by Cathy Hansen, special to Aerotech News
A look back at 2020
Jan. 1, 2020, dawned as the beginning of a new year — just like any other new year. But this past year was unlike any in living memory, and throughout the year, people started going above and beyond.
In this special series for Aerotech News and Review, we take a look back at 2020 — the year everything changed.
$8.6-million FAA Grant – Taxiway Charlie
At the end of 2019, Congressman Kevin McCarthy announced that the Department of Transportation approved an $8.6 million grant for the Mojave Air and Space Port through the Airport Improvement Program for 2020. Last year, McCarthy sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration in support of Mojave’s grant application.
“From Stratolaunch to Virgin Orbit, Mojave Air and Space Port is leading the way in civilian aeronautics and commercial spaceflight,” said McCarthy. “But in order to continue to take the next steps towards even greater innovation in the industry, it is vital that Mojave Air and Space Port’s infrastructure is revitalized. This AIP grant will help make much needed repairs to existing infrastructure issues — like pavement cracks — to enhance airport safety. I thank Secretary Chao, the Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Administration for recognizing the importance of this project. This grant will undoubtedly help ensure the longevity of this facility for years to come.”
This project will include subgrade rework, as well as the repair of medium severity cracks and the concrete/asphalt transition between the taxiway and apron. It will address taxiway edge lighting and T-hangar issues, which will ensure that the airport can continue safe operations at night. Overall this project will provide better pavement conditions, which will provide safety for aircraft, pilots and passengers.
Terra-Gen Operating Co., Bragg Crane Co. unload wind generator components at MASP
Early in 2020, trainloads of wind turbine components were arriving at Mojave Air and Space Port for Terra-Gen Operating Company, located on Oak Creek Road in Mojave. Terra-Gen has leased two large parcels of land from Mojave Air and Space Port to store the blades, towers and generators for new wind projects in the Mojave-Tehachapi area.
Mojave Air and Space Port tenant, Bragg Crane, does a masterful job of unloading the components from the flat rail cars that are parked on the MASP railroad spur. The blades, sections of towers and generators are then loaded onto semi-trucks and transported to the Terra-Gen site in Tehachapi for construction.
Plane Crazy Saturdays canceled when governor shut down state
During the uncertainty of the pandemic, the monthly historic aircraft display day, Plane Crazy Saturday, presented by the Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation, was canceled in March and all of the following months in 2020, except November.
The November Plane Crazy Saturday collected toys for the California Highway Patrol CHiPs for Kids program, so that kids in the communities of Mojave and Rosamond wouldn’t miss out on Christmas.
John Himes, Airport Operations Manager, reported that firms on the field continued operations and the airport administration, control tower, security, maintenance, fueling staff and Fire, Crash & Rescue performed daily tasks, while observing all COVID-19 regulations.
Himes said, “We pumped 1,000,000 gallons of fuel to our local and regional aviation partners for two consecutive years.”
Virgin Orbit conducts Captive-Carry Test
Virgin Orbit completed a cryogenic captive carry test of the LauncherOne rocket April 12, demonstrating the performance of the launch vehicle, its Boeing 747-400 carrier jet, telemetry and tracking systems, and ground teams.
Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’ carrier aircraft took off from Mojave Air and Space Port with a four person crew. Pilot Kelly Latimer commanded the former jumbo jetliner carrying the nearly 30-ton Launcher One rocket.
During the April 12 captive carry flight, Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 carrier jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California’s high desert and flew off the coast. With a four-person crew of pilots and launch support engineers, the jumbo jet flew a race track pattern over the Pacific Ocean before lining up for a simulated launch run west of San Nicolas Island, which is owned by the U.S. Navy.
On May 25, ‘Cosmic Girl’ took off from runway 30 with a mission to launch the two-stage rocket. An hour after takeoff the rocket dropped smoothly from the 747; however, the mission was terminated after the rocket engine ignited due to an anomaly, and the 747 returned to Mojave Air and Space Port.
A Dec. 19 mission was announced, but then canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. No word on further missions planned for the near future.
Virgin Orbit and other space companies in the U.S. were permitted to continue operations during the pandemic because the government considered them to be critical infrastructure.
Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company signed Space Act Agreement with NASA in the fight against COVID-19
In May 2020, former Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides said, “During the current global crisis, we believe that the space industry has a responsibility to share expertise, knowledge, resources, and ingenuity to aid in the fight against COVID-19. That’s why, today, we are proud to share that Virgin Galactic is meeting this responsibility head-on through a Space Act Agreement with NASA.” As of July 2020, Whitesides now serves a chief space officer at VG.
“I am incredibly proud of our employees at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) for the enormous push in the development and testing of the PPB Hood — a device designed to support those admitted with COVID-19 with portable oxygen-rich pressure chambers, reducing the subsequent need for ventilator intubation. The team overcame shipping delays and product challenges to execute a carefully choreographed fabrication process, complete with exhaust fitting, liner leak check and repair, door installation, strap fastening, inspection, cleaning, labeling, and packaging. The result of this is an innovative patient care tool that can help make a difference for those in need. Thanks to the dedication, resilience, and creativity of this group, we are on track to produce 400 PPB Hoods at a specially constructed assembly line at our Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (FAITH) in Mojave,” Whitesides said.
