Renowned aerospace engineer Burt Rutan’s first homebuilt aircraft design was the VariViggen inspired by the Saab 37 Viggen jet fighter. He started designing the aircraft in 1963 while he attended Cal Poly. The design utilizes a delta wing, a small forward wing called a canard, and was among the first aircraft to utilize winglets at the end of the delta wings to increase efficiency.
In 1968 Rutan began building the aircraft in his garage, constructing it out of wood, fiberglass, and aluminum. The VariViggen’s first flight was in April 1972. The Rutan Aircraft Factory sold over 600 plans of this aircraft to customers. Due to the complexity of construction only around 12 ever flew, however it did lead to Rutan’s wildly popular VariEze and Long-EZ designs (see suspended aircraft above the Bumblebee).
This VariViggen was built by Ken E. Winter in Tulsa, OK in 1978 with the inaugural flight in July 1982. Charles B. Spinelli, who helped build the aircraft, acquired it from the Winter family after Winter’s death in 1991. Throughout the years Spinelli upgraded this aircraft by installing an autopilot system and made it semi-autonomous with fly-by-wire capabilities.
N31WW was also used in flight research. In 2003 the aircraft was instrumented to operate as a Surrogate Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in support of a U.S. Army funded program to detect chemical and biological weapons. From 2004-2010 it was utilized in the development of an air safety technology called SAFE that, during in in-flight emergency, determines available emergency landing sites, computes an energy managed trajectory, and assists in landing the aircraft.
N31WW continuously flew, logging more than 1100 hours. In December 2020 Charles B. Spinelli donated N31WW to the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Charles B. Spinelli, Phoenix, Arizona, 2020
Model 32 VariViggen SP
Pima Air & Space Museum
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