the next few years.

I have had the pleasure to know and admire Burt Rutan over 22 years of work with EAA, and he could not better exemplify the purpose of Wings Over the Rockies to honor the aerospace legacy and leadership we enjoy in Colorado. This will be an event not to miss.

To register for the gala, visit [], and click on the event link. Maximum capacity may be reached for different levels of participation, so don’t delay. Tables may be sponsored at levels of $25,000, $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000, each with 10 seats. Patron-level tickets are $250, including a VIP reception opportunity, and individual tickets are $150.