Dick Rutan on Aeronautical Progress and Government
By David Henderson
I’ve just returned from a 2.5 hour presentation by Dick Rutan, the man who, with Jeana Yeager, flew the first non-stop non-refueled flight around the world. They did so in December 1986. It was an amazing show that I recommend to anyone who is fascinated with people taking risks and putting it on the line to do amazing things. Very inspiring.
I remember well the day they landed. We turned on the TV to watch it. He and Jeana got out of the plane, sat there a while, and stretched. My wife commented, “Where are all the government officials to take them away the way they always do?” I said, “Rena, this is a privately funded, non-government enterprise.” She was amazed. I remember the feeling of wonder that day. It reminded me of the excitement when I read the section of Atlas Shrugged on the first test of a train on a track made of Rearden Metal. I was inspired to write about it and compare it to the Rearden Metal train ride. I submitted it to National Review as one of the short unsigned items in the front of the magazine. (I had been the economics editor for the previous five months and, despite their warning that they would probably publish only half of the items I wrote, they had published everything.) I knew it was a risk, given NR’s attitude to Rand. But, damn it, it was a risk worth taking. That’s how inspired I felt. They didn’t publish this one. Guess whom Buckley wrote to fire a month later.
Rutan would occasionally light in to the government for slowing down progress. Some good lines follow:
On the White Knight, his and his brother Burt’s later successful attempt to win the X prize:
“This had nothing to do with your tax money and the incompetent organization called Naysay.”
He thought of Shakespeare’s line when he was dealing with a government official trying to throw roadblocks in the way of their goal of space travel (this is the quote verbatim, although I was unable to find it on the web):
“Pardon me, sir, but I must leave lest I soil my hands with the blood of a fool.”
On the Shuttle, he asked us to guess what percent of the weight is the payload. I yelled out “2 percent” and other people guessed bigger numbers. He pointed at me and said:
“He’s right. 2 percent of the Scuttle weight is payload.”
On a federal official who got involved when they did the White Knight:
“There was one guy whose only job was to make sure there wasn’t a desert tortoise that could get hurt.”
“The greatest challenge to getting things done is our damn government.”