Burt Rutan
Aerospace Engineer

Would You Let Your Daughter Fly in That Plane?

To embed this video, copy this code:

The best way to regulate new aircraft inventions is to require the innovators’ children to take a ride.

Burt Rutan

In April 1982, Rutan founded Scaled Composites to develop research aircraft. Since its founding, Scaled has been the world’s most productive aerospace prototype development company, developing new aircraft types at a rate of one each year.  

Recent projects include the White Knight and SpaceShipOne, the world’s first privately funded spacecraft. He made international headlines on 21 June 2004, when with Mike Melvill at the controls, SS1 flew history’s-first private manned space flight. On 4 Oct 2004, SS1 won the $10M Ansari X-prize (two flights within 5 days flown by Melvill and Brian Binnie). The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer designed and built at Scaled made its maiden flight in March 2004 and a record setting solo world flight in March 2005.


Question: How do we change the fact that so many scientists in academia and industry get away with concealing their research?

Burt Rutan:  Well human nature is that folk will do some pretty lousy stuff if they need it promote themselves or to keep their job and if they know that by taking a certain level that or a certain approach and they only are manipulating the data that it will benefit them you’ve always found that some of them do take an unethical approach.  I have a statement that I think is published with one of my global warming documents that says if someone is processing and presenting data in order to aggressively sell a product on its technical merits, (and again, a product can be an airplane or it can be a carbon credit). If they are doing that they’re probably lying.  They’re the ones that are in control of the data.  They’re the ones that present it and you’ll see everywhere, I’m not faulting just the CRU scientists because if somebody is developing a new car you really want to drive it and see what its mileage is necessarily than read about the claims that are in their advertising.  So, in general the important thing is all of these issues fallout if you have an active public interplay, in other words, you have a lot of people fly and now you have real safety data and also if in order to move ahead and keep market share and grow and have better profits you must have it to be safe then you know then those incentives fall in line and you have safe products. I came up with an idea which I thought was pretty good and I’ll share it with you because there has always been this big confusion.  You can’t regulate something that is not invented yet.  Okay, so what should we do for commercial spaceflight?  And I found something that was easy to require and easy to assess, in other words, did that company do this and that is it says okay, you can’t sell tickets for spaceflight and you can’t fly the public until after the key managers in the company and the engineers have gone out and flown their own children in the spaceship.  Now some people you know their eyes go what, requiring the president of Virgin Galactic to fly his children before he can sell a ticket.  If you think about well that’s crazy you know why: an engineer that is designing a spaceship, he may think it’s too dangerous to fly his kids and therefore…  Ooh, I was stopped in midsentence by using common sense, wasn’t I?  And frankly, looking at how difficult this dilemma has been on how to regulate something as its new I think that’s all you got to do is require people to fly their kids.  Don’t require them to fly their wives.  Some of them don’t like their wives, but…  Okay, fly their pets. 

In other words, put the people that are out there making a judgment as to whether this is safe for you the public to fly in before he can make that judgment he puts his own family at risk and if he won’t put his own family at risk he shouldn’t be allowed to sell you a ticket.  That’s kind of a simplistic answer, but frankly in everything that I’ve looked at I can’t think of anything that’s better than that. 

Recorded on January 25, 2010