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Voyager Rutan
Experimental Aircraft

The Voyager earned its place in history after becoming the first airplane to make a non-stop flight around the world without refueling. The story of the Voyager began when famed aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan formed Scaled Composites and began constructing revolutionary home-built aircraft. His designs, like the VariEze, used advanced aerodynamic concepts and exploited the properties of lightweight composite materials to improve performance.

Using these new technologies, Rutan began construction of the Voyager in the summer of 1982 with assistance from its future pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The advanced design was optimized for maximum fuel efficiency with lightweight composites used in 98% of the airframe. These materials gave the Voyager's structure great strength while minimizing weight. Construction of the molded 1/4-inch (0.635 cm) thick wing and fuselage skin required 22,000 work hours and 18 months to complete, but the large internal volume made space for 17 fuel tanks holding over 7,000 lb (3,180 kg) of fuel. Powering the aircraft were two powerful, lightweight, fuel efficient piston engines with one at each end of the fuselage. The combined power of both engines was used during takeoffs and landings, but only the aft engine was used during flight to minimize fuel consumption. Further maximizing efficiency were the use of advanced constant-speed variable-pitch propellers.

After completing a number of trial flights, including a trip to the Oshkosh Air Show, the Voyager was finally ready to attempt its record-breaking around-the-world flight on 14 December 1986. Disaster nearly struck even before the Voyager became airborne when the heavy fuel load so weighed down the wings that the tips scraped along the runway during the takeoff run. The aircraft finally lifted off just 800 ft (245 m) from the end of the 15,000 ft (4,570 m) runway. Once airborne, the pilots began a series of maneuvers that succeeded in breaking off the damaged winglets. Although the damaged tips increased drag, Voyager was maneuvered by ground personnel into regions of higher tail winds to compensate for the loss in performance.

Thanks to the winds of Typhoon Marge, Voyager reached a top speed of 150 mph (240 km/h) and an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h) during its journey. The aircraft traveled a total of 24,986 mi (42,212 km) based on a route determined by weather, winds, and the avoidance of potentially hostile nations. Although the majority of the flight proved uneventful, the two crew members were shaken up by a violent storm near Brazil that forced Voyager into a 90 bank. Further excitement occurred over the Baja Peninsula of Mexico when both engines briefly failed resulting in a loss of 5,000 ft (1,525 m) of altitude. Nonetheless, the Voyager continued on to Edwards Air Force Base were it made a triumphant return on 23 December 1986 concluding a journey that lasted 9 days, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds.

For their successful flight, the Rutan brothers, Yeager, and crew chief Bruce Evans earned the prestigious Collier Trophy. Voyager made only one further flight when it returned to the Scaled Composites headquarters located in nearby Mojave, California. Voyager was then disassembled and donated to the National Air & Space Museum where the aircraft is now on display.

Last modified 22 November 2010

First Flight 22 June 1984

CREW: two: pilot, co-pilot



Wing Root unknown
Wing Tip


Length 29.17 ft (8.90 m)
Wingspan 110.67 ft (33.76 m)
Height 10.25 ft (3.13 m)
Wing Area 324 ft (30.10 m)
Canard Area

38 ft (3.53 m)

Empty 2,250 lb (1,020 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff 9,700 lb (4,400 kg)
Fuel Capacity 7,010 lb (3,180 kg)
Max Payload


Powerplant one Teledyne Continental 0-240 piston engine (forward) and
one Teledyne Continental IOL-200 piston engine (aft)
Thrust (O-240) 130 hp (97 kW)
(IOL-200) 110 hp (82 kW)

Max Level Speed at altitude: 150 mph (240 km/h)
at sea level: unknown
cruise speed: 115 mph (185 km/h)
Initial Climb Rate unknown
Service Ceiling 20,480 ft (6,250 m)
Range 22,778 nm (42,212 km)
g-Limits unknown

Voyager Experimental aircraft and the first airplane to fly around the world without refueling, now on display at the National Air & Space Museum; 1 built

  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 792, Rutan Aircraft/Scaled Composites Incorporated.
  • National Air & Space Museum Voyager site
  • Winchester, Jim. Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes and Experimental Aircraft. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 2005, p. 216-217, Rutan Voyager.
  • Winchester, Jim. X-Planes and Prototypes. NY: Barnes & Noble, 2005, p. 58-59, Rutan Voyager.

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