Posts Tagged Virgin Galactic
As Virgin Galactic’s first passenger flights near, we take a look at the key people and technologies behind the world’s first commercial spaceline. This post: test pilot Dave Mackay.
Interviewed by Michael Behar
When he wants to relax, David Mackay, 55, flies an Extra 300L, a performance aerobatic aircraft, doing vertical rolls and knife-edge spins. This helps him stay sharp at his day job: chief pilot for Virgin Galactic. At the moment, Mackay is flight-testing WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo – the mother ship that will shuttle tourists to 47,000 feet, where the rocket plane will decouple and blast into space – and is scheduled to begin flying tourists to space next year. The Scotland native made his first flight in 1977. “I did it with the University Air Squadron, which gave students experience with the armed forces,” he recalls. After graduating, Mackay joined the Royal Air Force (RAF), flying a Hawker Harrier GR3, a fighter known for its unique ability to take off and land vertically. “I always wanted to be a test pilot,” he says. “So as soon as I had sufficient experience, I applied to test pilot school.” He remained in the RAF as a test pilot until 1995, when he left to fly for Virgin Atlantic, and then, in 2009, joined Virgin Galactic to become the world’s first commercial spacecraft pilot.
What inspired you to become a test pilot?
From an early age, I was interested in the possibility. I lived in a part of Scotland where I saw military jets’ low flying. It looked really exciting. I was also inspired by manned spaceflight – the first astronauts were ex-military test pilots. That seemed to me like a fantastic career path.
How did you land your job at Virgin Galactic?
I was a pilot for Virgin, flying A340s, when I got the invitation to look at technical documentation for Virgin Atlantic’s GlobalFlyer, built by Scaled Composites for Steve Fossett to fly solo, nonstop around the world. On the basis of what I reported, I was asked to come to Mojave [California, where Scaled is based] to talk to the engineers. At the time, they were building SpaceShipOne, and I flew its simulator. When Virgin Galactic embarked on its SpaceShipTwo project, I was asked to be the test pilot.
Isn’t testing aircraft a risky way to earn a living?
That’s the popular impression. Test flying was dangerous in days gone by, back in aviation’s early years. But today you can’t afford to damage or crash an aircraft. Now it’s all about taking small steps. It’s a careful, controlled approach.
Do test flights give you an adrenaline rush? Or is it business as usual?
It’s somewhere in between. Flying can be very unforgiving. You should really know your aircraft, its limitations, and its systems. Do this and you shouldn’t get a big adrenaline rush. That said, there are some flights where the adrenaline flows.
I once flew an aircraft where the main gear did not lower properly. I was stuck with just the nose gear and one of the main gears down. It was a training flight. We ended up landing on two wheels, which made for quite an exciting ride as the aircraft slid off the side of the runway. That’s the only accident I’ve ever had – I felt the adrenaline after we came to a stop.
Tell us about your test flights for Virgin Galactic.
I’ve done a glide fight in SpaceShipTwo and about 15 flights in WhiteKnightTwo.
Are there similarities between the two vehicles?
The cockpits are very similar – same windows, same flight controls, same avionics. WhiteKnightTwo can be used as an in-flight simulator for SpaceShipTwo; with its gear down and speed brakes deployed, it can duplicate SpaceShipTwo’s [steep] approach angle.
Is WhiteKnightTwo hard to fly?
It’s a large airplane with a 140-foot wingspan [comparable to a narrow-body commercial jet’s], and it’s equipped with a manual flight-control system – literally just cables and rods maneuvering it. That’s quite unusual for an aircraft of this size. But because it’s manually controlled, you can feel its natural characteristics. There’s no fly-by-wire system to hide those, which makes it a satisfying aircraft to fly – full of character and not bland or boring.
What has impressed you most about flying WhiteKnightTwo?
Its incredible performance at low altitude. Also, its rate of climb – up to 50,000 feet in 45 minutes – is amazing for such a large airplane. When I came in for my first approach for landing, there was a crosswind. It was quite gusty, so I was tentative. But it felt much nicer than I expected.
What’s the most challenging aspect of flying WhiteKnightTwo?
Its landing gear is very wide, 52 feet between the main gears under the wing. So on the ground you’ve got to be very careful not to put a wheel off the side – particularly on some of the narrow taxiways we have at Mojave.
WhiteKnightTwo has two fuselages. What’s in them?
The pilot sits in the right fuselage. At the moment, the left one is empty. But you could bring in seats and an air-conditioning system for passengers.
Why steer from the right side? Is this a British thing?
