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First Flight For White Knight Two

Epervier Project
Virgin Galactic's twin-fuselage White Knight Two carrier airplane takes to the air for the first time on Sunday after weeks of taxi tests. The plane will serve as the mothership for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane.
Photo Credit: Bill Deaver/Mojave Desert News

Epervier Project
A camera plane photographs the maiden flight of WhiteKnightTwo. Photo credit: Flightglobal.com

Epervier Project
After several days of taxi tests, WhiteKnightTwo finally took to the air on Sunday. Photo credit: Flightglobal.com

December 22, 2008 — The mothership for SpaceShipTwo completed its maiden flight on Sunday, December 21, reaching a maximum altitude of 16,000 feet and helping Virgin Galactic come one step closer to becoming the world’s first “spaceline.”

Flightglobal.com reported that WhiteKnightTwo made the 59-minute flight from Mojave Air and Space Port at 8:16 a.m. PDT, following successful taxi trials earlier this month. A Beechcraft King Air with a camera crew followed the flight.

"It reached an altitude 4,000-feet above the original test plan's maximum altitude,” Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn told Flightglobal.com. “That is how confident we are about the aircraft. Now we have to download all the data. There will be another flight early in the new year.”

Sunday’s flight, however, was almost canceled due to 9 inches of snow and FAA rules on crosswinds for flight tests.

Stuart Witt, general manager of Mojave Air and Space Port, told SPACE.com that the flight was a reflective time. “When everybody's looking for a bailout, there are still people that are doing something for a much larger reason.

"And here we are on a Sunday morning...in a place out here in the middle of nowhere and really neat stuff is happening. It just looked beautiful," Witt said. "What brings people to this desolate landscape on a Sunday morning in December is more about what forced them here. Innovation by the private sector is a void being filled because NASA deserted 90 percent of the sandbox and left it open for us to fill." 

One of the people on hand to witness the flight was Dick Rutan, who in 1986 piloted the Voyager around the world non-stop along with Jeana Yeager. He is the brother of Burt Rutan, chairman emeritus of Scaled Composites, which designed the twin-fuselage carrier aircraft powered by four Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308A engines.

"It all went well...all the big things worked well," Rutan told SPACE.com. "Overall, 99 percent on target and everybody is really happy. You get an airplane that's this weird and get it up and get it down...and it's safe on deck."

The airplane was designed to carry space tourists for Virgin Galactic. WK2 will fly to about 50,000 feet with SpaceShipTwo suspended beneath its wing. The spaceship will then fall free and light a rocket to reach altitudes above 100,000 feet, where tourists can experience weightlessness and view the curvature of the Earth.

WhiteKnightTwo is slated to appear at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, which will be held July 27-August 2 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh.

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