RUTAN-MATHENY SOLITAIRE – N142SD
Burt Rutan had always wanted to design a sailplane, so when the opportunity presented itself in late 1980, Burt began designing the Solitaire. The Solitaire was to compete with the Soaring Society of America’s self-launching sailplane and would shift the public attention away from the Rutan Aircraft Factory’s top secret experimental airplane, the Grizzly.
Initially, Burt settled on the Zenoah engine, however, he changed to a Robin within a few weeks and, still later, switched to a single cylinder 215cc Cuyuna. Of seven or eight sketches, Burt liked the canard or tandem wing, with the canard mounted right on the forward end of the fuselage, with its leading edge in line with the tip of the nose.
Construction on the Solitaire began in December of 1981 and was completed in early 1982. On May 28, 1982 the Solitaire made its first test flight, piloted by Mike Melville. The Solitaire handled well and performed as expected. Later, the engine was removed and the aircraft was test flown as a sailplane. Burt worked with the local FAA to get the new Grizzley signed off as the tow plane and arranged for himself to be checked out as a tow plane pilot. Burt and Mike towed many flights with the Grizzly, some up to 10,000 feet to obtain L/D data and to open the envelope.
Task Research manufactured and marketed the prefabricated fiberglass parts for the kit. These parts were the most advanced, state of the art components offered to homebuilders at that time. The fuselage halves consisted of skins of prepreg fiberglass carefully oriented for optimum efficiency, with Nomex honeycomb cores and utilized high tech film adhesive to bond the sandwich together. The main wing spars had “S” glass roving spar caps and were molded in metal molds. The spars and fuselage halves were required items since they were not readily homebuild-able. Task Research also supplied the seat pan, the canopy in its frame, and the turtledeck pre-molded. In addition, optional pieces included prefab fuselage bulkheads, wing root fairings, wheel fairings, wingtips, and even pre-hot wired foam cores for the wings and canard.
Robert Matheny of San Diego, California was the proud owner of the first customer built Rutan Solitaire. Robert spent two years and three months building the Solitaire as a pure glider. The first flight was in December of 1985 behind a tow plane. After five hours of flight time, the glider was returned to Robert’s shop for engine installation. In 1986, Robert Matheny donated the Solitaire to the EAA AirVenture Museum where it now resides in the company of other innovative Rutan aircraft.
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