28 July 2008
News - Vehicles (Good)
WhiteKnightTwo Rolls Out
Virgin's spaceplane greets the world
by G B Leatherwood
“I think you will agree that WhiteKnightTwo, or 'EVE' as we will be able to officially call her soon, is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary aviation vehicles ever developed.”

With those words, Sir Richard Branson introduced the first paying customers of Virgin Galactic’s suborbital flights to the mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo in the early morning of Monday, July 27, 2008 at the Mojave Air and Spaceport, California.

This is the site where this “extraordinary aviation vehicle” was built and is still having the finishing touches completed before actual flight testing begins perhaps as soon as late August or early September.

Extraordinary? What makes it so? For one thing, as Sam Coniglio, vice president of the Space Tourism Society and Space Future Journal correspondent, said in a telephone interview sandwiched between the two roll-out presentations, “It’s HUGE!”

SpaceShipTwo has a wing span of 140 feet, or about the same as the WW II B-29 bomber. Two separate fuselages hang beneath the wing, with two engines on either side.

While it isn’t yet clear exactly how the actual instrumentation and controls will be arranged, it appears that the pilot will fly WK2 from the right fuselage, with the co-pilot occupying the left fuselage, probably with a duplicate set of controls.

SFJ: Why the pilot on the right? Doesn’t the pilot usually occupy the left seat?

Coniglio: Because that’s the way Burt (Rutan) wants it!

SFJ: So what’s the next step? Any problems getting WK2 certified for flight by the FAA?

Coniglio: They aren’t expecting any. Scaled Composites has already built and flown over 40 aircraft over the past 40 years--that’s one new plane a year--so they pretty well know what they’re doing.”

The other most extraordinary thing about WK2 is that is built entirely of carbon composites. It is reported to be the largest aircraft built completely of carbon composite elements and is considerably lighter than conventional construction while retaining all of the strength and then some.

Sir Richard said he was inspired by Stephen Hawking, who explained clearly and concisely that man had no option but to get to space as quickly as possible.

“I consider space to be the final frontier on this planet,” said Branson.

The roll out of the real WhiteKnightTwo marks one more step into the next frontier.

Photo courtesy of Sam Coniglio

Share |
G B Leatherwood 28 July 2008
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.