Scaled Composites

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Scaled Composites, LLC
Industry Aerospace
Founded Mojave, California (1982)
Headquarters Mojave, California
Key people
Kevin Mickey, president
Burt Rutan, founder
Products Air vehicle design, tooling, and manufacturing, specialty composite structure design, analysis and fabrication and developmental flight test
Revenue $20-30 million
Number of employees
over 200
Parent Northrop Grumman
Slogan "Question, never defend"

Scaled Composites (often abbreviated as Scaled) is an American aerospace company founded by Burt Rutan and currently owned by Northrop Grumman that is located at the Mojave Spaceport, Mojave, California, United States. 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 unconventional designs, for its use of non-metal, composite materials, and for winning the Ansari X Prize with its experimental spacecraft SpaceShipOne.

Company history[edit]

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 Precision Castparts Corp., 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.[1][2] The acquisition by Northrop Grumman was completed on August 24, 2007.[3] Rutan retired in April 2011.[4]

Early projects[edit]

Before forming Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan had designed several aircraft for amateur builders, including the VariEze, often considered one of general aviation's most innovative designs.[citation needed] He also designed the Beechcraft Starship, which was, however, a commercial failure. These aircraft were distinctive because of their canard configuration, winglets and pusher propellers.

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 single-jet 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 (25,766.73 mi).

Although their role was not widely publicized, Rutan and John Roncz, who had provided aerodynamics support to a number of previous Rutan projects including Starship, helped design, and Scaled manufactured, the double slotted wing mast for the Stars & Stripes catamaran for Dennis Conner's entry in the 1988 America's Cup.[citation needed]


The White Knight carries SpaceShipOne on Flight 16P September 29, 2004
(L to R) Marion Blakely, FAA - Chief. Commercial Astronaut- Michael Winston "Mike" Melvill - Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson - Elbert Leander "Burt" Rutan - William Brian Binnie & Paul Gardner Allen reflect on a misson accomplished (October 4, 2004)

The company announced in April 2003 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 68,000 feet (21,000 m) and 930 mph (Mach 1.2). The craft was taken 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.[5] 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.

Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft[edit]

Artist's depiction of Stratolauch carrier at apogee, just before launching spacecraft (center vehicle) into orbit.
Wingspan comparison of the Stratolaunch carrier with other large airplanes

Scaled Composites Model 351 (nicknamed the "Roc"), is being built for Stratolaunch Systems to provide a platform from which air-launch space missions can be staged.[6] With a wingspan of 117 m (385 ft), the design has the longest wingspan of any airplane to date (July 2015).[7]

In August 2015, Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey stated the company has so far assembled "roughly 200,000 pounds of composite structure" for the vehicle and if put on a football field, "its wingtips would extend beyond the goalposts by 15 feet on each side."[8]

Each of the twin fuselages of the aircraft is 238 feet (72 metres) long and will be supported by 12 main landing gear wheels and two nose gear wheels. It will require 12,000 feet of runway to lift-off.[9]

Rutan Aircraft Factory aircraft[edit]

Rutan Aircraft's first - Model 32 VariViggen (1972)
Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ

Burt Rutan created Rutan Aircraft Factory to market a commercial variation of his the Model "VariViggen" prototype" he began building in his garage in 1968 which he called The Model 32, also known as the VariViggen SP. This model which utilized a slightly longer fuselage, larger span and winglets in order to increase efficiency. The Rutan Aircraft Factory sold over 600 plan sets for the VariViggen to homebuilders, and eventually about 20 of the aircraft were built. Following the crash of one in New Brunswick, Canada in September 2006 due to wing tank fuel contamination,[10] fewer than five are currently still flying. The prototype aircraft, N27VV, was donated to the EAA AirVenture Museum in 1988.

A Rutan VariViggen was used in the 1975 film Death Race 2000.

Scaled Composites aircraft[edit]

Model 76 Voyager
Beechcraft 2000 Starship, based upon the Model 115

Other aircraft projects[edit]

Non-aircraft work[edit]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On October 31, 2014, the SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise broke apart during an in-flight powered test. The incident killed one pilot and severely injured the other, resulting in the total loss of the vehicle; both pilots were Scaled employees.[18][19] On July 28, 2015, the NTSC released the final report on its investigation of the incident, concluding that for an unknown reason the pilot had released the "Feather" of SpaceShipTwo prematurely, leading directy to the craft's disintegration.[20]


  1. ^ "MP-RTIP: Rutan To Get First Crack At Flight Test". Shephard Group. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 7, 2006. 
  2. ^ Associated Press (July 20, 2007). "Northrop to Own SpaceShipOne Builder". Forbes. Retrieved July 27, 2007. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Northrop Grumman Completes Acquisition of Scaled Composites, LLC". Retrieved August 25, 2007. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Burt Rutan Announces Retirement Plans" (PDF). Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  5. ^ "SpaceShipOne gets federal go-ahead". Retrieved December 9, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Stratolaunch and Orbital – The Height of Air Launch". Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  7. ^ "World's biggest plane Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft to launch in 2016 - Daily Mail Online". Mail Online. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  8. ^ Mariella Moon. "Largest plane in the world to perform test flights in 2016". Engadget. AOL. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  9. ^ "SEE IT: World’s largest plane under construction in Calif.". NY Daily News. Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  10. ^ Aviation Investigation Report, CA: Transportation Safety Board, 2006, A06A0092 
  11. ^ a b Belfiore, Michael (2012-01-23). "Burt Rutan on Designing the World’s Largest Aircraft". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2012-01-20. In 1991, to address a requirement to launch a booster heavier than 500,000 pounds, [Rutan] did the Model 205 and 206 preliminary designs. 
  12. ^ a b Linehan, Dan. SpaceShipOne: An Illustrated History. Zenith Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7603-3188-0.
  13. ^ Belfiore, Michael (2012-01-05). "Stratolaunch: world’s biggest airplane to launch spaceships". Retrieved 2012-01-14. The mothership is currently known only by its Scaled model number: M351 ...[with design] planned for completion by late summer of next year ... [and to] begin flight testing in late 2015 in Mojave, with rocket test launches from the airplane to begin at Cape Canaveral in late 2016. 
  14. ^ " - /hyperbola/". Retrieved August 10, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Virgin Galactic relaunches its smallsat launch business". NewSpace Journal. 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2012-07-11. 
  16. ^ EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Galactic unveils LauncherOne name!, Rob Coppinger, Flightglobal Hyperbola, December 9, 2008
  17. ^ "Fatal explosion at Mojave Airport". 
  18. ^ Mojave Air and Space Port press conference on Friday 31 October 2014 at 2:00pm PDT -- involving: the Spaceport, Scaled, Virgin Galactic, County Fire Department, Sheriff's Department
  19. ^ "Statement from Virgin Galactic 31.10.14". 31 October 2014. Archived from the original on 14 November 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "The Space Review: A failure of foresight and oversight". Retrieved August 10, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°03′23″N 118°09′41″W / 35.056488°N 118.161370°W / 35.056488; -118.161370