Category Archives: Aircraft

Fun Photo Friday — WhiteKnightTwo Favorites

WhiteKnightTwo Panoramic

WhiteKnightTwo Panoramic

WhiteKnightTwo doesn’t only act as a launch platform.  Something I didn’t mention in Wednesday’s blog is that WhiteKnightTwo is also built to handle the stresses of parabolic flight, which results in something approaching zero gravity.

Parabolic flight profile from Wikipedia article on Reduced Gravity Aircraft

You’ll notice that this is not for the faint of heart.  While that Zero-G portion of the flight may look like fun, take a look at what awaits you and both ends of that experience — a force approaching twice that of Earth gravity.  That’s a pretty scary thought.  But this capability also means that WhiteKnightTwo can also double as a training environment to prepare travelers for the effects of micro-gravity.

But enough about WhiteKnightTwo’s other talents.  Here is today’s photo gallery:


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Filed under Aircraft, Fun Photo Friday, Photography, R. Doug Wicker


Something you don't see every day

Something you don’t see every day — WhiteKnightTwo

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.

SpaceShip 2 (center) suspended for a ride aloft on WhiteKnightTwo — Launch altitude 50,000 feet/15,240 meters; Upper diagram is of WhiteKnightOne and SpaceShipOne

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.

WhiteKnightTwo taxiing out for departure

WhiteKnightTwo taxiing out for departure

All in all I managed to snag some 50 photographs, including those I later stitched together for a couple of detailed panoramas, one of which you’ll see Friday.  Of course, I couldn’t just waste all that ramp time photographing just one aircraft, so I diversified a bit.

Beech King Air 200

Beech King Air 200

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.

Boeing B-29 acting as mother ship to Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 Rocket Plane

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.



Filed under Aircraft, Photography, Technology/New Stuff

What We Now Know About Malaysia Airlines 370, and What We Still Do Not

9M-MRO, the aircraft that would become Flight 379

Many of you will recall that I said it was just far too early to determine what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. (See: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — What We Know and What We Don’t and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — It’s STILL All About What We Don’t Know)  Guess what: It’s still too early And it will be until the aircraft is located and the black boxes recovered.  We may all be scratching our heads over this a decade from now, and probably will be.

Any “expert” on CNN telling you otherwise is only displaying their total ignorance. Indeed CNN’s reputation took at least as big a hit as Malaysia Airlines did during this entire fiasco, but in the case of CNN all that remains of their journalistic credibility is a smoking crater with a bunch of people standing around it, scratching their heads, wondering when they went from being respected journalists to being merely silly, uninformed, and unworthy of the profession.  At least they now know that they’re of Fox News caliber if they ever lose their jobs at CNN.

News Flash: Boeing 777 won’t fly without fuel. REALLY?!

 So, what do we know?  We know the Boeing 777 did not land on some remote airfield.  We know that the Malaysia Air Force defense radar was not sufficiently accurate enough to justify the earlier report of the aircraft climbing to 45,000 feet — several thousand feet higher than the Boeing 777’s certified ceiling.  We know that the Australians were searching in the wrong location based on an erroneous “ping” detection that turned out to not be from MAS370.  (no, I’m not faulting the Aussies; they did what they had to do because of the reported detection)  We know that Inmarsat told the Australians that the most likely final resting place is several hundred miles south southwest of where they were looking.  We know that this new search area is 23,000 square miles (the previous search area, which took a month to cover, was only 330 square miles — do the math on that one).  And we know that we have long missed our chance of picking up those black box pingers in this new location, so the search is going to be painfully slow, exceedingly tedious, and ridiculously expensive.

What we have surmised.  The Boeing 777 was probably on autopilot from the time it turned south to the time it impacted in the waters of the Southern Indian Ocean after fuel exhaustion (see CNN headline above for what most likely happens when the fuel runs out).  It appears that no one attempted to open the cabin doors after impact and escape, suggesting that no one survived the impact.

What we do not know (despite the “experts” on the telly, and especially over at CNN).  We do not know if the aircraft was hijacked.  We do not know if one or both of the pilots commandeered the aircraft.  We do even know if the crew were conscious after the initial “event” that led us to this point, which would make for a lot of red faces if this is indeed the case.  If they were unconscious, we’re suddenly looking at a whole host of very different possibilities including unintentional gradual depressurization from a hull leak or rapid decompression from an explosion or major catastrophic structural failure.

So, once again, disregard all those “experts” telling y0u what happened or may have happened.  Listen instead to the true experts who are telling you to sit tight and wait . . . and that wait could be for a very, very long time.


Filed under Aircraft, Aviation Safety