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Aerospace Guru Burt Rutan Talks About SkiGull, His Next Plane

Image: Burt Rutan at work

Aerospace designer Burt Rutan, at right, checks a design detail as he works on his next plane, dubbed the SkiGull. AntennaFilms

Thanks to a Kickstarter documentary film project, the curtain is slowly being raised on what famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan says will be his last airplane, dubbed the SkiGull.

During interviews conducted for the film, titled "Looking Up, Way Up! The Burt Rutan Story," the man who designed the SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo rocket planes as well as their motherships says he and his wife intend to fly the SkiGull around the world. And because it will run on the same type of fuel used in cars and boats, they won't have to limit their stopovers to airports.

The film project is the creation of AntennaFilms' Scott B and Sandy Guthrie, who documented SpaceShipOne's successful run for the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. SpaceShipOne became the first privately owned, privately developed vehicle to carry humans to outer space. Rutan went on to design SpaceShipTwo at California-based Scaled Composites as part of a multimillion-dollar deal with Virgin Galactic.

The designer retired to Idaho in 2011 at the age of 67. For a year afterward, Rutan questioned whether he wanted to create another flying machine, Scott B said. But he eventually set to work on the SkiGull, which is designed to land on a traditional runway, a grassy field or a lake.

Here's a snippet from the material that Rutan provided for "Looking Up, Way Up!"

"Imagine an aircraft able to land in large swells near any ocean shoreline, ride the waves to the beach, from where you could hike in for lunch and gas. Since it uses car/boat gas … it will rarely go to an airport.

"Imagine also going to snow fields anywhere there is around 400 feet of relatively smooth snow, or to a dirt patch right at Puma Punku, or any part of the Amazon, including the tiny rivers that feed it. Imagine doing an eight-month exploration trip around the world without EVER going to an airport.

"I know it sounds like Walter Mitty, but if it flies well Tonya and I will explore the world with it, visiting the places you cannot easily get to any other way."

Rutan has talked about the SkiGull's capabilities before, but "Looking Up, Way Up!" promises to flesh out the details: The two-seater airplane will be equipped with a retractable ski system that will allow it to take off and land on lakes, rivers or oceans, even amid rough water. It's being constructed from composite materials and titanium rather than aluminum, so that it can stand up to seawater.

The plane hasn't yet flown, but in an email, Scott B said Rutan expects it be capable of cruising at 170 knots, with enough range to make it from California to Hawaii without ferry tanks.

"SkiGull is full of other innovations that Burt will be allowing us to talk about,” Scott B said.

AntennaFilms is sharing details to whet the appetite for the project's Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. About halfway into the monthlong campaign, the effort has raised about half of its $80,000 goal.