Year
1986
Month Day
December 23

Voyager completes global flight

After nine days and four minutes in the sky, the experimental aircraft Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, completing the first nonstop flight around the globe on one load of fuel. Piloted by Americans Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, Voyager was made mostly of plastic and stiffened paper and carried more than three times its weight in fuel when it took off from Edwards Air Force Base on December 14. By the time it returned, after flying 25,012 miles around the planet, it had just five gallons of fuel left in its remaining operational fuel tank.

Voyager was built by Burt Rutan of the Rutan Aircraft Company without government support and with minimal corporate sponsorship. Dick Rutan, Burt’s brother and a decorated Vietnam War pilot, joined the project early on, as did Dick’s friend Jeanna Yeager (no relation to aviator Chuck Yeager). Voyager‘s extremely light yet strong body was made of layers of carbon-fiber tape and paper impregnated with epoxy resin. Its wingspan was 111 feet, and it had its horizontal stabilizer wing on the plane’s nose rather than its rear–a trademark of many of Rutan’s aircraft designs. Essentially a flying fuel tank, every possible area was used for fuel storage and much modern aircraft technology was foregone in the effort to reduce weight.

When Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force at 8:02 a.m. PST on December 14, its wings were so heavy with fuel that their tips scraped along the ground and caused minor damage. The plane made it into the air, however, and headed west. On the second day, Voyager ran into severe turbulence caused by two tropical storms in the Pacific. Dick Rutan had been concerned about flying the aircraft at more than a 15-degree angle, but he soon found the plane could fly on its side at 90 degrees, which occurred when the wind tossed it back and forth.

Rutan and Yeager shared the controls, but Rutan, a more experienced pilot, did most of the flying owing to the long periods of turbulence encountered at various points in the journey. With weak stomachs, they ate only a fraction of the food brought along, and each lost about 10 pounds.

On December 23, when Voyager was flying north along the Baja California coast and just 450 miles short of its goal, the engine it was using went out, and the aircraft plunged from 8,500 to 5,000 feet before an alternate engine was started up.

Almost nine days to the minute after it lifted off, Voyager appeared over Edwards Air Force Base and circled as Yeager turned a primitive crank that lowered the landing gear. Then, to the cheers of 23,000 spectators, the plane landed safely with a few gallons of fuel to spare, completing the first nonstop circumnavigation of the earth by an aircraft that was not refueled in the air.

Voyager is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

READ MORE: 6 Fascinating Facts About Space Probe Voyager 1

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“Balloon Boy” parents sentenced in Colorado

On December 23, 2009, Richard Heene, who carried out a hoax in which he told authorities his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, is sentenced to 90 days in jail in Fort Collins, Colorado. Heene’s wife Mayumi received 20 days of jail ...read more

Japanese war criminals hanged in Tokyo

In Tokyo, Japan, Hideki Tojo, former Japanese premier and chief of the Kwantung Army, is executed along with six other top Japanese leaders for their war crimes during World War II. Seven of the defendants were also found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, especially ...read more

Construction of Plymouth settlement begins

One week after the Mayflower docks at Plymouth harbor in present-day Massachusetts, construction of the first permanent European settlement in New England begins. On September 16, the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was ...read more

Vincent van Gogh chops off his ear

On December 23, 1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cuts off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France.  He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Today, Van Gogh is ...read more

The execution of Eddie Slovik is authorized

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower endorses the finding of a court-martial in the case of Eddie Slovik, who was tried for desertion, and authorizes his execution, the first such sentence against a U.S. Army soldier since the Civil War, and the only man so punished during World War II. ...read more

Chuck Berry is arrested on Mann Act charges in St. Louis, Missouri

On December 23, 1959, Chuck Berry is arrested in St. Louis, Missouri, on charges relating to his transportation of a 14-year-old girl across state lines for allegedly “immoral purposes.” “Never saw a man so changed,” is how the great Carl Perkins described the experience of ...read more

“Philadelphia,” the first major Hollywood movie about AIDS, opens in theaters

On December 23, 1993, Philadelphia, starring the actor Tom Hanks in the first major Hollywood movie to focus on the subject of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), opens in theaters. In the film, Hanks played Andrew Beckett, a gay attorney who is unjustly fired from his ...read more

Subway shooter Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young Black men on a subway car the previous day, flees New York City and heads for New Hampshire after becoming the central figure in a media firestorm. On the afternoon of December 22, Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur ...read more

Crew of USS Pueblo released by North Korea

The crew and captain of the U.S. intelligence gathering ship Pueblo are released after 11 months imprisonment by the government of North Korea. The ship, and its 83-man crew, was seized by North Korean warships on January 23 and charged with intruding into North Korean waters. ...read more

Chemical contamination prompts evacuation of Missouri town

On December 23, 1982, the Missouri Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) inform residents of Times Beach, Missouri that their town was contaminated when the chemical dioxin was sprayed on its unpaved roads, and that the town will have to be ...read more

George Washington resigns as commander in chief

On December 23, 1783, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, General George Washington resigns as commander in chief of the Continental Army and retires to his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. Hear the future president's powerful words in the animation 'George ...read more