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Sun, Nov 13, 2005

EZ-Rocket Flies Again

XCOR Chases New Records

XCOR Aerospace, flexing new financial muscle, intends to write its name -- or at least that of its test pilot Dick Rutan -- in the record books.

The plan is for Rutan to fly the plane from Mojave to California City -- about 11 miles -- on December 3. Then for either Rutan or Rick Searfoss to fly it back a week later. At present, there are no records for rocket powered, take-off-from-ground airplanes.

The twin-rocket-powered experimental aircraft will be attempting to set world records in Class C1b Group IV of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The FAI's United States representative, the National Aeronautic Association, will monitor the flights. But it will be more than just a record attempt. The XCOR team will try to do something no rocket has ever done: deliver US Mail!

The flight from Mojave to California City will carry the mail.

The airplane will climb at Vne -- 195 knots or Mach 0.4 -- for about a minute, to about 10,000 to 11,000 feet MSL. The two 400-lb thrust engines of the EZ-Rocket can be stopped and started in flight, individually or together; some fuel may be retained for a possible go-around on landing.

Only three men have flown the EZ-Rocket: Dick Rutan, a retired Air Force fighter pilot and brother of Burt Rutan; Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne astronaut who also flew chase for the initial EZ-Rocket program; and Rick Searfoss, three time Shuttle astronaut and Rocket Racing League chief pilot.

For a rocketplane, the machine is well-proven technology. It has flown about twenty times. Apart from many test flights, mostly at Mojave, the EZ-Rocket has been demonstrated in public twice: at Airventure 2002 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and at Las Cruces, New Mexico, during the Countdown to the X-Prize Cup in early October.

After the record flights, the EZ-Rocket will be retired. XCOR has moved on to greater things, building the firewall-aft of the Mark I Rocket Racers for the Rocket Racing League, developing an advanced pump for DARPA, and working on several other commercial space projects.

FMI: www.xcor.com, www.fai.org

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