Left Gear "Retracts" On Landing: Damage Minor
On the day the world celebrated the centennial of flight, Burt
Rutan and company were themselves high in the air over the
California desert, testing a vehicle for the next century of
aviation. It was a significant milestone for Scaled Composites in
its bid for the $10 million X PRIZE: The first manned supersonic
flight by an aircraft developed by a small company's private,
Spaceshipone is Scaled's entry in the private space race -- the
bid to become the first non-governmental manned flight into the
In 1947, fifty-six
years ago, history's first supersonic flight was flown by Chuck
Yeager in the Bell X-1 rocket under a US Government research
program. Since then, a lot of supersonic aircraft have been
developed for research, military and, in the case of the recently
retired Concorde, commercial applications. All these efforts were
developed by large aerospace prime companies, using extensive
But Scaled's Wednesday morning mission demonstrated that
supersonic flight is now the domain of a small company doing
privately-funded research, without government help. The flight also
represents an important milestone in efforts to demonstrate that
truly low-cost space access is feasible.
The White Knight turbojet launch aircraft, flown by test pilot
Peter Siebold, carried research rocket plane SpaceShipOne to 48,000
feet near the desert town of California City (CA). At 8:15 a.m.
PDT, White Knight Flight engineer Cory Bird pulled a handle to
release SpaceShipOne. The spaceship's test pilot, Brian Binnie then
flew it to a stable 0.55 Mach gliding flight condition, started a
pull-up, and fired its hybrid rocket motor.
Nine seconds later, SpaceShipOne broke the sound barrier and
continued its steep powered ascent. The climb was very aggressive,
accelerating forward at more than three times normal gravity while
pulling upward at more than 2.5 g's. When the motor shutdown, 15
seconds after ignition, SpaceShipOne was climbing at a 60-degree
angle and flying near 1.2 Mach (930 mph). Brian then continued the
maneuver to a vertical climb, achieving zero speed at an altitude
of 68,000 feet. He then configured the ship in its high-drag
"feathered" shape to simulate the condition it will experience when
it enters the atmosphere after a space flight.
Not Without Glitches
At apogee, SpaceShipOne was in near-weightless conditions,
emulating the characteristics it will later encounter during the
planned space flights in which it will be at zero-g for more than
three minutes. After descending in feathered flight for about a
minute, Brian reconfigured the ship to its conventional glider
shape and flew a 12-minute glide to landing at Scaled's home
airport of Mojave (CA). The landing was not without incident as the
left landing gear retracted at touchdown causing the ship to veer
to the left and leave the runway with its left wing down. Scaled
reports damage from the landing incident was minor and can easily
be repaired. There were no injuries.
The milestone of private supersonic flight was not an easy task.
It involved the development of a new propulsion system, the first
rocket motor developed for manned space flights in several decades.
The new hybrid motor was developed in-house at Scaled with first
firings in November 2002. The motor uses an ablative nozzle
supplied by AAE and operating components supplied by SpaceDev.
FunTech teamed with Scaled to develop a new Inertial Navigation
flight director. The first flight of the White Knight launch
aircraft was in August 2002 and SpaceShipOne began its glide tests
in August 2003.