Yes. It’s why they need a British pilot – I’m joking. There were many considerations, but conventionally the captain in a two-crew aircraft sits in the left-hand seat and the copilot sits on the right. Flying from the right fuselage gives WhiteKnightTwo’s captain a good view of the spaceship.
How has WhiteKnightTwo broken ground that might be useful to commercial aviation?
Its configuration – the twin fuselage – allows you to carry a very large and heavy payload mounted externally. This could be a spaceship or a rocket or anything else you might want to have sitting outside an aircraft.
When you piloted SpaceShipTwo, what was it like decoupling from the mother ship?
A little like you’ve gone over the top of a roller coaster. It lasts for a couple of seconds and then almost immediately you’re flying a glider. It’s pleasantly surprising how well it flies. I had this mental model of how it was going to feel, so I approached it carefully when I first took the controls. But I quickly realized it’s really quite a sweet-handling airplane.
Will you be hiring other pilots?
We’ll have a fairly small number to begin with, around seven or eight, until we’re really comfortable and feel ready to increase the frequency of flights. Then we’ll recruit and train more pilots.
Where are you in terms of flight-testing WhiteKnightTwo?
We’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the landing gear, looking at how it gets affected by prolonged flight at high altitude. When you fly very high for a long time, the aircraft starts to cool down, and seals and oils start to behave slightly differently. We want to make sure that the gear and other systems can tolerate a long time at altitude.
What about SpaceShipTwo?
SpaceShipTwo is being modified in preparation for the rocket motor installation.
During reentry, SpaceShipTwo may reach about six Gs. Have you ever endured that much in flight before?
I’ve pulled nine Gs in an F-16.
How do you think passengers will handle the high Gs?
Different people tolerate high Gs differently – it’s the reason we want to train passengers beforehand, so it’s not a complete shock to their system. We don’t want any unpleasant surprises.
For more about Virgin Galactic and other great articles, view the most recent edition of Virtuoso Life.
By Virtuoso Life senior editor Justin Paul
“Think of yourselves as future astronauts as you walk through,” Virgin Galactic’s Carolyn Wincer instructed the group of accredited space agents (ASAs) spanning North America, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Hong Kong, Israel, and beyond. And with that, the doors of Spaceport America opened, and we strode into the 2012 ASA Forum. More than 70 ASAs and Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch, David Hansen, Jim Osborne, Keith Waldon, Tony Poe, and I made the trek to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, for this year’s forum. Our mission: an exclusive in-depth update on the progress of Richard Branson’s space venture and a behind-the-scenes tour of Spaceport America.
After a quick introduction to the terminal that will serve as Virgin Galactic’s home base and photo ops on the runway, we broke into groups for sessions with key Virgin Galactic team members on nearly every aspect of the future spaceflight. Test pilots Keith Colmer and Dave Mackay presented updates on pilot training and flight day details. Dr. Jim Vanderploeg discussed preflight medical assessments in the space being built out as the terminal’s future clinic. Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of operations, welcomed us to the mission control room overlooking the runway and detailed his role and his staff’s at the command center, from taxi to touchdown. Throughout the day, presenters encouraged ASAs to ask questions, voice concerns, and provide input on ways to enhance future astronauts’ experience at the spaceport.
As the event wrapped up in true Virgin Galactic style – a party with local dignitaries and stargazing on the runway until well past midnight – one thing was clear: With SpaceShipTwo about to enter the final phase of test flights, Virgin Galactic’s program is primed for liftoff. Look for an in-depth update on Virgin Galactic in Virtuoso Life’s January/February issue.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced that its passenger-carrying suborbital space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), successfully completed its first glide flight test on June 26 since a recent integration period for rocket motor systems and maintenance. Also, on June 26, the spaceship’s engine, RocketMotorTwo (RM2), underwent another successful full duration test fire, marking the first time the company and its partners have undertaken test flight and test firing on the same day. Both milestones prime Virgin Galactic to reach powered flight by the end of the year.
“Since receiving an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration in May for SpaceShipTwo and its carrier vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo, there has been a rapid escalation of test activity,” said George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic. “In that timeframe, we’ve had seven successful test flights and three full-scale rocket motor tests. We are on track for powered flight by the end of 2012.”
The glide flight was performed by Scaled Composites, the prime contractor for the spaceflight system. To perform the flight, SS2 was air-released from WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) at an altitude of 51,000 feet. At the SS2 controls were Scaled pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury. In the carrier aircraft were Scaled test pilot Mark Stucky and David Mackay, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot. Flying in the chase plane for the test were Mike Melvill, who piloted the first private flight to space, and Virgin Galactic pilot Keith Colmer.
