On December 23, 1986, Voyager completed the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world. Voyager, a unique aircraft constructed almost entirely of lightweight graphite-honeycomb composite materials and laden with fuel, lifted from Edwards AFB, California at 8:01:44 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Dec. 14 1986, and returned 9 days later at 8:05:28 a.m., Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 23, 1986. For their record-breaking flight, the pilots, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, the designer, Burt Rutan, and the crew chief, Bruce Evans, earned the Collier Trophy, aviation's most prestigious award.
Voyager is the result of six years of design, construction, and development by a talented team of individuals. The aircraft was designed by Burt Rutan, Dick's brother, a well-known designer of homebuilt airplanes such as the VariViggen and VariEze and corporate aircraft such as the Beech Starship. Voyager was constructed in 18 months by Dick Rutan, Jeana Yeager, and Bruce Evans.
On December 23, 1986, Voyager completed the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world. A unique aircraft constructed almost entirely of lightweight graphite-honeycomb composite materials and laden with fuel, it lifted off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 8:01:44 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, on December 14, 1986. Nine days later it returned at 8:05:28 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. For their record-breaking flight, pilots Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, designer Burt Rutan, and crew chief Bruce Evans earned the Collier Trophy, aviation's most prestigious award.
Voyager was the result of six years of design, construction, and development by a talented team of individuals. Designer Burt Rutan established his reputation with home-built airplanes such as the VariViggen and VariEze and corporate aircraft such as the Beech Starship. Dick Rutan is a decorated Air Force fighter pilot and test pilot, and both he and Jeana Yeager set records in Rutan-designed aircraft. Construction began in the summer of 1982 at the Civilian Flight Test Center, Mojave Airport, California. The first flight was made on June 22, 1984.
Voyager was designed for maximum fuel efficiency and therefore used lightweight composite materials in 98 percent of its structure. The main material is a .635-centimeter (1/4-inch) sandwich of paper honeycomb and graphite fiber, carefully molded and cured in an oven. The entire airframe was constructed without using metal, and weighs only 425 kilograms (939 pounds). Voyager took more than 22,000 work hours and more than 18 months to construct. The long, thin main wing was so flexible that the wing tip deflected upward 0.9 to 1 .5 meters (3 to 5 feet) while the aircraft was in flight. The purpose of the winglets was to raise the fuel vent from the three outboard wing tanks high enough to keep fuel from draining out onto the ground. The cabin area and cockpit were side by side within the fuselage.
Voyager was virtually a flying fuel tank. It had eight storage tanks on each side of the airplane and a fuel tank in the center, for a total of 17 tanks. The pilot shifted fuel from tank to tank during the flight to keep the airplane in balance. The 3,181 kilograms (7,011 pounds) of fuel aboard at takeoff amounted to 72.3 percent of its gross takeoff weight. At the end of the flight only 48 kilograms (106 pounds) of fuel remained. Two engines, one at each end of the fuselage, powered the aircraft. The highly efficient 110-hp, liquid-cooled rear engine, a Teledyne Continental IOL-200, ran during the entire flight except for four minutes when a fuel problem caused a temporary shutdown. The 130-hp, air-cooled front engine, a Teledyne Continental 0-240, was used for a total of 70 hours and 8 minutes during the initial, heavyweight stage of the flight, and also while climbing over weather and at other critical times. Voyager was equipped with Hartzell constant-speed, variable-pitch aluminum propellers that proved to be a critical factor in stretching the aircraft's range enough to bring it home. These propellers were designed, built, and delivered in only 17 days after one of the original propellers failed.
Voyager's takeoff roll at Edwards AFB lasted two minutes and six seconds with less than 244 meters (800 feet) of the 4,572-meter (15,000-foot) runway left at liftoff. Both winglets were damaged during takeoff when the wing tips dragged along the runway. Soon after takeoff, an attempt was made to deliberately dislodge the damaged winglets over Edwards Air Force Base so that if structural damage occurred to the aircraft's fuel tanks, it could land as soon as possible. To dislodge the winglets, the crew increased flight speed and maneuvered the airplane to build up side forces sufficiently high to break them free. About eight kilometers (five miles) from the base the right winglet was dislodged and fell into someone's yard. It is now in storage at the Museum's Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. The other winglet was also successfully dislodged, but was never found.
Following a route determined by weather, wind, and geography, Voyager flew an official distance of 42,212 kilometers (24,986 miles) at an official speed of 186 kilometers per hour (116 miles per hour), in an elapsed time of 216 hours, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds. Flying Voyager, Rutan and Yeager established eight absolute and world class records. On the second day of the flight over the Pacific Ocean, they were guided by meteorologists through the edges of Typhoon Marge to obtain a "slingshot effect" from tailwinds. These winds increased Voyager's ground speed to 130 knots (150 mph).
Voyager's optimum altitude for fuel economy was 2,438 meters (8,000 feet), but the crew flew as high as 6,248 meters (20,500 feet) over Africa to avoid thunderstorms. Over the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil, a violent storm at night turned Voyager on a 90-degree bank, but the flight through the Caribbean was pleasingly uneventful. A final scare occurred on the last morning when the strainer on a small fuel pump and an air pocket in the line starved the rear engine of fuel and it stopped. The aircraft lost 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) of altitude while Rutan and Yeager made an emergency restart of the front engine. While the aircraft struggled to climb, the air block was overcome and the rear engine was restarted. The aircraft leveled off at 1,067 meters (3,500 feet) and they landed a few hours later at Edwards Air Force Base.
Throughout the flight, the physical and mental capabilities of the pilots were continually tested by mechanical and severe weather problems, as well as by the cramped quarters. The pilot in the cockpit flew the airplane, navigated, maintained ground communication, and transferred fuel to balance the airplane. The other pilot in the cabin area rested, managed the logistics support tasks of the flight, or provided navigation and flight-monitoring assistance. In reality, neither pilot found the time or comfort for much rest, yet both were in remarkably good condition at the end of the flight. Voyager made one last flight on January 6, 1987, when Yeager and Rutan flew it home to Mojave, California.
In the summer of 1987, Voyager was dismantled and trucked across country on a specially modified trailer to NASM's Garber Facility. En route, the airplane made one last stop in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where it was displayed at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Convention. Voyager now hangs in the South Lobby of the National Air and Space Museum.