On this day in aviation history, the first flight of the Rutan Model 76 Voyager took place. The aircraft that would be the first aircraft to circumnavigate the world without stopping for fuel.
Voyager during one of its test flights
After initially sketching the design of the aircraft on a napkin in 1981, in mid-1982 it was decided that the aircraft would be fully designed, build and tested. During the summer of that year, construction started, the was all structure was non-metallic. During testing at the beginning of the program, it was determined that .010-inch graphite tape skins, with 1/4-inch Nomex honeycomb core, would provide adequate structure, and, with a suitable application of film adhesive, would also be an adequate fuel barrier. The spars were made from graphite tape and Nomex cores, and were autoclave-cured by an outside vendor. This resulted in an extremely light airframe with an (in relation to its structural weight) high MTOW.
The structural weight of the aircraft was only 939 lbs (425,9 kg) while the MTOW was 9700 lbs (4400 kg), giving the aircraft structural weight/MTOW ratio of only 9% They created an aircraft that was basically a flying fuel tank (max fuel capacity 7010 lbs), at MTOW more than 72% of that weight consisted of fuel. After two years of assembly and ground testing on the 22nd of June 1984, the first flight took place, a total of 67 test flights took place. And at 08.01 in the morning on the 14th of December 1986, in front of more than 3000 journalists, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager took off for the record-breaking non-stop flight around the world.
Voyager during its record-breaking flight, note that both winglets are missing!
This flight could be considered a test flight as well, as the aircraft never took off at MTOW during the test program. This resulted in some unexpected behaviour on take off as both (heavily loaded wings) bent down during the take-off run causing both wingtips tips to strike the runway, partly tearing of the winglets. During some intentional sideslipping the winglets on both wings were completely torn off. It was decided (after an in-flight inspection by Burt Rutan) that it was safe to continue.
The damaged Righthand wingtip after the flight
9 days and 5 minutes later they would touch down in front of 55.000 spectators with only 106 lbs of fuel remaining in the tanks. With an average speed of just over 100 knots (116mph / 187 kph), they had completed the first non stop flight around the world. A record recognised by both the FAI and AOPA as they crossed the equator twice during the flight. Some specifications of the Voyager;
Length: 29 ft 2 in (8.89 m)
Wingspan: 110 ft 8 in (33.73 m)
Height: 10 ft 3 in (3.12 m)
Wing area: 363 sq ft (33.7 m2)
Empty weight: 2,250 lb (1,021 kg)
Gross weight: 9,694.5 lb (4,397 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Teledyne Continental O-240 4-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, 130 hp (97 kW) (front engine)
Powerplant: 1 × Teledyne Continental IOL-200 4-cylinder horizontally-opposed engine, 110 hp (82 kW) (rear engine)
Maximum speed: 122 mph (196 km/h, 106 kn)
Range: 24,986 mi (40,212 km, 21,712 nmi)