Virgin Galactic Pilot Speaks Out About SpaceShipTwo's Tragic Crash

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Last year, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed catastrophically above the Mojave desert, killing one of its pilots. Now, the pilot of White Knight Two, which carried SpaceShipTwo to altitude, has spoken out about what happened on the day.

Dave Mackay, who is Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot and was flying White Knight Two when the accident occurred, has spoken to the BBC. He explains:

“We were listening out on the radio and it became apparent fairly early that something had gone seriously wrong. We didn’t see anything. We launch the spaceship and it drops below us several hundred feet before it ignites the rocket motor.

“When it was apparent the wreckage had hit the ground, we descended to try to give some support in any way we could. Which involved, basically, finding out where the vehicle was and finding out where the survivor was and relaying that position back to emergency services.”

While he’s given no new insight into the technicalities of what happened on the day, a full crash report is to be issued about the disaster in the coming weeks. Reports following the incident suggested that the craft’s rear-mounted feathering system—which tilts the two distinctive wings of SpaceShipTwo up, to slow the plane and bring its belly up during re-entry—rotated just seconds after its rocket fired. Analysis suggested that ShipShipTwo’s co-pilot—who died in the accident—moved a lever in the cockpit to unlock the tail feathers, which happened too early in the flight and two seconds later the craft failed. You can read more about the theory in our report.

We’ll find out if those reports are accurate when the new crash report is published. Mackay, however, doesn’t seem to think that the incident should rule out future endeavour. Speaking to the BBC, he explained:

“You could look back to Otto Lilienthal crashing in his glider. If people had said then, you know this flying is dangerous, let’s stick to walking on the ground, where would we be today? It is hard. It has turned out to be harder than we thought it would. But if it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. We’re enjoying the challenge.”

When you’ve seen an incident like this happen close-up, that spirit of adventure, enthusiasm and determination is mind-blowing. Consumer space travel may just matter more than ever. [BBC]

Image by AP