The Sky Has No Limits for Light Aviation's High-Flying Designer Burt Rutan
In the light aviation industry, Rutan flies solo. Rather than design for a large company or manufacture his own planes, he sells plans to hobbyists for $200, to which builders add $10,000 to $15,000 for materials plus 1,000 hours' labor to make, say, an 800-pound Long-EZ. Rutan earns just enough—$35,000 profit on $300,000 sales last year—to support himself while he designs yet more planes.
His interest in flying got off the ground when his father, a Dinuba, Calif. dentist, gave up golf to buy a plane. Burt got his pilot's license at 16. After studying aeronautical engineering at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, Rutan went to Edwards Air Force Base as a civilian flight-test engineer. He started Rutan Aircraft Factory Inc. in 1974 on a deserted airstrip in the Mojave Desert.
Twice divorced, Rutan now lives in a three-bedroom ranch house with computer programmer Pat Storch, who came to the Mojave strip three years ago. "Burt asked me to stay for the summer," she says. "I'm still waiting for winter." A large (6'4") man with bushy sideburns, Rutan likes to talk about planes more than anything else. "When you're flying," he says, "you can do anything you want. You've got control of your destiny."