Around the World in 9 Days - Voyager
By Patrick Mondout
In December of 1986, pilots Jeana Yeager (contrary to rumor, she is not
the daughter of well known test pilot Chuck Yeager) and Richard Rutan
(brother of designer of the aircraft they would use) set off to break the
world record for the longest non-stop flight without a refuel. The
previous record had been set in 1962 at 12,532 miles by a United States
Air Force Boeing B-52H. In the end Yeager and Rutan would not only break
the record but double it, and they circled the Earth for good measure.
Takeoff and Flight
Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force Base in Edwards, California, on
December 14, 1986. Imagine being locked up in a cell approximately 7 1/2
feet long, 3 1/3 feet wide and under three feet tall for nine
days. Those were the dimensions of the cockpit! A flight under such
conditions is not only uncomfortable, but in a light-weight craft such as
Voyager, it is dangerous as well. Rutan was quoted as saying, "If no
one gets killed, we are not trying hard enough."
The primary reason Voyager was able to fly for so long was that it had
less drag than almost any other powered aircraft and it was able to store
an incredible amount of fuel for its size (the fuselage, wings, and other
frame elements were entirely filled). In fact, with all that fuel takeoff
weight was more than 10 times the structural weight. Voyager weighed only
1860 pounds (without fuel, pilots, and supplies). By comparison, the car I
drive weighs in at 3400 pounds!
Voyager landed at Edwards at 8:06 A.M. on December 23, 1986, after a trip
lasting nine days, three minutes, and 44 seconds. The image on the
top-right shows part of the landing. Traveling at an average speed of
115.8 mph, Yeager and Rutan had nearly doubled the previous distance
record by covering 25,012 miles. Could they have gone any further?
It was determined after landing that only a few gallons of fuel were
Among other accolades, the pair received the rarely awarded
Presidential Citizen's Medal of Honor and the "Milton Caniff Spirit
of Flight Award" from the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Where are they Now?
Voyager was formally enshrined in the main entrance lobby of the
National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C., on May 6, 1987.
Burt Rotan founded an aerospace company called Scaled
Composites in 1982 (he is still the CEO).
T.A. Turbulent Skies. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.1995.
Montgomery, Jeff, executive editor. Aerospace: The Journey of Flight.
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Civil Air Patrol, 2000.
Donald M. Pushing the Envelope: The American Aircraft Industry. Ann
Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
Eugene. Flying High: The Story of Boeing and the Rise of the Jetliner
Industry. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.
Robert J. Legend and Legacy: The Story of Boeing and Its People. New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Bill. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Commercial Aircraft. New York:
Phoebus Publishing Co., 1980.
Mansfield, Harold. Vision, the Story of Boeing. New York: Madison
Karl. Twenty-First Century Jet: The Making and Marketing of the Boeing 777.
New York: Scribner, 1996.