Rutan “borrows” design from the old Soviets?


Those of us who sail catamarans tend to hold a prejudicial belief that “two hulls (like two heads) are better than one”. Apparently, Burt Rutan and the Scaled Composites team think so as well.

But when Space Ship Two / White Knight Two made its debut appearance this week, there was something even more enticing about it. Like the wind driving Humanity’s future in space was about to shift. We began to see how the rest of us might tack our way into the black sky for more than just 6 or 7 minutes of floating fun.

And, for some of my aeronautically knowledgeable friends, it was deja vu all over again. Like: “where have we seen this before?” It was downright ghostly:

Take a look at this design – circa 1979 or so – from the Russian Myasishchev Design Bureau as modeled by aerospace scholar Alex Panchenko:


It’s an extreme makeover of the Russian Air Force’s 3M bomber (aka the “Bison”) which had been in service since 1955. [Anyone who knows more about this, please reply with comments: below.] The plan was to drop a rocket-boosted vehicle, “X-15 style”, in the upper atmosphere – at subsonic but significant velocity – which would then light its candle and transit out of the atmosphere. In other words, a Virgin Galactic lift ticket.

Branson with SpaceShipTwo / WhiteKnight Two

Hey, why not? NASA is reusing old Apollo technology for its Constellation project, why can’t Rutan “borrow” from a previous design. The Russians are proven aerospace engineers, the venerable Soyuz rockets are fifty years old and still going strong. If Rutan was given a deadline by Branson for a workable design within a couple of years, I’m sure Burt did alot of research. Branson didn’t become a billionaire by waiting around.

Picture Gallery of SpaceShip Two

6 responses

  1. Is there anything new under the sun? I refer you all to the delta-wing designs of ‘aircraft’ found on the plains of Nazca, dating back to the time of the Aztecs.

    Relearning, rediscovering, we are!

    (Now I’M talking like Yoda!)

  2. Not to mention the carvings of helicopters, tanks, anti-gravity craft and submarines found in an old temple in Abydos, Egypt.

    In this case I don’t think Rutan was “rediscovering” anything. Well, maybe in a way he was.

    This isn’t the first instance private industry “borrowed” from old, discarded military technology.

    Bigelow Aerospace borrowed their inflatable habitat design from old tech that NASA didn’t want: Bigelow Aerospace has been working on space inflatable modules, picking up where NASAs inflatable TransHab project ended, or was deflated partly due to political wrangling.

  3. Well, makes sense to me, kind of like a Boston Whaler cuts smoothly through the waves it will be stabalized in the space vibes.
    What are ya Yoda!ling about Highway, theres nothing new under the sun. Those delta wings dated from before the Aztecs. I want to see some of those war machines from Abydos. Dang it* Every time I come here to visit I have to go Google for a while. I know I’ll never catch up with you tinfoil dudes without frying my brain, but I’m having fun. Hell, I’m just now checking out “The Discovery Project”.

  4. G: Just think of this site as a place of life-long learning. 😎

    If I can make at least one person think outside of the box for one day, I’ve done my job.

  5. […] Burt Rutan, principle designer of SpaceShipOne and designer emeritus of SpaceShipTwo might have been influenced by an ’80s Soviet military design. […]

  6. Your blog is useful! I bookmarked it just now)

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