Monday, August 4, 2008

The Planes of Mojave: Catbird

While most of the gathered media at the White Knight Two rollout ceremony were focused on Eve and the space ship hidden under the black drape, quietly hanging high overhead and mostly unnoticed by the crowd was a small plane that, in its time, set new standards for efficiency and set two world records which stand to this day.

The Scaled Composites Model 81 Catbird is a high-efficiency five-seat single-engine all-composite general aviation aircraft designed by Burt Rutan while Scaled was owned by Beechcraft. The idea was to develop a new 5-seat aircraft which could replace the venerable Bonanza. Its design is unusual in that it incorporates both a canard and a traditional tail-mounted horizontal stabilizer. When Beechcraft sold the company back to Rutan in partnership with the Wyman-Gordon Company, Rutan also acquired a number of the designs, including the Model 81.

The aircraft, flown by Mike Melvill, won the 1988 California CAFE 400 race in which aircraft compete for performance efficiency, as measured by fuel consumption, speed and payload. Piloted by Dick Rutan, it subsequently won the 1993 CAFE Challenge with a record score and a speed of 210.73 mph, fuel consumption of 20.15 mpg and a payload of 976.63 pounds.

Catbird also set two world records, still stand. The first was in Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) class C-1b (land planes with takeoff weight of between 500 and 1000 kg) over a 2,000 km closed course. For this record, set at Mojave and piloted by Dick Rutan, a speed of 401.46 km/hr was achieved (the FAI recorded the record in km/hr...for us old-school, non-metric types, that's 249.45 mph or 216.61 kts). The second record was set in FAI class C-1c, for aircraft between 1000 and 1750 kg takeoff weight, over the same course but piloted by Melvill, at a speed of 413.78 km/hr (257.11 mph, 223.26 kts). The plane also served as Burt's personal plane until he dreamed up an even better one, the Boomerang. (And yes, I inverted the image on the left so that you could actually read it....)


AirAusquin said...
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AirAusquin said...

Thanks for article. Info and pics on the Catbird is rare and welcomed. Do you have a clear idea of the seating arrangement? I guess the fith seat is in the middle, but in the back or in the front?
Aeronautical Engineer