From the archives: Nonstop flight set around the world record 35 years ago

On December 23, 1986, Voyager pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager completed the first non-stop flight around the world without refueling.

From the San Diego Union, Wednesday, December 24, 1986:

Voyager lands in the record books

Go around the world, no supplies

By Ed Jahn, Editor-in-Chief

A dream that started in a little Mojave cafe six years ago ended in history on a dry lake bed yesterday as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager proved it was possible to shop around the world. world by plane without stopping and without refueling.

“When people are free, they can do anything,” Rutan said moments before piloting the Voyager experimental aircraft for a perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

The Voyager landed at 8:06 a.m., precisely 9 days, 3 minutes, 44 seconds and 25,012 statute miles after the small and fragile plane took off from the same lake bed.

The two airmen ended their grueling journey despite turbulent weather conditions and mechanical problems, including a near-disaster when an engine failed shortly after midnight on Monday.

Though battered by the bad weather and haggard from lack of sleep, Yeager, 34, and Rutan, 48, appeared surprisingly fit and in good spirits.

Their achievement capped a year in the US aviation that began with the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed when it launched on January 28.

Voyager, with wing tips ragged on takeoff and its body smeared with carbon from the exhaust fumes, had less than 10 gallons in its tanks at the end of the trip, Rutan said.

“I don’t know what a hero is,” Rutan said at a press conference in a gigantic hangar nearby after he and Yeager were examined by medics.

Was he afraid? “Not before,” he said. Managing emergencies, he said, was “something you have to do, and you do it.”

“Are you going to turn around and go back?” You know very well what the answer is, ”said Rutan, a veteran of 325 combat missions in Vietnam who has already been shot down by the North Vietnamese.

Yeager said, “It was a lot harder than I imagined, a lot more work. We have come a long way and learned a lot.

Their last lesson came minutes after midnight on Monday and caused “a moment of screaming panic” among the ground crew, according to Lee Herron, director of ground communications.

“Dick, after a long period of silence, said, ‘I just lost the rear engine. “The complete engine shutdown and the sinking of a plane really caught our attention,” Herron said, noting that the front engine was shut off due to recurring mechanical issues and an attempt to save fuel.

“We waited a minute because of the radio protocol, then he just said: 8,000.” After a minute he said, “7,500.” We verbally asked to test the front engine at 5,000 feet. “

“It was a tough situation, but the front engine started and the prop blast helped start the rear engine,” Herron said.

“I had tooth marks on my heart from this experience,” he said.

At the time, Voyager was several hundred kilometers south of the Mexican border and over the Pacific Ocean. Three hours later, it climbed back to 10,000 feet and entered US airspace over San Diego.

As the sun broke through the low clouds on the horizon above the lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, the control tower announced that it had sighted the white, skinny Voyager nine miles south of the border. South. The aircraft appeared over a mountain range accompanied by three fighter jets and began to descend slowly towards the base.

Reporters and cameramen cheered, and about 50,000 spectators shouted and cheered as Voyager descended at a speed of 500 feet per minute.

Rutan, emotion apparent in his voice, told Mike Melvill, his wingman on a fighter jet: “It was the last first in aviation history. And generally, it was done by Americans.

Rutan made two passes over the viewing area, then turned two more times as Yeager worked his hand to lower the landing gear. An Air Force jet flying on high altitude maneuvers surprised observers with three sonic booms in rapid succession.

Puffs of dust appeared behind the Voyager’s wheels as it touched down, and Rutan announced, “It wasn’t the best landing I have had, but I got away from it.”

The aircraft taxied for approximately 1000 feet and came to a stop. Rutan climbed out of the tiny cockpit, looked at the crowd of reporters a hundred yards away, and smiled. A friend ran in his worn brown cowboy hat and Rutan put it on and waved with both hands.

Yeager, looking tired but smiling, slowly exited the cockpit and sat on the side of the plane for a few minutes to regain his balance. After being made to greet a waiting ambulance, Rutan spent 15 minutes checking Voyager before joining Yeager for the medical examination and meeting with family members.

