Photo by Tyson
Burt Rutan spoke to a packed main stage at his “Tent Talk”
31, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Burt Rutan used to say that
electric airplanes would never catch on because the electric cord would be
But the aerospace engineer known for such
designs as the Voyager, the first airplane to fly non-stop around the
world without refueling, and SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded
spacecraft to enter space twice within a two week period and win the
Ansari X Prize, said his next plane design might just be an electric one
that could travel a couple hundred miles without being charged.
Rutan presented his Tent Talk show at EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh on Thursday to a pavilion full of people who were
clearly there to hear him speak rather than find a place to get out of the
rain. During the 75-minute presentation, Rutan answered questions and gave
his opinion on topics as varied as alternative energy to an air taxi
system to NASA’s future and more. The crowd laughed at times, and
applauded at others, at his candid answers.
“When are you going to design another
aircraft for us?” one man questioned.
“What do you want?” Rutan responded. “I’ve
said before that I got bored with it and that I ran out of ideas.”
But Rutan acknowledged he would be interested
in creating a single-place hybrid plane that would operate on electricity
In addition, Rutan said he would like to see
an air taxi system that would serve the domestic United States, allowing
people to travel much faster.
“To get to a destination today you have to
go to a hub and take a commuter plane to a spoke instead of flying direct,”
he said. An air taxi system would operate similar to Yellow Cab in New
Rutan said the 13,000 cabs in New York City
allow people to travel to their destination, wherever that may be,
quickly. The same concept could be used for air travel, with about 20,000
airplanes picking up travelers and taking them to the 8,000 airports
nationwide, instead of the 600 airports now served by commercial airlines.
Rutan said every decade, scientists predict that the world’s
reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas will be used up by a certain year,
which then comes and goes. Instead of coming up with alternative energy
sources, Rutan said he encourages people to look at the resources with a
“creative, innovative and visionary mind,” to discover how those
resources could be formulated in the future.
Rutan said the sun isn’t a thermostat for the planet, but rather
that precipitation and cloud formation are. “The problem is that
scientists, no matter how good they are, don’t know how to predict and
model cloud formation and precipitation,” he said. “As the
temperatures were going up from 1970-98, precipitation was going up. As
the temperatures started dropping since 1998, precipitation has gone down.”
He said data shows that concerns about global
warming are false. “CO2 is plant food, not a pollutant,” he said. “It’s
been 20 times as high as it now. If you have a 1.2 percent increase in
cloud formation and precipitation, it offsets a 100 percent increase of
CO2 in the atmosphere.”
To rejuvenate NASA in the public’s eye, Rutan said the space agency
needs to be daring.
“You need to give the new engineers a chance
to try something that might not work,” he said. “I’d like to see
NASA discover breakthroughs, because if you don’t have breakthroughs,
this audience is not going to be able to spend their vacation in a
vacation resort in orbit in my lifetime.”