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Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane completes first test flight

09 September 2016

During a ‘captive carry’ flight test, VSS Unity successfully remained mated to the WhiteKnightTwo mothership from take-off to landing.

VSS Unity (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

The novel aspect of the rocket plane is that that doesn’t take-off from a runway like traditional planes or launch from a pad on the ground like a rocket. It is released from under the wing of a carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo.

In this particular test, the carrier plane served as a ‘flying wind tunnel’, allowing the highest fidelity method of testing airflow around Unity, while at the same time testing how the spaceship performs when exposed to the frigid temperatures found at maximum altitude of 50,000ft.

VSS Unity was piloted by Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay, while the carrier aircraft was flown by Mike Masucci and Todd Ericson along with test flight engineer Wes Persall. The test flight lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes.

The test produced numerous amounts of data that can now be analysed and improved upon for the next flight test. Only when the analysis is complete, along with detailed vehicle inspection, some planned works and potentially more captive carry flights, will the team be ready to move into the next phase of testing.

For more information, visit Virgin Galactic's website.

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