“It must be the same feeling people had when (Charles) Lindbergh landed in Paris in 1927,” said Allen Kuhn of Culver City, one of the hundreds of investors who had made the Voyager project a small private company. . “Maybe the $ 100 I paid only bought rubber on the tires. But that was my investment in a piece of history.

“Magnificent – absolutely beautiful,” exclaimed President Reagan as he watched the landing on White House television. “The courage, determination and unwillingness to give up of Jeana Yeager and Richard Rutan have all delighted and impressed us.

Mr Reagan will host the Voyager crew and Burt Rutan, brother of Dick Rutan and designer of the craft, on Monday at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, where the president will be staying this weekend, a spokesperson said. of the White House. All three will be awarded citizen presidential medals.

As it was transported to a cavernous hangar for weighing and measuring, Voyager looked like an artifact destined for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC – which it is – as scientists and engineers bent over every inch of its surface looking for impact marks, insects and signs of erosion due to wind, rain and ice.

As reporters and engineers debated the long-term impact of this achievement, Burt Rutan said Voyager will be remembered as a breakthrough in light aircraft technology.

“You just have to look at the planes of the last 30 years, they practically overlap. It was the first time that all the parts were put together: lightweight carbon graphite composite, avionics, fuel efficiency, radical design, engine placement.

Although the total cost of the design and development exceeded $ 2.5 million, he stressed that the project could only have been carried out by private individuals. “Businesses couldn’t see success. There’s no more Northrop or Curtiss.

When Yeager and Dick Rutan appeared before reporters about two hours after landing, they seemed happy, but sad that the adventure was over.

“I thought it was a pretty terrible robbery,” Rutan said. “There were times when I wished I could trade it. I don’t know if I would do it again if I had the chance. Glad to have the opportunity to do it once.

“I guess it shows no matter how old you are or how hard you try, you are only limited by what you dream of,” he said. “Doing this as an individual and as a citizen says a lot about our country and the importance of our freedom. “

Rutan and Yeager have been together for a short time after meeting six years ago. Rutan grew up in Oregon and California and had taken flying lessons and solo flights even before getting his driver’s license.

Yeager, born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, moved to California and worked in engineering design drafting for 14 years before meeting Rutan in 1980.

“I think we did really well on the flight,” Rutan said of their teamwork. “We support each other well. We just didn’t have time to sit down and have a casual conversation. We didn’t have time to get on each other’s nerves.

When asked if she was ever scared during the flight, Yeager said, “There is so much going on that you are never really afraid.”

Voyager officially covered the record distance of 25,012 miles at an average speed of 102 mph, according to the National Aeronautic Association, which certified its record. However, Burt Rutan said the actual distance was much greater because the NAA had not measured Voyager’s detours for weather conditions – about 26,000 miles in total, he estimated.

The discovery of the NAA is to be verified by the Paris-based International Aeronautical Federation, which is expected to confirm within the next three to six weeks that the trip was the first flight around the world without a stopover or refueling.

The previous record for non-refueling, 12,533 miles, was set in 1962 by Air Force Major Clyde Eviely, the pilot of a B-52 jet bomber on a trip between Japan and the United States. Spain. Eviely sent congratulations when Voyager exceeded mileage on December 18 over Africa.

Voyager, with a cockpit the size of a puppy tent and the wingspan of a Boeing 727, was a virtual flying fuel tank that weighed over 11,000 pounds on take-off and less than 2,300 pounds on takeoff. landing. Its wings and three fuselages are all made of a lightweight carbon fiber honeycomb material.

During the nine-day flight, Voyager encountered oil issues, a faulty fuel gauge and finally, yesterday morning, a vapor plug that shut down the rear engine for five minutes. The Voyager had also been toppled sideways like a kite in powerful storms, hitting Yeager inside the phone booth-sized booth. And on take off, its wings dragged along the runway and tore off about a foot from each polystyrene point.

Voyager crossed the Pacific just south of Hawaii and flew over the Philippines, Malaysia, Indian Ocean, Central Africa, Atlantic Ocean, Central America and Mexico before returning home.


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