deana yeager and dick rutan
On December 14, 1986, after nearly six years of intensive research and development work, Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan departed from Edwards Air Force Base in California, embarking on the first non-stop flight around the world. The couple flew the Rutan Model 76 Voyager, a twin-engine sailplane designed by Rutan’s innovative brother, Burt. At the point of departure, the airplane was loaded to a gross weight of nearly 9,700 pounds, 20 percent more than it had ever flown with before, of which fuel comprised 73 percent. The wings were so weight laden that the wingtips scraped along the tarmac, putting the success of the flight into serious question. But the Voyager lifted and after nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds of flight, covering 24,986 miles on one tank of gas, Yeager and Rutan landed safely back at Edwards. For their efforts, the Voyager team received the Presidential Citizens Medal and several awards including the Collier Trophy — the first time a woman had been included as a recipient of this coveted award.
Rutan would later comment how he had worried that Air Force tower personnel would refuse to accommodate Voyager’s landing thus invalidating the flight’s anticipated world record because he didn’t remember gaining the proper clearance to do so before the flight had commenced. When he humbly asked the on-duty flight controller to do so, the gentleman replied back, “Sir, this is Edwards tower. Sir, we’ve canceled flying today and we’re all waiting for your return.”