Customer: Rutan Designs
Type: experimental asymmetrical business plane
Powerplants:1 x 200 hp (149 kW) Lycoming TIO-360-A1B
Significant date: 1996
Unveiled in 1996 at Oshkosh, the asymmetrical Rutan Model 202 Boomerang was championed as much for its unorthodox design as it was for its increased safety and fuel efficiency over other twin-engine planes. It was designed by Burt Rutan to be a safe and efficient twin-engine aircraft that would not become dangerously difficult to control in the event of failure of a single engine. Traditional twin engine aircraft are considered safe because the second engine offers redundancy. But if an engine were to fail at a critical time, such as take off, there is added danger because of the resulting asymmetric power. If the pilot is not skilled, and well practiced in emergency maneuvers, there is a high risk of a crash because the airplane suddenly has tremendous drag on the side with the dead engine and thrust on the side with the working engine.
The result is an aircraft with a very asymmetrical appearance. In the Boomerang, all of the asymmetry is there to eliminate the asymmetry experienced during an engine failure. If an engine were to fail, the pilot doesn’t need to do much to maintain control. The airplane continues flying straight. The Boomerang was designed around the specifications of the Beechcraft 58 Baron, one of the best known and most numerous twin-engine civilian aircraft. The use of the asymmetrical design allows the Boomerang to fly faster and farther than the Baron using the same engines, and seating the same number of occupants. The Boomerang is powered by two engines, with the right engine producing 10 hp (8 kW) more power than the left one (the engines are in fact the same model, just rated differently).
The Boomerang represented a significant increase in performance, efficiency, excellent general flying qualities and engine-out safety. At first glance the configuration appeared as though it could never fly straight but in the air it is more symmetric than any "conventional" twin. Another fundamental design innovation was the use of a Macintosh 5300C PowerBook. Running software written by Rutan's son Jeff, an engineer, the laptop provided GPS navigation plots and monitors engine and airframe performance from the first turn of the prop until the plane rolls to a stop after a flight. And if for any reason the PowerBook should fail, a set of miniaturized engine instruments permitted adequate backup operation. « In a year, I can replace [the PowerBook] with one that has twice the capability and a lower cost, » said Rutan of his cockpit's flexibility.
When word got out in late June 2011 that a crew was working on the asymmetric airplane and would have it here at Oshkosh's AirVenture, it generated tremendous excitement. The unusual airplane still turns heads and, perhaps more often, leaves people scratching their heads. People are amazed by the unusual craft because nothing is symmetrical. The right fuselage has the cockpit and passenger seats with a 210-horsepower engine. The left one is shorter and includes the baggage compartment and a 200-horsepower engine mounted five feet behind the right engine. The right wing is 57 inches shorter than the left, the wings are attached at different angles (sweep). Even the tail is different on each side. The pilot flies from the right seat. There is a control stick on the left, but no rudder pedals. And the performance is impressive. The Boomerang can cruise faster than a similar-sized twin while using about half the fuel, and if the airplane is slowed to its most efficient speed, it can fly more than 2,300 miles on a full fuel load of 168 gallons.
Rutan calls the Boomerang his greatest accomplishment in general aviation. He pretty much created the aircraft to be his own personal machine, and flew the plane for six years before hangaring it as other projects took his focus. Rather than donate it to a museum upon his retirement in 2011, however, Rutan decided that having someone restore the Boomerang and keep it flying would make for a better legacy. He didn’t want to see it in museum,” says 28-year-old Scaled Composites engineer Tres Clements, who was chosen for returning the airplane to flight-worthy status after years spent in storage. “He thought people might think there’s something wrong with the design, and he wanted to see it back in the air.” With a team of volunteers – including the airplane’s original test pilot and private astronaut Mike Melvill – Clements put in more than 1,500 hours over several months getting the Boomerang ready to fly again. A company by the name of Oregon Aero, Inc. also helped bring the Boomerang back to life with upgraded maximum-comfort seating systems and a new custom interior. “This is just an incredible project to have been a part of,” said Tony Erickson, Chief Operating Officer for Oregon Aero. “The Boomerang is a historic, one-of-a-kind plane. To be able to contribute our expertise to get it flying in top shape again is really an honor.”
The airplane was pulled from a hangar in February 2011 after sitting for nine years and flew by the end of March, in time for Scaled’s April 1 retirement ceremony for Rutan. For the first few flights, the Boomerang flew with the original 1990s-era Apple 5300C PowerBook used for the engines and systems monitor. Clements says Rutan was excited that his old computer still worked, but obviously there’s been a lot of technological progress since then. Donations from a handful of companies provided new instrumentation for the cockpit, notably Apple with the addition of an iPad dock. Clements eventually flew the Boomerang from Mojave to Wittman Field for AirVenture 2011’s Tribute to Rutan.
One would imagine that such an innovative and efficient design could have been a commercial hit. And yet, like many of Rutan’s creative designs, the Boomerang never saw production. It is literally one of a kind. Avionics entrepreneur Ray Morrow and his son Neil Morrow did have plans for an enlarged version, the MB-300 Boomerang, to be produced and operated as an air taxi (see separate file). Unfortunately the project was postponed indefinitely and nothing came of it. We may not have seen the end of the Boomerang just yet: in June 2009 Burt Rutan mentioned his Model 356, "a turboprop Boomerang which we are doing for Dale Johnson [former vice-president of product development at Morrow Aircraft], who wants to put the Boomerang in production as an eight-place turboprop Dynamite airplane." And with the attention the Boomerang received at AirVenture, many in the aviation community are hoping the unusual airplane might attract the attention of a potential customer who might take the Boomerang to the next phase of development.
Population: 1 [N24BT] (c/n 001)
Empty weight: 2,359 lb (1,070 kg)
Maximum speed: 311 mph (530 km/h, 270 kt)
Crew/passengers: 1 crew, 4 passengers