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Burt Rutan And The Bede Aircraft Factory: 1972

Burt Rutan (middle) and the BD-5 at the Bede Aircraft Factory in 1972

 The aviation opportunities I had before I was even old enough to drive as a result of my dad's love for flying were pretty amazing. For example, to just scratch the surface, I was at the Reno Air Races 1968 thru 1970 (I was born in 1961), and at the last EAA Rockford fly-in in 1969 as well as the new Oshkosh location in 1970, and he taught me to fly at 13 in the brand new 1973 Citabria 7KCAB he bought... by the time I soloed in a glider on my 14th birthday, I had lived more aviation than most people get to in a lifetime. Thanks dad! He passed away January 10, 2009... please check out my tribute to Robert Clupper, my dad, and his amazing life in the sky.

 The whole BD-5 'Micro' revolution of the early 70's was a big part of my life as well. My dad had ordered kit #322 (out of 5,000+ that were eventually ordered) and we made several trips from Illinois to Newton, Kansas to check out the Bede Aircraft factory. The picture above is one my dad took on what might have been the first trip we had made there. It's pretty cool for a lot of reasons. It's cool because it shows the first of the all metal BD-5 prototypes (N501BD) with the newly configured 'stabilator' horizontal tail. The early V-tail proved to be nothing more than cool looking, and the subsequent change to the first generation 'standard' tail had also been full of complications. The solution was the larger, relocated 'flying tail'.

 The picture is also cool because the shorter guy on the right is Bede's new test pilot at the time, Les Berven. Les was not only sized very appropriately for the BD-5, but he was just crazy enough to be a good fit for the unusual 'Micro' flight test program. After the Bede years, Les went on to be the chief test pilot for the FAA's Northwest Mountain region. There, he flew Boeing aircraft during the certification process from the late 70's thru his retirement in 2001. Sadly, Les passed away shortly after retiring. This Seattle Times article on Les Berven gives some great info on his test pilot life.

 Lastly, and most notably, this is a cool pic because the guy in the middle, with the vertical striped shirt and biased striped tie, is Burt Rutan. When I look at the print date on the picture (July '72), it would appear that Burt had not been involved in the BD-5 program very long at this point. Burt's contribution to solving many of the 'issues' the BD-5 had was significant. Jim Bede has had some of the most unusual and potentially fantastic aviation ideas over the years, but there was often a gap between the genius of the ideas, and reality. It seems Burt's job at Bede Aircraft was to bridge that gap. Also, much of what Burt learned from the Bede years, both in aircraft design and business management, had a direct impact on the way he approached his own homebuilt aircraft business when he started the Rutan Aircraft Factory (which developed designs, but then only sold 'plans') in 1974.

 With Burt announcing that he will retire from being the Chief Technical Officer at Scaled Composites in April 2011, I thought this was a great time to start looking back at his most-amazing career in aviation. Watch for more little snippets of Burt's wild and interesting aircraft designs in the next few months. Also, you might want to check out this 2009 Air & Space interview with Burt Rutan - great stuff. 

 And hey, check out the pic below. Yep, that's me in the baseball cap at age 11, arms crossed and talking airplanes! The several trips we made to the Bede Aircraft factory thru the mid 70's gave me some fabulous exposure to this unique slice of aviation history. Check out some of my other BD-5 posts for a little more detail on one of the most interesting airplanes of all time.

Me in 1972 (11 yrs old) with one of the BD-5 prototypes at the Bede Aircraft factory


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Reader Comments (11)

Very cool pics! I fly into Newton often for work and think of the interesting history of the BD-5.

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKip Laurie

Cool and historic pics.Can you please share some more pics?

April 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVehicle Logistics

Wonderful article and I really appreciate the shared recognition you give to both Jim Bede and Burt Rutan. The BD-5 has an amazing history combined with a design that makes people dream about achieving the ultimate feeling of freedom. Like you, I've also been "touched by history" (aviation history) several times in my life. Most recently and after nearly six years of work, I've built and currently fly to be the most recent BD-5J in existence. It's an absolute pleasure in the air and hopefully we'll see more of them in the coming years.

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Lewis

Les Berven signed me off for my private check ride when I worked at bede, he was a great test pilot and flight instructor. I think that is me under the BD5 in the picture, we did a lot of beefing up of the landing gear as the gross weight increased especially on the jet version. If i remember correctly another mechanic and myself built that first big elevator in this article.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames McKelvey

Justin Lewis- glad to hear you've got another J in the air!

James McKelvey- Thanx for the Les Berven info - maybe we can talk someday about your Bede experiences.

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartt (admin)

Fine with me 702 616 2781

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames McKelvey

Question can a vari viggen flown by burt rutan out dog fight a old 172 flown by les berven? No i went along with Les to find out.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames McKelvey

Looking at me under the 5 reminds me of something Al the gear engineer asked, I wonder what the load and speed rating is on these little tires( bede had 9000 of them ) it was something like 150 Pounds and not over 5 or 10 mph. We were using them at 450 pounds and around 90 mph. No problems that I remember but they dident last long. I was disappointed that the playboy camera man needed no help during the play boy shoot in the hanger.

September 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames McKelvey

Wow....I worked at the Bede shop for a short stint in San Jose, Cali. back in the mid 80's. Keith Hinshaw was the owner then. Dennis Morton(?), and I forget the other guy's name, Greg, Craig maybe, anyway, it was only the 3 of us. Fun to work on...a far cry from working on 747's and the like...fond memories...

Loved your article. I was the secretary for Les Berven and Burt Rutan. Wonderful guys to work for. I'm sure I was there when you and your dad came to visit. Working at Bede Aircraft was a wonderful experience for me. I could tell you a lot of stories. Les Berven taught me how to fly. I soloed in his little J3 Cub......Awesome!
I was also there when the play boy bunny was there. They had the hanger taped off so no one could peek in but those guys sure did try. They asked if I wanted to watch the shoot and I told them No....had no interest in seeing a naked lady. LOL
I hear Burt is writing a book about his Bede Aircraft experience.....can't wait to read it!

January 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJune Peters Newton, Ks

June Peters- Thank you (!) for leaving a comment about your time at the Bede factory in Newton : )

My experience there on a couple different trips was absolutely fantastic as a boy who was very knowledgeable about aviation and especially the homebuilt aircraft world. I'm happy to hear that your work experience there was a good one.

I even got to fly the BD-5 trainer in front of the pickup truck when I was just 15! I was probably the youngest person to ever get to do that. Jim was thinking that he wanted me to fly the BD-5 when I had my license as a promo for how 'easy' it was to fly. Obviously that never came thru as the wheels were coming off the bus by the time I was 16.

So many great memories... thanx again for leaving your comment!

January 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMartt (admin)

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