Burt Rutan called it the most significant GA airplane he ever designed and used it as his personal ride for years. That airplane is Burt Rutan Model 202, the asymmetrical five-place, twin-engine Boomerang Burt unveiled in 1996. And with less than three weeks until AirVenture, final preparations are being made to fly Boomerang to Oshkosh, where it will be one of the more significant participants in EAA's July 28 Tribute to Burt Rutan.
Rutan told Popular Mechanics in 1996 that the Boomerang flies more symmetrically and more economically than "normal" twins in its class like the Beech Baron and Cessna 421. But until earlier this year, Boomerang had not flown for awhile - it was parked in a rented T-hangar at Mojave Airport since 2002 - when Burt's health issues and the very high workload on the SpaceShipOne program led to him flying less.
"I did not intentionally 'hangar' the Boomerang...its last flight was a golf trip with Brian Binnie and it returned with no squawks," Burt said. Read Burt's account of what happened to Boomerang in the ensuing years here.
Tres Clements, who works at Scaled Composites, said the plane was taken out of the T-hangar about a year ago and cleaned up for showing purposes, but other than that it's been stowed away.
Last December, Clements was in the process of a major overhaul to his Christen Eagle when he mentioned to Burt, "What are you going to do with Boomerang?"
Burt responded, knowing full well he wanted to get the plane flying again, "I dunno. Do you want it?"
Clements compared that moment to when fellow Scaled employee Zach Reeder asked Burt about another of his well-known designs - Catbird - which had been hanging from the rafters at Scaled for several years. Burt responded, "You can get it down if you can get it to Oshkosh." (Read more about Catbird's restoration here.)
Having made the decision to get Boomerang flying again, Burt said, "The solution was to find someone who could enjoy its features and would work to restore it and to keep it flying indefinitely. Tres turned out to be that person."
Clements made it clear: "Burt is still the owner of the Boomerang; I am maintaining and operating it."
A couple months later - in February this year - work began. The airframe and engines - a 210-hp Lycoming TIO-360-C1A6D on the right and a 200-hp TIO-360-A1B on the left - were in good shape for having not flown for so long. By the end of March this year it made a total of four flights, the last one including a flyby at Scaled's retirement luncheon for Burt. See video
Most of the work has been updating the panel. Burt famously employed a Mac Powerbook running software programmed by his son, Jeff, for GPS navigation and monitoring performance. "We've basically revamped the aircraft with off-the-shelf stuff, bringing the panel from the 1990s to the present," Clements said. In the process they replaced about 30 sensors.
The list of supporting vendors for the project includes UAV Navigation, LightSpeed, AveoEngineering, Aircraft Spruce, Garmin, Flight Line Systems, and Mojave Spaceport.
And to pay homage to the Powerbook, a panel mount was installed for an Apple iPad, running Foreflight apps. Also, in true Burt Rutan tradition, Scaled engineered a display from a repurposed 2-inch cellphone LCD that indicates stick position, control surfaces, and waist gate position on one of the engine turbochargers.
But Boomerang's distinctive airframe remains essentially as it was before its long hibernation, with new LED tip lights from Aveo Engineering.
Clements said of flying Boomerang, "It's incredibly balanced. Burt didn't lie. It handles really well."
All that's left before Oshkosh is pulling Boomerang out for some additional engine runs, finishing up wiring the panel, and working through out any bugs that may appear. Clements isn't sure exactly when the flight to Oshkosh will take place, but look for it on the ConocoPhillips Plaza. You can't miss it.
Burt Rutan Model 202 Boomerang
Length: 30 feet, 8 inches
Wingspan: 36 feet, 8 inches
Wing area: 102 square feet
Engines: 210-hp Lycoming TIO-360-C1A6D and 200-hp TIO-360-A1B
Maximum speed: 311 mph
Range: 2,362 miles
Rate of climb: 1,900 fpm