Remarks on Presenting Presidential Citizens Medals to the Designer and Crew of the Voyager in Los Angeles, California

 

December 29, 1986

 

The President. Thank you very much. I'm honored to have this opportunity to recognize these pioneers of aviation. With all of America, Nancy and I followed the Voyager's progress along each leg of its fabulous flight, with alternating feelings of nervousness and hope and fear and elation -- but mostly an overwhelming pride in these two courageous Americans and their historic mission. We watched as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager hooked a ride on a typhoon over the Pacific Ocean. And we held our breath as they piloted their way between thunderclouds on one side and the hostile airspace over Vietnam on the other. Dick had already been pulled out of the South China Sea once many years ago when, after more than a hundred combat missions over North Vietnam, enemy ground fire had downed his fighter plane. And I'm sure that Dick felt, and we all agreed, that one dip in the ocean was enough. [Laughter]

 

We laughed and shook our head, but in a way understood the local official in Thailand who refused to believe some cockamamie story about a plane that was flying around the world on one tank of gas. [Laughter] And we've cheered when, just past Sri Lanka, Voyager broke the record for the longest nonstop flight. And then when we saw you coming back home -- so ungainly, yet so graceful, flying into the desert landing strip at Edwards Air Force Base -- well, that was just about the best Christmas present America could have had. And, of course, waiting for you back home was the man whose brilliant design, determination, and entrepreneurship got the Voyager program off the ground -- Dick's brother, Burt Rutan.

 

For those of us old enough to remember, the flight of the Voyager brought us back to the days of those magnificient men and their flying machines. And you reminded us all that aviation history is still being written by men and women with the spirit of adventure and derring-do. On December the 23d, 1986, the name Voyager joined the distinguished family of airborne technological breakthroughs that began with the Wright Flyer and includes the Spirit of St. Louis and the glamorous Glennis. And three men -- or new names, I should say, will be added to the column headed ``The Right Stuff.'' Along with Orville and Wilbur Wright, Charles Lindbergh and Chuck Yeager, history will now record Dick Rutan, Jeana Yeager, and Burt Rutan.

 

And so, it's my honor to present the Presidential Citizens Medal to Richard G. Rutan:

 

Dick Rutan has inspired a Nation with his record-setting, non-stop aerial circumnavigation of the globe. A veteran of 325 combat missions during the Vietnam conflict, Dick Rutan had already proven himself a patriot and a hero. The historic flight of the Voyager demonstrated that he is also a man of vision -- and a man with the skill, determination, and just plain courage to make his vision a reality.

 

Jeana Yeager:

 

When Jeana Yeager landed at Edwards Air Force Base, completing her historic and record-setting non-stop flight around the globe aboard the Voyager, America gained another hero. She reminded us all that aviation history is still being written by men and women with the spirit of adventure and derring-do.

 

And to Elbert L. Rutan:

 

Burt Rutan is the driving force behind the brilliant voyage of the aircraft he designed and built. His initiative, originality, and entrepreneurship have shown us anew the remarkable results that individual determination and enterprise can attain, no matter how formidable the challenge. The record-setting flight of the Voyager is an inspiration to all America.

 

Dick Rutan. Wow! [Laughter] Now, it's quite an honor to receive these citations, but there's something very significant about what happened. And that is that this was done by individual citizens, citizens of this great land. And we did so because we had the freedom to pursue a dream, and that's important. And we should never forget, and those that guard our freedoms, that we should hang on to them very tenaciously and be very careful about some do-gooder that thinks that our safety is more important than our freedom. Because freedom is awful difficult to obtain, and it's even more difficult to regain it once it's lost. So, let's never forget how important it was, and we should hang on to it. Another thing I want to say is that because of the individual freedoms that we have, out in this room right here, the majority of you are Voyager people, Voyager volunteers -- people that gave of themselves for nothing, that they wanted to do something significant. And all of you that were involved in this thing, I want you all to stand up right now, and I want to applaud you and accept this medal on your behalf because I'm proud to death of you: the Voyager crew, ladies and gentlemen. [Applause] Thank you very much.

 

The President. All right. Well, to you and the many ground crew and volunteers who shared in the Voyager vision, you're all heroes, exemplifying the voluntarism, the enterprise, the imagination, and just plain courage that make this country great. And you all make us proud to be Americans. I couldn't help but think when Dick was standing here and talking about the freedom we have and for Americans and individuals to do things of this kind -- I was kind of thinking it was pretty funny that an ex-officer of horse cavalry was here standing, handing out medals to somebody that had flown around the world on a single tank of gas. [Laughter] Thank you, and God bless you.

 

Jeana Yeager. I don't know really what to say other than we're very proud of this, and I wish there was one other person here that has really contributed to this program. He's been with us since the day we first cut the glass on the airplane. That's Mr. Bruce Evans. But between him and everybody else, thank you.

 

Burt Rutan. I hope I can do this. I've had tears in my eyes many times during this flight, and I'm very close right now. I wanted to mention that this aircraft was developed by a handful of private citizen-Americans who were operating in an environment that allowed them the freedom for us to create that airplane and to flight-test it and to reach around the world with it. And I want to thank Ronald Reagan for providing and maintaining this environment that was devoid of government regulations that would have made this thing impossible in any other country that I can think of. I only filled out two pieces of paper -- [laughter] -- for the U.S. Government. I'm serious. We have an application for airworthiness and an application for the tail number on the airplane. [Laughter] And that's the only two pieces of government regulations that we had to do, to do this job. There were dozens of volunteers helping for the world flight. It required a lot of weather support and so on. But the actual building of the airplane was done over an 18-month time period with less than four people, average, working on it to assemble the airplane. And I want to thank Dick and Jeana, Bruce Evans, Mike and Sally Melville, John Runtz, and the others who helped us launch that airplane and make my dream come true. Thank you very much.

 

Note: The President spoke at 10:15 a.m. in the Century Room at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, CA.