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Scaled Composites

Scaled Composites (often abbreviated as Scaled), formerly the Rutan Aircraft Factory, is a company currently owned by Northrop Grumman that is located at the Mojave Spaceport, Mojave, California, United States and is headed by aircraft designer Burt Rutan. Prior to acquisition by Northrop Grumman, the company was founded to develop experimental aircraft, but now focuses on designing and developing concept craft and prototype fabrication processes for aircraft and other vehicles. It is known for interesting designs, for its use of non-metal, composite materials, and for winning the Ansari X Prize with its experimental spacecraft SpaceShipOne.

Company history

Scaled Composites was established in 1982 and purchased by the Beech Aircraft Corporation in 1985, as a result of the collaboration on the Starship project. In 1988, Beech's parent company, Raytheon, sold Scaled back to Rutan, who then sold it to Wyman-Gordon. After Wyman-Gordon was acquired by Castparts, Inc., Rutan and ten investors re-acquired the company as Scaled Composites, LLC. Northrop Grumman, a major shareholder in the company with a 40% stake, said it would acquire the company outright on July 20, 2007. Both companies said Northrop Grumman's acquisition would not affect Scaled Composites' strategy or involve replacing Burt Rutan as senior manager. The acquisition by Northrop Grumman was completed on August 24, 2007.


The company made a splash in April 2003 when it revealed that it was working on a privately funded spacecraft, in an attempt to win the Ansari X PRIZE for the first private, manned spaceflight. This experimental rocket powered spacecraft was given the name SpaceShipOne. On December 17, 2003, they announced SpaceShipOne's first supersonic flight, the first flight of its kind by a privately funded aircraft. SpaceShipOne successfully made this flight, reaching and 930mph (Mach 1.2). The craft was brought aloft by the White Knight carrier aircraft. On the same day, Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, confirmed publicly the rumors that he was the angel investor behind the SpaceShipOne venture.

On April 1, 2004, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued the company what it called the world's first license for a sub-orbital manned rocket flight. The license was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which has backed licenses for more than 150 commercial launches of unmanned launch vehicles in its 20 years, but never a license for manned flight on a sub-orbital trajectory. The Mojave Airport, operating part-time as Mojave Spaceport, is the launch point for SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipOne performed the first privately funded human spaceflight on June 21, 2004. Flight 16P on September 29, 2004 and Flight 17P on October 4, 2004 won the X-Prize for Scaled Composites and SpaceShipOne.

Other famous vehicles

Before forming Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan designed several aircraft for home builders, including the famous Rutan VariEze, often considered one of general aviation's most innovative designs. He also designed the Beechcraft Starship, although without commercial success in production. These aircraft are innovative because of their canard, wingtip device and pusher propeller configuration.

Before SpaceShipOne, Rutan was best known for his Voyager aircraft, which his brother, Dick Rutan, and Jeana Yeager flew around the world without refueling, in 1986. In 2005, the similar Global Flyer was flown by billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett on the first solo non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world, and later in the longest flight in history: 41,467.53 km (26,389 miles).

Although their role was not widely publicized, Rutan and Roncz helped design and Scaled manufactured the double slotted wing mast for the 1988 Stars & Stripes catamaran for Dennis Conner's entry of that year in the America's Cup yacht race.

Rocket test accident

On July 26, 2007, an explosion occurred during a cold flow test of a nitrous oxide injector at a Scaled Composites test stand at Mojave Spaceport in Mojave, California, killing three and critically injuring three others. All of those injured or killed worked for Scaled Composites. The nitrous oxide was under pressure, but at ambient temperature and the test had been safely conducted during the development of SpaceShipOne and once before for SpaceShipTwo. Burt Rutan, who heads the company, had no immediate explanation for the explosion. He had spoken to Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, but no mention was made of what was discussed or if it will impact Virgin's plans to use Scaled Composites rockets for its space tourism program. Northrop Grumman, who had recently agreed to increase their ownership stake in the company to 100% also had no comment.

According to the main Scaled Composites web site (July 27, 2007) the three fatalities were Eric Blackwell, 38, Glen May, 45, and Todd Ivens, 33. On July 27, 2007 Cal/OSHA arrived, sealed the site and began their investigation.

On August 25th, Rutan stated that the explosion has put the propulsion research on hold, but other areas of research, such as the WK2, continue.

Aircraft projects

Rutan Aircraft Factory aircraft

Scaled Composites aircraft

External Projects - Aircraft

Non-aircraft work


External links

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