In 1982 Rutan, alert to the business potential in the rapid prototyping of new designs, secured financing to set up Scaled Composites. Its original logo was a hand resting upon the curved upper surface of an airfoil. Below it was the self-referential anagram “Scaled Composites: Advanced Link to Efficient Design.”
Scaled’s only significant asset was Rutan himself, with his conversation-dominating self-assurance, his ingenuity and his mastery of both aeronautical engineering and practical composite construction. The first big contract came from Beech Aircraft, which was intent on developing a King Air replacement. Differing versions exist of the genesis of the Starship’s design. Some say that Beech originated it and hired Scaled to build the POC. But a source close to the project has told me that Beech management invited Rutan to propose several configurations, and in the ensuing “beauty contest” chose the VariEze look-alike. Curiously, one of the discarded proposals was for a three-surface airplane similar to the Piaggio Avanti, to which the Starship would later suffer much unfavorable comparison.
In 1985, Beech acquired Scaled, and Rutan became a Beech vice president — a rather unexpected turn of events for a dyed-in-the-wool iconoclast and outsider. Rutan turned Scaled’s attention to a new prototype for Beech. Its official name was “Triumph,” but in the Mojave shop it was called “Tuna,” because the initials of the original project description, “Cabin Twin,” were shared by a local disc jockey, Charlie Tuna. Tuna was an 8,500-pound, six- to eight-seat jet of three-surface configuration. Its two FJ44s were mounted, in order to provide structural commonality with projected piston and turboprop versions, directly atop the wings.
Beech eventually canceled the entire Cabin Twin project, sold Scaled back to Rutan in 1988, and went on to make the venerable King Air the most successful turboprop ever. Thereafter, ownership of Scaled took several twists and turns; today it is controlled by Northrop Grumman. While deep-pocketed Beech owned Scaled, however, the Rutan Aircraft Factory ceased selling plans because of concern about possible liability claims arising from the inevitable mishaps of amateur builders. RAF continued to provide support to builders for many years, only recently subsiding into wraithlike insubstantiality.
Neither space nor human endurance permits a full enumeration of projects that Scaled undertook and Rutan, to one degree or another, guided. He left no form of transportation untouched, and in his spare time designed his own energy-efficient semisubterranean house. A couple of the more interesting early airplanes were the tandem-wing “Special Mission Utility Transport” (or “SMUT”), aerodynamically similar to the Grizzly, which was designed for DARPA, but never used, for hostage rescues in Middle Eastern deserts; and the Pond Racer, intended to replace the steadily eroding supply of World War II fighters that race at Reno.