Just before Virgin Galactic's customers take their suborbital rides into space aboard the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, they're due to get a practice run in an aerobatic plane. Virgin Galactic's billionaire founder, Richard Branson, sampled the experience in an Extra 300L two-seater aircraft during a visit to California's Mojave Air and Space Port on Saturday. Virgin Galactic's chief pilot, David Mackay, put the plane through its loop-the-loop paces. Branson's verdict? "Brilliant!" he said.
Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides told reporters in Mojave that such aerobatic flights could be offered to would-be spacefliers during their three-day training period at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The flights would provide a "taste of high-G, and then a taste of zero gravity," plus the kick-in-the-pants sensation that comes with a quick turn in a fast-flying aircraft. "To go through that type of attitude change, with the sensory experience that goes with it ... is a pretty important piece," he said. More than 700 people have signed up for the ride, at a cost of as much as $250,000 per ticket.
— Alan Boyle
NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo and televise Branson's spaceflight.