December 14, 1986
The Rutan Model 76 Voyager, the first aircraft to circle around Earth without stopping or refueling, embarked on its historic flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California in the Mojave Desert. This westerly flight of 26,366 statute miles (42,432 kilometers) would end with great success nine days, three minutes, and 44 seconds later.
The Voyager was piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. Both of them, along with Rutan’s brother Burt, had come up with the idea of the Voyager while they were having lunch one day in 1981. They sketched out the initial design at that time on the back of a napkin. Over the next five years, the actual aircraft was built by a group of volunteers.
The Voyager’s innovative features for flight endurance included front and rear propellers powered by separate engines; the plan was for the rear engine to remain operational throughout the entire flight, while the front engine would provide that extra burst of energy for takeoff and the initial part of the journey. The start of the flight took place along a 15,000-foot (4,600-meter)-long runway at 8:01 a.m. on December 14, 1986. “The Voyager experimental aircraft, its crew undaunted despite damage to its wingtips on take-off, soared out over the Pacific on the last great adventure in aviation,” proclaimed one newspaper account the following day.
For more information on the Rutan Model 76 Voyager and its pioneering round-the-world flight, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutan_Voyager.