So You Think You Can Fly? Virgin Galactic Is Hiring Pilot Astronauts


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So You Think You Can Fly? Virgin Galactic Is Hiring Pilot Astronauts

By Daniel Baxter

April 12, 2011 - Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, is accepting qualified applications for pilot-astronauts. Pilot-astronaut responsibilities include the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo spaceflight system test program in accordance with government regulations and company policies in Mojave, CA and Virgin Galactic’s commercial operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico.  

Qualified candidates are full course graduates of a recognized test pilot school who are broadly experienced with both high-performance fast-jet type airplanes and large multi-engine types. Prior spaceflight experience is desirable. The closing date is set for April 30, 2011. 

Virgin Galactic is recruiting three Pilot-Astronauts to join its initial Pilot-Astronaut ranks. The first Pilot-Astronaut will support the ongoing flight test program of the spaceflight system and will ideally start in June 2011. Additional Pilot-Astronauts will be drafted as the flight test program reaches key milestones towards commercial launch activities. 

Reporting to the Chief Pilot, the Pilot-Astronauts primary responsibilities are to operate the spaceflight system in accordance with government regulations and company policies and procedures, delivering a sub-orbital spaceflight service to Virgin Galactic Customer-Astronauts which is as safe and enjoyable as possible.

In addition to flight duties with the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, Pilot-Astronaut duties will also include flight planning activities, mission control co-ordination and ground-to-air support, record keeping and training obligations. Flight planning activities will involve route planning and airspace coordination with personnel at Spaceport America, White Sands Missile Range, the local Federal Aviation Authority Air Traffic Control and Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  Mission Control duties include ensuring the safety and continuity of the operation by taking all necessary actions and keeping all relevant parties informed.  

Initial Pilot-Astronauts are responsible for training of new company Pilot-Astronauts, supervision of ground and flight training (initial and recurrent), and implementation and supervision of update and improvement programs for Pilot-Astronaut training. Pilot-Astronauts will also be involved in training activities with Customer-Astronauts prior to flight to ensure familiarity and competence with communications systems, seat and harness mechanisms and general flight procedures. 

The initial corps of Virgin Galactic Pilot-Astronauts will also take part in the development and flight test of the spaceflight system. Working with Scaled Composites and The Spaceship Company, Pilot-Astronauts will monitor, advise and assist, where appropriate, in the design, development, flight testing and introduction to service of the spaceflight system. Initial Pilot-Astronauts will be responsible for evaluating the fitness-for-purpose of the spaceflight system in terms of systems, handling qualities, performance and pilot workload.


In preparation for the start of commercial operations, the initial Pilot-Astronaut corps will establish the recruitment standard for future Pilot-Astronauts and assist in the selection and training of additional commercial pilot-astronauts. They will also support the operational team in establishing company manuals, in particular defining operating procedures, mission rules, in-flight emergency response procedure, and training syllabi for Pilot-Astronauts and Customer-Astronauts.  

Once commercial operations have commenced the Pilot-Astronaut will move from the role of testing the spaceflight system to regularly flying the missions. This will involve close contact with the Customer-Astronauts of Virgin Galactic; taking them through the training prior to each mission flight and ensuring a high level of service and communication are maintained at all times both on the ground and in the spaceflight system. All Pilot-Astronauts will be ambassadors of the Virgin Galactic brand, ensuring the Customer-Astronauts experience the highest customer service standards. 

VG essentials for Pilot-Astronaut successful candidates; must be a US citizen, current commercial (or equivalent) pilot license and FAA medical, a degree in a relevant technical field, graduate of a recognized test pilot school, with at least 2 ½ years post-graduate flight test experience, a diverse flying background with a minimum of 3,000 hours flying to include considerable experience of: large multi-engine aircraft and high performance fast jet aircraft and low lift-to-drag ratio glide experience (e.g. simulated flameout landings) in complex aircraft.

In addition the company is looking for operational experience of an aerospace aviation project or business,  knowledge aerospace matters, ability to communicate aviation knowledge and safety related information simply, succinctly and clearly, previous responsibility for authorizing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure a safe and efficient operation and be a proven team player. Virgin Galactic is on track to be the world’s first commercial spaceline. The new spaceship (VSS Enterprise, or SpaceShipTwo) and mothership (VMS Eve or WhiteKnightTwo) are both being developed for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by Mojave-based Scaled Composites.


Founded by Burt Rutan, Scaled developed SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 claimed the $10m Ansari X prize as the world’s first privately developed manned spacecraft. Virgin Galactic’s new vehicles share much of the same basic design but are being built to carry six customers on sub-orbital space flights, allowing an out-of-the-seat zero gravity experience and offering astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space.  

The VSS Enterprise test flight program will continue through 2011, prior to commercial operations which will be based at Virgin Galactic’s future headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico. For more information

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