Passing by: Legendary pilot Dick Rutan, whose plane once broke through the ice at the North Pole

Dick Rutan. Photo credit: California Aviation Museum, which inducted him into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 2018.

The saying goes: “There are old pilots and brave pilots, but there are no old brave pilots.”

There are still some “old, bold pilots” in Alaska (you know who you are). But on May 3, 2024, there was one less aviation legend. Dick Rutan, who with fellow aviator Ron Sheardown once landed a plane at the North Pole and became stranded after it broke through the ice, “flew” west in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Friday at the age of 85, wrote his family.

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Richard Glenn Rutan was born July 1, 1938 in Loma Linda, California. He was a retired United States Air Force officer and Vietnam War fighter pilot. He flew 325 missions in Vietnam and ejected once after his plane was shot down. hit by a missile.

“During his time in the skies over Vietnam, Dick was a member of an elite group of Fast Forward Air Controllers, who often hovered over enemy anti-aircraft positions for six hours or more on a single flight. These extremely dangerous missions had the call sign ‘Misty’. Dick Rutan was and forever will be Misty Four-Zero,” his family wrote.

He was a test pilot and record-setting aviator, receiving the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 16 Air Medals and a Purple Heart. (His brother, Burt Rutan, is a legendary aerospace engineer, spacecraft designer and entrepreneur, known for SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately manned spacecraft in 2004.)

“In addition to the records Rutan set while flying the XCOR EZ rocket (which consisted of a point-to-point distance record and the first official US Mail delivery by a rocket-powered aircraft) and while flying Traveler (which consisted of several absolute distance recordsAn airspeed recordand being the first aircraft to fly non-stop and without fuel around the world, breaking the old distance record of one Boeing B-52 strategic bomber in 1962), he also recorded a number in his personal life Rutan VariEze And Lang-EZ,” Wikipedia noted.

After the Vietnam War, Rutan became an F-100 pilot with the 492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (“Madhatters”) and as a flight test maintenance officer with the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England. Rutan was forced to eject for the second time in his air force career when an engine failed over England. He retired from the Air Force in 1978 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

The many world records that Rutan has set can be seen via this link.

One of his firsts was a flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Grand Turk Island, in July 1981, when Rutan set another record, flying 4,563.35 miles in a straight line.

In 1986, Rutan piloted the Voyager aircraft on the first non-stop flight without fuel around the world.

It was in 2000 when Rutan and Alaska aviation legend Ron Sheardown flew from Anchorage to the North Pole and on to an island in northern Norway. On their return, the two landed on thin ice and the Polish-built AN-2 biplane flew through the ice up to its wings. They were eventually rescued, but the plane was never found.

May Day: The AN-2 biplane with its nose buried in the ice at the North Pole this month in 2000. It was never found, but the souls on board lived to tell the tale.

In 1992, Rutan ran as a Republican against Democratic Congressman George Brown Jr. in California’s 42nd congressional district, in the San Bernardino area, but lost in a close race.

“He spent his last day in the company of friends and family, including his brother, Burt, and died peacefully at Kootenai Health Hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the company of his loving wife of 25 years, Kris Rutan . ‘, according to the family’s press release. “He is survived by daughters Holly Hogan and Jill Hoffman, and his four grandchildren, Jack, Sean, Noelle and Haley. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Read more about Dick Rutan and his brother Burt Rutan at Disciples of Flight.

Read the story about breaking the ice at the North Pole via this link. Or this one.