Bored in retirement, legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan is working on a new project, a high-speed winged boat that can double as a seaplane, so he can fly between lakes and rivers near his new home in Coeur d’Alene, a lakeside resort in northern Idaho.
Famed for designing a series of innovative aircraft and spacecraft, Rutan began building planes of his own design in the late 1960s while working as a project engineer for the US Air Force. He founded Scaled Composites in Mojave, California in 1982, where he became famous for designing Voyager, the first plane to fly around the world without refuelling in 1986. More recently, Rutan designed a flying car, which got off the ground for the first time in July.
However, his crowning achievement was SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately funded craft to fly a human into space. A follow-on design, SpaceShipTwo, is intended to carry six space tourists to altitudes of about 120 kilometres, but so far has only glided in the air.
But when Burt Rutan says “seaplane”, you know he’s not thinking of the propeller-powered pontoon planes that have been flown for decades. Instead, his plans draw inspiration from large wing Russian ships or “ekranoplans” built during the Cold War (see above). Essentially boats with wings and aircraft engines, they could rise up to 20 or 30 metres above the water. Rutan is thinking of a much smaller wing-boat that could reach high speeds in boat-mode on the water then take off and fly.