With Sir Richard Branson’s latest triumph earlier today, I thought it a good time to rerun this goldie oldie from 15 October 2014. The following article is my encounter with the Mothership used in today’s successful launch of Unity 22:
On September 11 of this year we had a visitor come to El Paso International Airport. What you see above is WhiteKnightTwo, the launch vehicle for Virgin Galactic’s suborbital tourist thrill ride SpaceShipTwo.
Fortunately I was at work that day, and doubly fortunately Ursula was able to snatch a couple of my cameras and bring them out to the control tower. Triply fortunately, the wonderful folks at Atlantic Aviation were gracious enough to escort both Ursula and me out onto the ramp so that I could take the photographs you see here today as well as some of my favorite shots of this encounter on this week’s Fun Photo Friday.
All in all I managed to snag some 50 photographs, including those I later stitched together for a couple of detailed panoramas. Of course, I couldn’t just waste all that ramp time photographing just one aircraft, so I diversified a bit.
The FAA registry number for this wondrous aircraft is N348MS (MS standing for “Mother Ship), and WhiteKnightTwo has been christened VMS Eve — Virgin Mother Ship “Eve” named after Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson’s mother. The second WhiteKnightTwo in the series will be christened VMS Steve Fossett after the famous aviator.
VMS Eve is larger than she appears:
- Crew: 2 pilots, 6 passengers/launch crew
- Capacity: payload 37,000 lb/16,783 kilos
- Length: 78 ft 9 in/24 meters
- Wingspan: 141 ft 1 in/43 meters
- Powerplant: Four Pratt & Whitney PW308 turbofans each rated at 6,900 lbs/30.69 kN thrust
- Launch Altitude: 50,000 ft/15,240 meters
- Service ceiling: 70,000 ft/21,336 meters (service ceiling is defined as the maximum useable altitude of an aircraft)
Coincidentally, that 141-foot wingspan almost precisely matches that of another famous mother ship — The Boeing B-29 Superfortress that served as the launch vehicle for Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier exactly 67 years ago yesterday, on October 14, 1947.
But let’s get down to today’s gallery. Enjoy, and remember to click on any of the images below to bring up today’s slide show.