Many of the most important, transformative, and interesting aircraft of the past 40 years have come from the mind of Burt Rutan — everything from the round-the-world Voyager, to the spacefaring SpaceShipOne, to the experimental (and wildly popular) VariEze. But in his retirement in Idaho, he's working on one last project: the SkiGull, a seaplane that he's making for his own personal use. It's his 47th design.
Rutan first detailed the SkiGull's design earlier this year to a group at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture show in Wisconsin, where he'd intended to fly it, but it wasn't ready in time. Now, Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Press has shots of the real, finished plane's first tests in the water.
This one's personal
The two-seater mostly looks like a traditional seaplane, but there are a few unique features: Rutan designed it to make a nonstop trip from California to Hawaii, and it's supposed to be able to handle far rougher water than a floatplane thanks to waterskis on hydraulic shock absorbers. (Basically, it sounds like the perfect retirement toy for a lifelong aviation designer.) It's also saltwater-resistant, which is nice for when you've got the bird parked off the coast of the Big Island.
There's no word on whether a variation of the SkiGull will be available to buyers, but Rutan's history suggests that it probably won't be — of his many designs, most in recent years have been one-offs for research or projects for commercial partners. (The plane still needs work, anyway: the first waterborne test runs revealed a few minor problems.) Either way, though, Rutan is saying he'll release his findings on its on-water performance to help other seaplane builders.