Virgin Atlantic pilots
are to have the opportunity to be seconded to Virgin Galactic and trained as fully-fledged astronaut pilots flying space
tourists on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo from 2008/9 onwards. Any of Virgin Atlantic’s 700 pilots can apply for the scheme, which will involve a
27 month secondment to Virgin Galactic, where they will receive all the necessary training.
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic,
said, “Only a handful of Brits have ever gone into space and this gives us the opportunity to put British pilots at the forefront of space exploration. I’m
also sure our passengers will love the idea that one day the pilot, on their Boeing or Airbus plane who is flying them around the world, will soon be
flying passengers to space. Other Virgin airlines will also be included in the scheme.”
Three Virgin Atlantic pilots have already been handpicked on the basis of their experience and skills. Steve Johnson, currently a training Captain
with Virgin Atlantic and an ex-Red Arrows pilot, will become the chief astronaut pilot for Virgin Galactic, having overall responsibility for the pilot
Alistair Hoy, also a Virgin Atlantic training captain and an ex-Red Arrows pilot, will be the chief training astronaut, responsible for training all of
Virgin Galactic’s astronaut pilots.
Captain David MacKay, currently a line captain with Virgin Atlantic, will be Virgin Atlantic’s test pilot and is already working with manufacturer
Scaled Composites in the development process of SpaceShipTwo.
The pilots will receive nine months of aerobatic, fast jet and executive aircraft for zero gravity flights training. They will then spend the next nine
months flying the mothership and participating in Mission Control work - the last nine months will be spent flying Virgin Galactic Spaceships into
space. Once they have completed their 27 month secondment they will return to Virgin Atlantic as qualified pilot astronauts.
Stephen Attenborough, Head of Astronaut Relations, Virgin Galactic,
commented, “This is a unique opportunity to build a talented team of astronaut
pilots, who will not only witness the birth of this new area of space travel, but will be the pioneers of future commercial space flight and an
inspiration to thousands of commercial pilots flying around the world today.”
From 2008 Virgin Galactic expects to have around 30 astronaut pilots recruited from all of the Virgin airlines round the world. 50% of the astronaut
pilots will be recruited from NASA and Virgin America with the remaining 50% being recruited from other Virgin airlines including Virgin Atlantic
from which three pilots will be seconded. Virgin Galactic also plans to recruit some of its pilots from Virgin Nigeria, Virgin Blue and Virgin Express.
In December Virgin Atlantic launched the first frequent flyer programme reward where Flying Club members could earn miles to get themselves to
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