The guy flying the VSS Unity was David Mackay... Interesting British pilot with an impeccable pedigree...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Mackay_(pilot)
My cynicism about the whole enterprise stems not from the calibre of the many good people working on this programme but the naivety of the would be passengers who are deluded as to the level of risk associated with each flight.
http://aviationweek.com/new-space/virgi ... flies-free
Virgin Galactic’s chief executive, George Whitesides, tweeted that the crew reported “excellent flight qualities” from the spaceplane, which incorporates several improvements over the first vehicle that was lost in a flight test accident in October 2014. The initial glide flight was originally targeted for just over a month ago but was thwarted by high winds. A series of undisclosed issues then prevented airborne release on Nov 3 and a further captive carry flight was undertaken on Nov 30 to evaluate what the company described as “tweaks.”
The second SS2 is the first built for Virgin by its sister organization, The Spaceship Company (TSC). Based on the original Scaled Composites-developed spaceplane design, the revised version includes modifications to beef-up the horizontal stabilizers and rudders. The flight also marks the first drop test made from the carrier aircraft since the development of new procedures which significantly improve WK2’s take-off and balanced field length performance. For the Dec 3 flight, the carrier aircraft was flown by Virgin Galactic test pilot Michael Masucci and company test pilot and vice president for safety and testing, Todd Ericson.
The glide flight now clears Virgin to begin envelope expansion sorties that will gradually explore flutter and handling across a wide range of lower speed conditions before powered flights begin in early 2017. Once underway, Virgin Galactic says rocket-powered tests will push quickly through the transonic speed range to focus initially on supersonic re-entry.
Speaking earlier in October, Virgin Galactic president Mike Moses forecast “about 10 glide flights worth of targets. We can do those in probably eight flights but it might take us 15, so we are not going to move to the next phase until we have cleared out of those tests.” Flights will evaluate forward center of gravity (cg) at light weight and aft cg at heavy weight as well as lateral cg testing and handling characteristics.
Once powered flights begin, Virgin plans to “really expand the envelope,” he added. “We will start slow (around transonic – just above Mach 1). Once that is under our belt we need to test slowly and will punch through to full duration rocket flights and look at off-nominal conditions.” Meanwhile, testing of the hybrid rocket motor continues to explore the full operation range of the improved hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), a form of polymer binder that was used for the first series of powered tests with the initial SS2.
Beyond transonic testing and envelope expansion, Virgin’s key target remains supersonic re-entry to fully evaluate the performance of the feathering system. This was due to be tested when the accident occurred in 2014. “Supersonic re-entry is the one thing we haven’t seen this vehicle do and we want to get eyes on that and see where it performs,” says Moses.
This from 2012 with the proverbial Branson posturing at various points...!
The high point reached before the previous disaster was this feathered flight...