The rocket motor firing was performed by Sierra Nevada Space Systems, the prime contractor for the RM2 system. The 55-second test was the thirteenth full-scale flight design RM2 hot fire. All objectives were completed. In addition to this test, on June 20 a full-scale RM2 test firing took place for the first time at Scaled Composites’ test site in Mojave, Calif., under full direction of the spaceship’s Rocket Motor Controller. This firing provided an end-to-end test of the rocket motor systems – a critical step in preparation for powered flight.
This intense period of activity comes just weeks before Virgin Galactic, along with its Mojave-based sister manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company, will gather customers and VIPs at the Farnborough International Air Show 2012. Guests will attend a special briefing from company founder Sir Richard Branson and other company executives.
Virgin Galactic flights booked in the US are handled exclusively by Virtuoso travel advisors. Click here to learn more about the Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic partnership.
Fledgling space line Virgin Galactic held a dedication ceremony for their newly completed Terminal Hangar Facility, which has been aptly named Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space. Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant at Spaceport America located in Southern New Mexico.
Looking skyward, more than 800 guests marveled at Virgin Galactic’s commercial space vehicles as they soared through the skies of southern New Mexico during the dedication ceremonies of Virgin Galactic’s new home at Spaceport America. The flight of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo was the highlight of a spectacular ceremony which featured the dedication of the Sir Norman Foster-designed building and announcements of new scientific and educational initiatives for the world’s first commercial space line.
Virtuoso’s Accredited Space Agents were on hand to witness history alongside hundreds of guests that included their Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts (those already booked on a future flight), dignitaries and members of the international media.
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, a combined terminal and hangar facility, will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. In addition, The Gateway will house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends and family area. There is also space committed to public access via the planned New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s Visitor Experience.
Contact a Virtuoso Travel Advisor to find out how you can begin your journey to space now.
To learn more about Virtuoso’s exclusive Virgin Galactic program, click here.
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The spaceship was released from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo (Eve), at an altitude of 45,000 feet. The two main goals of the flight were to carry out a clean release of the spaceship from its mothership and for the pilots to free fly and glide back and land at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Click here to watch footage of the historic flight.
The world’s first commercial space line has conducted 39 system test flights to date, culminating with this latest milestone. More glide tests are on the way prior to powered testing which will lead up to full commercial operations.
Virgin Galactic is now well on the way to becoming the world’s first commercial space line with 370 customer deposits totaling $50 million. Commercial flights will begin after comprehensive flight testing and finalizing regulatory approvals. Nearly 400 future astronauts have already signed up to make history of their own. Virtuoso has exclusive rights to sell Virgin Galactic space travel in the Americas. Deposits start from $20,000.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the flight, commented, “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment. Now, the sky is no longer the limit and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year.”
For more information, visit the Virgin Galactic website.
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It has now been a few days since I was at the historic unveiling of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise. I’ve not only been professionally connected to this project for three years as Virtuoso CEO but also personally as a Founder Future Astronaut, and this entry is from the personal side. You see, I have six models of VMS Eve carrying VSS Enterprise! I have them at work, at home, heck, I think the only place I don’t have one is in my car – hmmmmm? I was there for the amazing ASA visit to Scaled Composites during Virtuoso’s Travel Mart 2008, I was there for the unveiling of the models in New York and the awesome party that followed, and I was there for the unveiling of VMS Eve, so my expectations were pretty high for what I was going to see this week.
First Look At VSS Enterprise
Nothing could have prepared me for the experience – seeing them coupled together, coming through the mist, was just awesome. Simply put, you can’t truly appreciate how incredible these two look together – they are sexy, powerful and awe-inspiring! Nothing has been built in decades that both captures the imagination and pushes the envelope like this spaceship and her mothership. My emotions went from toe-tingling excitement to tears of joy to be part of such a great human accomplishment. Every Future Astronaut I met was also moved and we all had one universal feeling – those who are waiting to book are missing out on the incredible experience that Virgin Galactic has created for those of us helping them prove this is a commercially viable enterprise (pun intended!).
Virgin Galactic Is Making History
Getting to know the Virgin and Scaled teams has been such great part of this journey. Hearing Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Richardson talk about the significance of this project while also poking fun at each other was great fun. Getting to know the test pilots – Brian Binnie, the winning X prize pilot, and now “Forger” and David Mackay – well, where else would I have ever had that opportunity? This is not just getting to observe history. It has been an opportunity to know the people making history – to share their dreams and see those dreams come to reality.
