Category Archives: Technology/New Stuff


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:

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. 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.

B-29 X-1
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

Fun Photo Friday — Kennedy Space Center Favorites 1

Mercury-Redstone (suborbital) and Mercury-Atlas (orbital) manned vehicles

The first of two Fun Photo Fridays showing Kennedy Space Center favorites:

Alan B. Shepard — First American in Space

Shuttle Atlantis panorama

Saturn IB in repose

Cloud Iridescence hiding behind a Gemini-Titan II

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Filed under Fun Photo Friday, Photography, R. Doug Wicker, Technology/New Stuff, travel, vacation

Repositioning South — Kennedy Space Center Part 2

Full Saturn V assembly and Apollo Mission logos

Today we’re just going to mosey around the Race to the Moon: Apollo/Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. There are many Apollo artifacts here to see, such as the actual Apollo 14 command module:

Apollo 14 Command Module

The interior is glassed off from prying fingers, but you can still peer inside:

Inside Apollo 14

Here is a replica of the lunar suit worn by Gene Cernan during the Apollo 17 mission (the real suit is on display at the Smithsonian):

Apollo 17 lunar suit

This image is a statue depicting geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt’s excursion on the lunar landscape during Apollo 17:

Statue depicting lunar astronaut (and former senator) Harrison H. Schmitt

Did you know we actually sent a dune buggy to the moon? Three times? This is an LRV (Lunar Roving Vehicle), similar to one used during Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17:

Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV); the Lunar “Dune Buggy”

But the star of this show is overhead. That’s the various components of the enormous Saturn V rocket that sent a dozen men to the moon over the course of six missions:

The five Rocketdyne J-2 engines of the Saturn V S-II second stage

Saturn S-IVB third stage with single Rocketdyne J-2 engine

Apollo Command Module with Launch Escape System

Put it all together you get this view from the end opposite of the picture at the top of today’s article:

Saturn V assembly with Lunar Excursion Module in foreground

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