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Who better to send to the desert than a guy named Moses? So, long before Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager said "Fill 'er up" and circled the globe in their strange aircraft, senior writer Sam Moses could be found wandering around the Mojave Desert in California, researching this week's story on Voyager's nonstop flight around the world (page 36). All told, Moses spent 25 days in the desert, and his time was amply rewarded.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Moses had a rare opportunity to fly with Rutan in the Long EZ, a high-performance aerobatics plane designed—as Voyager was—by Dick's brother Burt. A smooth series of loops, spins, climbs and dives gave Moses a real appreciation of the man called the Velvet Arm.
He vividly recalls when Rutan pointed the nose of the Long EZ into the air and pulled the throttle all the way back. "It was a lot like mashing the accelerator to the floor and taking the backstretch at Daytona at 190."
Which is something Moses has done. He has also driven a top alcohol dragster and raced motorcycles. In the early '70s, Moses spent his Sundays racing a 400cc Husqvarna over a stretch of the Mojave a few miles from the Civilian Flight Test Center, where Voyager was built. Moses, SI's motor sports writer, brought technical expertise to this story. More important, says senior editor Bob Brown, our motor sports and aviation editor, "Sam has done a number of stories on man taking on the unknown, those sports endeavors in which there are no guarantees."
Moses, who also wrote our story on the Gossamer Condor, the first human-powered airplane (SI, Aug. 1, 1977), says, "It never occurred to me to ask Dick or Jeana, 'Why are you doing this?' It seemed too obvious. It was the personal challenge; it was something that had never been done before, and it was such a historic aviation achievement."
On the third night of the Voyager journey, panic spread through the ground crew when it was unable to get Rutan to surrender the pilot's seat. Those in mission control worried that lack of sleep had seriously fogged Rutan's thinking. "The crisis was all on the ground," Moses says. "The old Vietnam fighter pilot had things under control."
Of Yeager, Moses says, "She's one of the quietest, toughest and gentlest women I've come across in sports. Even Dick will admit that Jeana is much cooler than he is. Probably what scared her most about the flight was the possibility of becoming famous for it."