Events

June 30, 2014

Plane Crazy for Melvill

Tags:
Linda KC Reynolds
staff writer

Commercial Astronaut Mike Melvill autographs Amanda Deng’s arm under her White Knight tattoo. Deng is a manufacturing engineer and has been a Scaled Composites fan for as long as she can remember.

Pilot and first commercial astronaut Mike Melvill stole the show at Mojave Air & Spaceport’s Plane Crazy monthly event as he recounted his first spaceflight of SpaceShipOne, 10 years to the date in a packed conference room June 21.

Sadly, many engineering students from Cal-Poly and Los Angeles had to be turned away due to lack of seating.

With humor, modesty and a drop of well-deserved pride, the 434th person in space captivated his audience. It was the first time anyone had flown into space without government backing. “We did it without any big government, without autopilot,” said Melvill.

After appearing on the Jay Leno show twice, he said Paul Allen came on board and graciously funded the entire program. “We could have never done it without his generous, financial support. That was pretty impressive.”

SpaceShipOne was launched and released from the White Knight One piloted by Brian Binnie then boosted by a rocket to 63 miles above the Earth with 27,000 spectators watching, including: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Sir Richard Branson, Paul Allen and actor William Shatner. “Buzz and I had some head to head butting because he thought what we did was pretty minute compared to what he did. But, he did not fly himself to space and I did. He had a computer do it for him!” Melvill humorously explained. His absolute hero is Captain Kirk, “The best captain that ever existed on the Enterprise (Star Trek) and a fabulous guy.”

The main reason Melvill believed the mission succeeded was the pure genius of Burt Rutan. “He was my boss, he is my best friend and I was his best man – at two different weddings. Without Burt’s phenomenal abilities and willingness to take huge risks- with other people incidentally, this would never have happened.”

He also credited the 123 talented Scaled Composite employees who built White Knight, SpaceShipOne, a rocket motor, and the SpaceShipOne simulator – all while building Steve Fossett’s Global Flyer. “That program and the Space Ship program ran parallel with the White Knight; I always thought that was incredible,” said Melvill.

Hatin Roopawala,10, checks out Scaled Composite engineer Cliff Miller’s “Teardrop” camper at Plane Crazy at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Roopawala came with his family from Bakersfield and hopes to be a pilot someday.

Twenty-nine years ago Melvill bought a set of Rutan’s plans out of the back of his trunk at the OshKosh airshow for $51. He built the plane, flew it to Rutan and was hired that day. “It has been a wonderful 29-year career,” says Melvill. He said Burt was a wonderful, extraordinary leader who led by example, often putting on gloves and working alongside his employees.

Melvill flew SpaceShipOne eight times prior to the historic June 21, flight. Every flight was an envelope-expansion, going faster and higher with the ship enduring hotter temperatures.

After filling the flight capsule with water and no leakage, Melvill was confident he could fly into space without a pressure suit. “The Air Force thought we were completely insane, they went up to about 50,000 feet without a pressure suit, we went to 350,000 without a pressure suit.”

Rutan was 100 percent confident in his designs except for the re-entry on this mission. “It was probably the scariest flight- I think because it was the one thing Burt wasn’t sure would work,” laughed Melvill. “He is a pretty confident guy and he was very confident about everything else, but he wasn’t sure what would happen when we reentered at 2.7 mock which is what we hit the atmosphere at.” With the aircraft temperature reaching 1,200 degrees at 1,200 mph, there wasn’t enough time for the heat to penetrate the structure that was only built to endure 350 degrees. “I was pretty scared, I can’t remember if it was hot or not.”

Rutan designed the craft with a “feather maneuver” he likened to a shuttlecock, to slow the craft down before reaching extreme temperatures; however, Rutan must have been more confident than he portrayed because while Melvill was waiting to taxi, Rutan climbed into the cockpit and strapped in. If it wasn’t for the FAA pounding on the door and pulling him out at the last minute, the famous aircraft designer would also be an astronaut.

Cliff Miller and Scaled Composite photographer Mike Massee pose with Miller’s “Teardrop” camper that is decorated with original SpaceShipOne graphics and a famous flight photo taken by Massee.

The only voice Melvill could hear from the control room during that flight was from Doug Shane. “If the controllers felt a problem, they would tell Doug; if Doug thought I needed to know, he would tell me.” After reviewing the footage and comments of concerned controllers, he was glad that Shane filtered the conversations. After some gut wrenching shaking, hard flying, the sudden drop of the landing gear, and assurance that all was well by chase pilot Chuck Coleman, Melvill landed and was greeted anxiously by his bride of 43 years, Sally, the cheers of 27,000 spectators and grateful, relieved yahoos from the mission control room. “It was absolutely mind blowing.”

Cathy Hansen, president of the Mojave Transportation Museum said she always enjoys hearing about the historic event. “Mike is the greatest. Listening to him, it’s like being there all over again.”

SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeated flights in a privately developed reusable spacecraft, the Collier Trophy for greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in 2004, and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement. It now hangs in the Milestones of Flight Gallery at the Smithsonian between Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1.

Melvill told a smaller crowd that he was disappointed space travel is not advancing as quickly as it could. “It is a hundred times harder to accomplish things today than it was ten years ago. With the regulations and restrictions, it is nearly impossible to progress.”

Space companies are sending more work out of California and perhaps soon, out of the United States.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines December 19, 2014

News: SpaceX’s attempt to land rocket on floating barge postponed - It’s set to be one of the most groundbreaking moments in humanity’s six decades of space exploration. Obama signs $1.1 trillion spending bill into law - President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion federal spending measure into law Dec. 16, officially ending any threat of a government...
 
 

News Briefs December 19, 2014

Trial set for ex-Navy engineer in military secrets case A former Navy civilian engineer is scheduled to stand trial next summer on charges of trying to steal aircraft carrier schematics. Media outlets report that 35-year-old Mostafa Awwad of Yorktown, Va., pleaded not guilty Dec. 17 to two counts of attempted exportation of defense articles and...
 
 
Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez

Army to launch cruise missile-detecting aerostat at Aberdeen Proving Ground

Army photograph by C. Todd Lopez The Army plans to launch an aerostat, part of the “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor,” in late December 2014. The JLENS aerostat will be tethered to the...
 

 
Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan

AF delivers Iraqi F-16s for training in US

Air Force photograph by SrA. Jordan Castelan Iraqi air force captain Hama conducts preflight inspections while inside a new to service Iraqi F-16 Fighting Falcon Dec. 17, 2014, located at the nearby Tucson International Airport...
 
 
Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn

Short-notice: A new way to exercise

Air Force photograph by SSgt. Derek VanHorn Airmen from Kadena Air Base, Japan, prepare for an aeromedical evacuation exercise on a KC-135 Stratotanker Dec. 5, 2014, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The operation was executed in supp...
 
 
Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe

Japan, Australia to provide F-35 maintenance sites in Pacific region

Lockheed Martin photograph by Andy Wolfe An F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter carrier variant prepares to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean, Nov. 6, 2014. Japan and Australia will be sharing...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>