Usually “long and distinguished” is just a platitude rustled up at retirement time to describe someone’s career, but Burt Rutan really did have a long career, and as the world knows, a distinguished one.
Rutan, the founder of Scaled Composites at Mojave, Calif., has decided to retire next April after 36 years of designing aircraft—including the nation’s first passenger spaceship.
Prior to forming the Rutan Aircraft Factory in 1974, he was a flight test engineer for the Air Force. His factory developed experimental homebuilt aircraft for builders. Rutan will assume the title of founder and chairman emeritus of Scaled Composites.
Nearly all his 45-year career was spent in California’s Antelope Valley. He gave up day-to-day responsibilities in 2008 following open-heart surgery. Rutan’s company designed SpaceShipOne that successfully achieved repeated suborbital flights in 2004, and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. A second-generation spaceship is in development that will take tourists on a brief suborbital flight for the company Virgin Galactic.