Experimental rocket plane soars over Mojave Desert

Friday October 05, 2001

MOJAVE — A rocket-powered plane with famed pilot Dick Rutan at the controls soared over the Mojave Desert Thursday in the first major flight for an aerospace company developing engines for orbital launches. 

XCOR Aerospace’s EZ-Rocket, powered by twin 400-pound thrust rocket engines, soared to an altitude of 6,200 feet and then glided to a landing at Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center. 

The powered portion of the flight lasted 96 seconds. The entire flight lasted just under 5 1/2 minutes. 

“It ran just as advertised,” said Rutan, the retired Air Force pilot who flew the experimental Voyager aircraft on a nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world with co-pilot Jeana Yeager in 1986. 

The EZ-Rocket first flew on July 21, traveling a few hundred feet down a runway. 

The plane is a modified Long-EZ, a rear-engine propeller plane developed by Rutan’s brother, Burt, who designed Voyager. 

On the EZ-Rocket, the conventional engine and propeller have been replaced by twin rocket engines fueled by isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen. 

The plane serves as a “test bed” for developing safe and reliable rocket engines before progressing to the higher performance needed for orbital launch vehicles. 

XCOR President Jeff Greason termed the flight a significant technical achievement. 

“First, once you get two engines working in combination it significantly easier to cluster more engines for larger vehicles,” he said in a statement. “Second, we were able to keep the engine and fuel flow running smoothly during the flight.”