Historic Spacecraft, Launch Plane In Only Public Showing
The cast and crew of the Mojave Aerospace Ventures
X-Prize-winning entry were center stage at AirVenture on Monday.
Pilot/astronaut Mike Melvill flew several overhead passes before
guiding the hybrid aircraft/spacecraft combination to a perfect
landing at about ten minutes past three PM.
Aboard White Knight with Melvill was crew chief Rick Aldrich.
Burt Rutan flew in the chase plane, with Sally Melvill and Tonya
Rutan. Paul Allen, the financial backer of the project, and
pilot/astronaut Brian Binnie, were waiting for them with EAA's Tom
The members of the historic space project got the warmest
Wisconsin welcome from Poberezny and other dignitaries. After
Poberezny spoke a few words of welcome, each key member of the said
a few words and the men of the hour, including the pilots, the
designer, and the all-important financier, said their piece.
Burt Rutan noted that this was his thirty-fifth Oshkosh (OK, so
he technically misspoke, because the forerunner of AirVenture was
in Rockford, Illinois, when Rutan started attending in 1971), and
he hasn't missed a year. "This has to be close to the top of a
thrilling arrival here at Oshkosh, flying close formation with the
White Knight," Rutan said. "And it's just outstanding to see that
the airport is full!" he added, with a smile audible in his voice.
One other thing he made clear: "I'm really looking forward to the
Tom Poberezny then took the mike again, and said, "I remember
very distinctly you and I being on the stage, some years ago, and
you [said] that someday, you would fly to Oshkosh via space. Well,
you've made that dream reality."
Paul Allen said, "It's my first Oshkosh, and I'm already having
a great time." Just before SpaceShipOne landed, he'd been watching
one of his own airplanes -- a rare P-51 with authentic combat
history -- fly a display. Paul Allen has spent a very great deal of
money, money that he only obtained by taking great risks, on
aviation and space -- it was his chance to have a moment in the
But he too spoke with humility, lauding Burt and the technical
team and the pilots, speaking as if his part in the whole project
was not the very large and irreplaceable one that it was. "Seeing
SpaceShipOne go straight up, over Mach 3, with these pilots inside
-- it's just something that makes your heart soar."
Mike Melvill mentioned how proud he was to be showing off
SpaceShipOne here at Oshkosh. "It's a wonderful little airplane,
and I wish I could fly it again. But we're going to be here to tell
you the story." He urged showgoers to find the many Scaled
Composites team members who were here at Oshkosh and ask them about
the exotic craft. "There are a lot of Scaled folks here who know
more than I do about it -- find them and ask them questions!" the
world's first commercial astronaut enthused.
Brian Binnie spoke of being a relative latecomer to the team
with touching humility: "I'm the baby of the group," he said.
Binnie, of course, flew the second qualifying flight for the
X-Prize (Melvill flew the first). Melvill flew an earlier (June 21,
2004) space flight; the two are for the time being the only pilots
to have flown SpaceShipOne, or anything but a government
spacecraft, in space. Binnie set the altitude record of 368,000
feet on the second X-Prize flight.
You can see SpaceShipOne and White Knight all week at AeroShell
Square in the center of Airventure. The mated craft will depart at
1400 CDT Sunday to fly via Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to
Dulles International, where SpaceShipOne will be turned over to the
National Air and Space Museum for display in the Milestones of
Flight gallery alongside machines of similar historic import: the
Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis.
Burt Rutan and Paul Allen are reported to be already at work on
"SpaceShipTwo" as it's colloquially known, a larger ship based on
SpaceShipOne technology. They intend the machine to fulfill Sir
Richard Branson's promise of suborbital flights on Virgin