U.S. Forestry and Cal Fire at MASP
Beginning in August, Mojave Air and Space Port served as a critical component in California’s 2020 wildfire mitigation plan. From Mojave, U.S. Forestry Service and Cal Fire aircraft battled 11 major Federal and State fires, conducted 90 operations, dispensed 139,000 gallons of fuel; uploaded a record 1 million-plus gallons of fire retardant.
According to USFS and Cal Fire, the fire season in California seems to be year round, so it is imperative to have facilities able to accommodate all of the types of aircraft that have contracts with USFS. Aircraft flying from MASP included: 10 Tanker Carrier DC-10; Coulson C-130Q and 737-300; Aero Flite RJ-85 (Bae-146); Ericson MD-87; Cal Fire S2F Tracker and P2V Neptune.
News from National Test Pilot School
On Sept. 25, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots announced Dr. Allen L. Peterson as the recipient of the 2020 Doolittle Award.
The James H. Doolittle award was established in 1966 to honor outstanding accomplishment in technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology by a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
An excerpt from the award of Peterson’s accomplishments as the president and CEO of the National Test Pilot School for the past decade reads: Dr. Peterson has envisioned and successfully directed initiatives leading NTPS to become the first test pilot school in the world to attain full EASA certification, WSCUC collegiate accreditation, and ISO 9001-2015 certification, thereby positioning NTPS for a successful long term future.
Stratolaunch is partnering with Calspan
In November, Stratolaunch was out of its hangar and doing engine runs and taxi tests. It was announced that they are partnering with the aerospace research and development company Calspan, to build and test models of its hypersonic launch vehicle Talon-A, a reusable prototype rocket plane.
The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, which has been nicknamed Roc as a tribute to the giant bird of Arabian and Persian mythology, is powered by six jet engines and has a wingspan of 385 feet — which is close to twice the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
Talon-A is a flexible, high-speed testbed built for hypersonic research, experiments, and enabling operational missions. The vehicle will be 8.5 meters long with a wingspan of 3.4 meters and a total mass of approximately 2.7 tons at launch. It will be dropped aloft by its mothership, the giant carrier aircraft.
According to Calspan’s website — “Stratolaunch LLC, a leader in testing and development for the high-speed aerospace market, has chosen Calspan to build and test models of the fully reusable Talon-A autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle. Under the contract, Calspan Systems, located in Newport News, Virginia will build the scale models, one of which will be tested in Calspan’s Transonic Wind Tunnel in Buffalo, N.Y.”
New Members Join MASP Board of Directors
Voters elected three new directors to fill positions during the November General Election held on Nov. 3, 2020. All three are aerospace engineers, are licensed pilots and aircraft owners and live in Mojave.
Robert ‘Bob’ Morgan is an engineer and manager with 30 years of experience in the aerospace industry. His career has involved the design and management of more than 33 cutting-edge prototype flight vehicles. Robert’s engineering project leadership has spanned over 20 aircraft development programs with significant engineering participation and leadership in 10 “clean-sheet” to first flight new aircraft designs.
He was Project Engineer at Scaled Composites for the Virgin Galactic White Knight Two and the SpaceShipTwo rocket propulsion development. He led a team of 24 design engineers and managed a 70-person rapid prototyping team.
Morgan is a licensed pilot rated in single-engine land, multi-engine land, rotorcraft and seaplane aircraft.
Charles ‘Chuck’ Coleman is an engineer, airshow pilot, test pilot, flight instructor with over 10,000 hours total time of flying, with more than 4,100 hours in the Extra 300 series aircraft alone. He has performed in hundreds of airshows and given 3,000-plus rides in aerobatic aircraft.
He has been deployed around the world in aircraft such as the Burt Rutan Proteus, utilized for scientific research. He was a test pilot for ICON Aircraft, flight testing the ICON A5 Amphibian, performing FAA certification profiles and first flight of 25 ICON A5s.
Coleman has an Aerospace/Mechanical Degree from the University of Michigan and is also an FAA licensed Airframe and PowerPlant (A&P) Mechanic with inspection Authorization.
Coleman provided aerial support and help to win the Peabody award for the documentary “Black Sky.” He flew as chase pilot on many of the SpaceShipOne flights for Scaled Composites.
Diane J. Barney Jr., is a local private pilot and engineer currently working on NASA Armstrong’s X-57, in order to pay for flying a Grumman Tiger, J-3 Piper Cub, and Boeing Stearman. Originally from Albany, N.Y., she caught the aerospace bug at 12-years old after her first general aviation flight in an Aeronca Champ.
She earned her B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University in 2009. She received her commission from the Boilermaker AFROTC Detachment 220 the same year. During her six years of active duty service, she worked in operational flight test on B-1Bs, RQ-4s, and U-2s.
Since arriving in the Antelope Valley in 2015, she has worked at Scaled Composites, The Spaceship Company, Empirical Systems Aerospace, and is now a contractor for NASA.
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO/General Manager Leaving
In late November, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation announced that Karina Drees will be serving as their new President, effective Jan. 4, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Drees served as a board member at CSF in years past.
Drees plans to serve out the remaining portion of her five-year contract at MASP and has committed to remaining in the position until a new CEO is chosen.
“The past eight years in Mojave have been the most rewarding of my career,” said Drees. “I am fortunate to work with an exceptional, service-oriented team that will ensure our customers receive quality care during this transition.”