Little Bits of History

Around the World in Nine Days

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2012
The Voyager in flight

The Voyager in flight

December 23, 1986: The Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base. The plane had been flown by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The designer of the plane was Burt Rutan after the three conceived of its design at lunch back in 1981. It took five years to build the plane out in Mojave, California. The plane was built for record breaking and was constructed of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar. It weighed just 939 pounds when empty. Once the engines were added, the weight increased to 2,250 pounds. On the flight, it had to be fully loaded with fuel, for the goal of the flight was to make it around the world. With all the fuel aboard, it weighed in at 9,694.5 pounds.

Although the plane had been successfully tested back in July, it had been a much shorter flight lasting only 111 hours and 44 minutes. A test flight in September had to be aborted after a propeller blade mishap. New propellers were installed and successfully tested in November. The world record world trip began at 8:01 AM local time at Edwards Air Force Base on December 14. There were 3,500 witnesses as media personnel from around the world came to see the take-off. The fuel was stored in the wings which made them less resilient. As the plane taxied to gain airspeed and altitude, the wings scraped against the runway and caused damage to the tips. The weight distribution had never been an issue in any of the 67 test flights because Voyager had never been fully fueled before.

The plane slowly accelerated and it took 2.7 miles to gain enough speed for lift, but finally the plane was in the air. Because it was essential to cut weight, there was little room in the cockpit. The two pilots were cramped and they had planned to take turns with each flying for a three-hour shift. However, the plane was more difficult to handle than they had anticipated and this plan did not pan out. The plane flew, but there was constant pitch instability and the plane itself was quite fragile. This meant that flying through inclement weather was risky. They had to circle around the 600-mile-wide typhoon, Marge. Libya also refused to allow the plane in their air space, diverting the craft and using more fuel.

Despite all these hardships, the plane was nearing California and making it around the world. Just when it seemed everything would work out well, one of the fuel pumps failed. The pilots were able to overcome this by pumping fuel from the other side of the aircraft. They managed to land in front of 55,000 spectators with touch down at 8:06 AM on this day, nine days, three minutes, and 44 seconds after take-off. They traveled 24,986 miles and their average speed was 116 mph. They had 106 pounds of fuel left in the tanks which was only about 1.5% of the fuel they started with. They had made it. They had circumnavigated the planet, crossed the equator twice, and made their non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world.

Adventure is the essence of life.

Anything that happened to the others could happen to us.

The space domain for manned spaceflight is no longer the domain of a huge bureaucracy spending billions of dollars. We can do it privately.

The trajectory was good, the roll was off. I was worried. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. – all from Dick Rutan

Also on this day:

Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Survivor, The Real Story – In 1972, the Andes flight disaster finally comes to an end.
Tokyo Tower – In 1958, Tokyo Tower was dedicated.