NATIONAL NEWS

Dick Rutan, who set an aviation milestone when he flew nonstop around the world, is dead at 85

May 4, 2024, 2:51 PM

MEREDITH, N.H. (AP) — Burt Rutan was alarmed to see the plane he had designed was so loaded with fuel that the wing tips started dragging along the ground as it taxied down the runway. He grabbed the radio to warn the pilot, his older brother Dick Rutan. But Dick never heard the message.

Nine days and three minutes later, Dick, along with copilot Jeana Yeager, completed one of the greatest milestones in aviation history: the first round-the-world flight with no stops or refueling.

A decorated Vietnam War pilot, Dick Rutan died Friday evening at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with Burt and other loved ones by his side. He was 85. His friend Bill Whittle said he died on his own terms when he decided against enduring a second night on oxygen after suffering a severe lung infection.

“He played an airplane like someone plays a grand piano,” said Burt Rutan of his brother, who was often described as has having a velvet arm because of his smooth flying style.

Burt Rutan said he had always loved designing airplanes and became fascinated with the idea of a craft that could go clear around the world. His brother was equally passionate about flying. The project took six years.

There was plenty to worry Burt during testing of the light graphite plane, Voyager. There were mechanical failures, any one of which would have been disastrous over a distant ocean. When fully laden, the plane couldn’t handle turbulence. And then there was the question of how the pilots could endure such a long flight on so little sleep. But Burt said his brother had an optimism about him that made them all believe.

“Dick never doubted whether my design would actually make it around, with still some gas in the tank,” Burt Rutan said.

Voyager left from Edwards Air Force Base in California just after 8 a.m. on Dec. 14, 1986. Rutan said with all that fuel, the wings had only inches of clearance. Dick couldn’t see when they started dragging on the runway. But at the moment Burt called on the radio, copilot Yeager gave a speed report, drowning out the message.

“And then, the velvet arm really came in,” Burt Rutan said. “And he very slowly brought the stick back and the wings bent way up, some 30 feet at the wingtips, and it lifted off very smoothly.”

They arrived back to a hero’s welcome as thousands gathered to witness the landing. Both Rutan brothers and Yeager were awarded a Presidential Citizenship Medal by President Ronald Reagan, who described how a local official in Thailand at first “refused to believe some cockamamie story” about a plane flying around the world on a single tank of gas.

“We had the freedom to pursue a dream, and that’s important,” Dick Rutan said at the ceremony. “And we should never forget, and those that guard our freedoms, that we should hang on to them very tenaciously and be very careful about some do-gooder that thinks that our safety is more important than our freedom. Because freedom is awful difficult to obtain, and it’s even more difficult to regain it once it’s lost.”

Richard Glenn Rutan was born in Loma Linda, California. He joined the U.S. Air Force as a teenager and flew more than 300 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

He was part of an elite group that would loiter over enemy anti-aircraft positions for hours at a time. The missions had the call sign “Misty” and Dick was known as “Misty Four-Zero.” Among the many awards Dick received were the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

He survived having to eject twice from planes, once when his F-100 Super Sabre was hit by enemy fire over Vietnam, and a second time when he was stationed in England and the same type of plane had a mechanical failure. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel and went on to work as a test pilot.

Burt Rutan said his brother was always having adventures, like the time he got stranded at the North Pole for a couple of days when the Russian biplane he was in landed and then sank through the ice.

Dick Rutan set another record in 2005 when he flew about 10 miles (16 kilometers) in a rocket-powered plane launched from the ground in Mojave, California. It was also the first time U.S. mail had been carried by a such a plane.

Greg Morris, the president of Scaled Composites, a company founded by Burt Rutan, said he first met Dick was when he was about seven and over the years always found him generous and welcoming.

“Bigger than life, in every sense of the word,” Morris said, listing off Rutan’s legacy in the Vietnam War, testing planes and on the Voyager flight. “Any one of those contributions would make a legend in aviation. All of them together, in one person, is just inconceivable.”

Whittle said Rutan had been courageous in his final hours at the hospital — sharp as a tack, calm and joking with them about what might come next after death.

“He’s the greatest pilot that’s ever lived,” Whittle said.

Dick Rutan is survived by his wife of 25 years Kris Rutan; daughters Holly Hogan and Jill Hoffman; and grandchildren Jack, Sean, Noelle and Haley.

National News

Associated Press

European-Japanese climate research satellite launched from California aboard SpaceX rocket

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A European-Japanese climate research satellite designed to study Earth’s temperature balance was launched into orbit from California on Tuesday. The EarthCARE satellite lifted off from coastal Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 3:20 p.m. The satellite was successfully deployed about 10 minutes later, […]

11 minutes ago

Associated Press

Former California water official pleads guilty to conspiring to steal water from irrigation canal

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A former California water official has pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal water in a deal with federal prosecutors in the state’s crop-rich Central Valley. The Los Angeles Times reports Tuesday that 78-year-old Dennis Falaschi, who used to head the Panoche Water District, entered the plea in federal court in Fresno. […]

52 minutes ago

Associated Press

Prosecutors build their case at bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez with emails and texts

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors were presenting their bribery case against New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez drip-by-drip on Tuesday, showing jurors a steady stream of documents, emails and phone records that they’ll explain more thoroughly later in the trial. The evidence was being shown to Manhattan federal court jurors through the testimony of an FBI […]

54 minutes ago

Associated Press

Authorities urge proper cooking of wild game after 6 relatives fall ill from parasite in bear meat

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reaffirmed the importance of properly cooking wild game after six people became sick from a parasite traced to undercooked bear meat that was served at a family reunion in South Dakota. The six — one in South Dakota, four in Minnesota and one […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Pilot injured after a military aircraft crashes near international airport in Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A military aircraft crashed Tuesday near the international airport in New Mexico’s largest city, sending up a large plume of smoke and injuring the pilot. The pilot, the only person on board, was able to escape after crashing around 2 p.m. on the south side of the airport and was taken […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Reno police officer who accidentally shot suspect pulled trigger when hit by another officer’s Taser

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Reno police officer accidentally shot an unarmed suspect in 2020 when he flinched and pulled the trigger on his service revolver in an inadvertent response to being stuck by a Taser fired by another officer, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks cleared Officer Richard Jager of […]

2 hours ago

Dick Rutan, who set an aviation milestone when he flew nonstop around the world, is dead at 85