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