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Photos by Karen Brune Mathis - World Affairs Council members Howard and Nancy Dale.
Jax Daily Record Monday, Dec. 3, 201212:00 PM EST

Aerospace entrepreneur Burt Rutan talks about the world of commercial spaceflight


In a presentation liberally sprinkled with the words "weird" and "cool, commercial space entrepreneur and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan shared the story of his career and his forecast for the industry with more than 700 people Tuesday at the University of North Florida.

In response to a question by a college-age student at the UNF Herbert University Center, Rutan made a prediction.

"I believe every person your age or younger can go to orbit in his lifetime if he wants to – or at least into space," said Rutan, 69, who retired last year after 46 years designing aircraft.

In brief, Rutan is an aerospace entrepreneur, founder of the aerospace research firm Scaled Composites and designer of SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately built manned spacecraft to reach space.

He also designed the Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the world nonstop without refueling. To learn more about his career, visit

Rutan said after he retired, he did nothing for more than a year but now is working on a seaplane that can make short takeoffs and landings and "you can keep in your garage." Also, Scaled Composites is building what will become the world's largest airplane as the carrier ship for an orbital space launch system.

Before Rutan spoke to the larger group, he met with about 230 members and guests of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville. His full presentation was part of the UNF Distinguished Voices and World Affairs Council Global Issues Evenings program.

Rutan talked about the history of spaceflight and the efforts both of the government and private industry.

He outlined that SpaceShipOne was a personal goal, not a consumer request, and the inspiration was from the courage of visionaries.

SpaceShipOne was the first nongovernment manned space program. It only stopped flying because it was placed in the Smithsonian Institution, where it is in the National Air and Space Museum, National Mall building, Milestones of Flight Gallery.

Rutan talked about commercial suborbital and orbital flights, the differences and the future of each.

Rutan, who provided history and physics lessons as well as his opinions during the speech, also provided his "lessons learned" along the way.

In developing his business:

• Informal chats are more effective than formal meetings.

• Seek out the experienced and learn from them.

• The most effective promotions and advertising are those that are free.

"Do something so cool that a magazine will put it on the cover," he said, adding that it was much cheaper than buying an ad inside the publication.

• Involve family members in work successes.

He said he never had a title on his business card and he hired people "because I couldn't do myself what I wanted to do."

His priorities were for his employees to have fun and for the families of his employees to have fun and for the company to make a profit.

"When people have fun, they'll work like hell," he said.

Rutan said in reflecting on his career during the 20-hour drive to Idaho when he retired, he realized that one accomplishment was employing 400 people "and every one of those people pay taxes."

Asked about plans for a commercial spaceport at Cecil Field in West Jacksonville, Rutan didn't have a specific comment about it.

Rutan grew up in California, graduated third in his class at California State Polytechnic with an aeronautical engineering degree and after other experience, founded the Rutan Aircraft Factory in 1974 in Mojave, Calif. "I stayed in the high desert," he said.

On his drive to Idaho, he thought about his 46-year career and 70-hour workweeks. "I didn't realize I was tired until I retired" he said.

"I didn't do anything for more than a year and then I had this idea for a neat new seaplane."

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