Virgin Galactic wants astronauts that were airline pilots with military fast jet experience and is looking to its Virgin group sister companies such as Atlantic, America and Blue for recruits.
With a prediction of one flight a week in the first year of service, those selected will be part of a six-pilot mission team, under the existing concept of operations. That sees two pilot astronauts in SpaceShip Two, another two in WhiteKnight Two, one in the chase aircraft and one in mission control.
Today Virgin Galactic's pilot team numbers four-all British and all drawn from Virgin Atlantic. It includes David Mackay, the spaceline's chief test pilot, Alistair Hoy, its chief training pilot, Stephen Johnson, its chief pilot, and Virgin group special projects director Alex Tai, a former Virgin Atlantic captain.
Vehicle developer Scaled Composites'
pilots Peter Siebold and Brian Binnie, who earned his astronaut wings flying SpaceShipOne into space in 2004, are working with Virgin Galactic.
© Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic's pilots (left to right) Steve Johnson, David Mackay, Alex Tai and Alistair Hoy
Siebold is now flying the WK2 prototype Virgin MotherShip Eve, while Tai and Mackay, who first flew the SS1 simulator in 2004, have used SS2's simulator to provide feedback on the pilot interface.
"I go in there and fly it and comment on things andmy comments areincorporated [into] symbology - what information is displayed and how you access that, " Mackay, told Flight International in March.
The SS2 does not have fly-by-wire and so the stick and pedal feedback the pilots get from the simulated airloads is "an important characteristic", saysMackay. He is visiting Scaled on a monthly basis overseeing the test- vehicle programme. He adds: "I hope to get involved [with the test flying] soon."Mackay explains that to avoid the US technology export rules his involvement avoids aspects of SS2, including its rocket motor, that are regulated by the US International Traffic in Arms Regulation. Under US law a foreign national even seeing ITAR technical information is deemed an export.
Through his test-flight role, Mackay is supporting Hoy's pilot training development. Pilots will experience 4g on ascent and up to 7g on descent on a daily basis. Hoy and Johnson were both in the UK Royal Air Force Red Arrows display team and they regularly pulled +6g to -3g in manoeuvres.
For flight testing, Mackay expects the prototype SS2 to have fixed-rake rather than inclined seats despite the g-loads expected. With no centrifuge experience, all Mackay's g-force experience has been in fast jets and of the expected g-loads Mackay is sanguine: "When you're doing it regularly it is not such a big deal, the body adapts to it."
Virgin Galactic is predicting SS2 flight testing will begin in the second half of this year. Mackay has sat in that prototype vehicle during its construction, "I've been in the cockpit, it is coming together."