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It takes a rocket scientist to move to Coeur d'Alene

by Tom Hasslinger
| November 17, 2010 8:00 PM

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Burt Rutan's pyramid-shaped, energy efficient home that was featured on the cover of the magazine 'Popular Science' in November 1989, is for sale in Mojave, Calif.

COEUR d'ALENE - To hear Burt Rutan tell it, he's not a rocket scientist, rather an aircraft engineer who happened to build a vessel that reached outer space.

But it doesn't stop friends, family and coworkers at Rutan's research company, Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif., from going to the comedic standby to rib the famous engineer.

Having trouble opening a jar, say, or taking a wrong turn on the way to the restaurant; any slight hiccup in the ordinary and they might chide him.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist, they'll say.

"We use that joke," said Rutan, Scaled Composites CEO, and Time magazine's '100 most influential people' A-lister, "all the time."

So keeping in theme, how many rocket scientists does it take to move to Coeur d'Alene?

None, of course, but one will anyway.

Rutan, 67, designer of 42 different types of airplanes with four of those models on display in the National Air and Space Museum, is packing his bags and moving north.

He and his wife, Tonya, are retiring to Coeur d'Alene come April 2011.

Their pyramid-shaped, energy efficient home that was once featured on the cover of the magazine "Popular Science" is on the market. They're trading the California desert for a home in Syringa Heights.

Rutan wants to leave the world of planes and spaceships behind, maybe play a little golf near the lake and pine trees.

"I want to keep my slate clean so I can put my feet up, relax and enjoy my time," he told The Press. "That's never happened to me."

But it might be hard for the man who started the most aggressive aerospace research company in the world on a $15,000 loan from his father to quit the field cold turkey.

Rutan, after all, designed SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately-built manned spacecraft to reach space. Financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the successful launch in 2004 won the $10 million Ansari X-Award and has brought space tourism closer to reality. He designed the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, has been featured on several documentaries and television shows and was named 'Entrepreneur of the Year' by Inc. magazine.

"I can already see the wheels turning," Tonya said, of his design bone not resting easily. "He wants to make a submarine that cruises around Lake Coeur d'Alene that looks like a shark and jumps out of the water."

But Rutan chose Coeur d'Alene to escape, a place with which they were otherwise unfamiliar.

They were introduced to North Idaho last year visiting friend Kaye LeFebvre - the only person they know in Coeur d'Alene - and they fell in love with the landscape and locals.

"Coeur d'Alene is a fabulous place," Rutan said. "It just seemed like a healthy place and we fell in love with the people."

None of whom can sidetrack Rutan away from nature and golf - a sport he pursued after a 1998 heart attack - back to the drawing board.

And as Rutan tells it, there will be no consulting, no volunteering on boards - nothing but retirement.

So, does it take a rocket scientist to pitch out of a sand trap?

Of course not. But it does to design a flying submarine shark.

"He's already got some ideas on the drawing board," Tonya said. "That's how it starts. Then I sit back and watch."

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