As for me, I never dreamed of being an astronaut or a pilot. I want to experience this journey because I believe it embodies the very best of what travel is all about – getting out of your comfort zone, seeing things from a different perspective, and appreciating the world. Who knows what effect space tourism will have on the world? Maybe having creative and successful people detach themselves from our planet, even for a short time, will inspire them to do even more for us all.
Written by Virtuoso CEO, Matthew D. Upchurch
Today’s unveiling of Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo is another historic step toward the realization of commercial space tourism. Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team have dared to dream that everyday people would want to escape Earth’s pull and see our blue planet as few before them have. Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites have literally put wings to that dream, and today we saw firsthand the vehicle they have created. I could describe the composite material used to make the ship lighter, stronger and greener than any plane or rocket ever constructed. I could recite the years of development in concept and design, along with the huge financial commitments, that together have brought us to today’s event. But I’d rather leave the facts to the engineers, accountants and reporters and, instead, tell you what this means to me personally.
As I told Chris Elliott, the idea that while I float weightless above the Earth I can look down from the edge of the atmosphere to actually see the curve of the Earth is extremely exciting. I know it will be a life-changing event! I learned early on that seeing the beauty of the natural world, exploring her wonders and getting to know her inhabitants, enriches my life beyond description and measure. Once I have completed my own flight aboard SpaceShipTwo, I will have a totally new perspective from a completely new vantage. It will be the ultimate travel experience.
Equally exciting for me is knowing this experience is available to others who share my passion for amazing life experiences. The first passenger flights are expected to launch within the next 18 to 24 months. Yes, you can book your seat right now. Just contact a Virtuoso Accredited Space Agent. If you go to the Virtuoso web site, you’ll find the contact information to connect you to a Virtuoso member who has been hand-selected and specially trained by Virgin Galactic to be an Accredited Space Agent.
On December 7, Virgin Galactic rolls out the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, SpaceShipTwo. Check back often next week for the latests updates from this event. In the meantime, here’s a brief look at the journey to space tourism:
April 12, 1961
Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space.
July 20, 1969
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.
May 18, 1996
Ansari X Prize announced: $10 million for the first private team to fly consecutive flights to space within two weeks.
June 21, 2004
First private manned space flight. Mike Melvill pilots SpaceShipOne, designed by Burt Rutan’s aerospace firm, Scaled Composites.
September 27, 2004
Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan partner to create the world’s first commercial manned space operator, Virgin Galactic.
October 4, 2004
Test pilot Brian Binnie wins Ansari X Prize in SpaceShipOne.
July 20, 2005
Virgin Galactic sells first tickets to space; more than 300 future astronauts have reserved seats to date.
December 6, 2006
Virgin Galactic selects U.S. Accredited Space Agents, 100 percent of whom are Virtuoso travel advisors. Training commences in February at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
June 12, 2007
Virtuoso travel advisors selected as the exclusive space agents for Canada; training commences.
September 4, 2007
Spaceport America designs unveiled in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s future headquarters.
January 23, 2008
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo designs unveiled; Virtuoso Accredited Space Agents complete a two-day forum at National Aerospace Training & Research Center in Philadelphia.
April 28, 2008
Virtuoso’s Central and South American space agents chosen.
December 21, 2008
First test flight of WhiteKnightTwo.
May 28, 2009
Phase 1 rocket testing for SpaceShipTwo completed.
June 18, 2009
Spaceport America breaks ground.
July 27, 2009
WhiteKnightTwo makes public debut at EAA AirVenture. Virtuoso Accredited Space Agents and confirmed future astronauts granted VIP access to the event.
December 7, 2009
Virgin Galactic will unveil the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, SpaceShipTwo.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first spaceline, will soon transport ordinary citizens into suborbital space before gliding them safely back down to Earth, and, in fact, has already accepted reservations on the first flights to another world.
To book these seats, Virgin Galactic turned to Virtuoso, the travel industry’s foremost network of luxury travel advisors, and granted it exclusive North American rights to book these spaceflights. The spaceline appointed select Virtuoso member travel advisors to become the first Accredited Space Agents (ASAs), and, with their assistance, you’ll be able to see Earth through a window previously reserved for astronauts.
Next week, Virgin Galactic unveils it’s first spaceship in the Mojave Desert. Several Virtuosos, including CEO Matthew Upchurch, will be on hand to help Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic team celebrate. Check back with us for updates and first-hand accounts of the festivities.
In the meantime, click here to learn more about the Virtuoso/Virgin Galactic partnership and find an ASA who can book you into space.