The Great Bend Municipal Airport gets many fly-in visitors, but few are as well known in the aviation world today as a pilot who made a re-fueling stop Monday afternoon.
Dick Rutan, the aviator who made the first non-stop flight around the world, landed in Great Bend on his way back to the Mojave Desert from the Oshkosh AirVenture, a massive air show for experimental aircraft in Wisconsin. The event ended Saturday.
“He was appreciative of the hospitality,” said airport Director Martin Miller.
Rutan was flying his small, red, white and blue Berkut 360, a two-seat home-built-type airplane. The craft is distinct because of its canard-style wings (the smaller wings being at the front of the plane) and its pusher propeller at the back.
Rutan is probably best known for his December 1986 global flight without refueling. He made the flight with Jeane Yeager in the Voyager. But the pilot and adventurer has made other daring flights.
In December 2005, he flew a rocket-powered aircraft from Mojave Spaceport to California City Airport. Earlier, in 1999, he made the first solo, trans-world flight in a hot-air balloon.
Born in July 1938 in Loma Lind, Calif., Rutan served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam with the Tactical Air Command, flying 325 missions, some classified. He was shot down once and avoided capture until rescue.
He earned numerous medals, including the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Rutan retired from the Air Force in 1978 as a Lt. Colonel.
Rutan faced survival situations more than once. In May 2000, he was on a sight-seeing flight over the North Pole. The plane landed, but broke through ice and started to sink. The crew survived for 12 hours before help came.
Rutan was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Dayton, Ohio, in July 2002.