A session of the Space Access ’08 conference last night dealt with “paths to rocket piloting”: how can people who are interested in piloting a number of the new suborbital vehicles under development prepare for getting those jobs. Some companies have turned to test pilots and/or former astronauts, but if this industry does grow, the pool of potential pilots will likely have to expand beyond that narrow niche. A number of the panelists, including several private pilots, talked about preparations such as acrobatic and high-performance aircraft flying that would have relevance to suborbital spacecraft.
A dissenting opinion came from John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace. He argued that the glamour associated by many with being a rocket-powered vehicle pilot will fall far short of reality. “I don’t think this is going to be an exciting career to go into,” he said, saying that the work involved with flying these vehicles is not like the “stick-and-rudder” work associated with conventional aircraft, especially for VTVL vehicles like Armadillo’s. “It’s going to be like being an elevator operator,” something that is just not that exciting. Armadillo’s suborbital vehicle design, the “six-pack” vehicle, does not even have a pilot on the vehicle: the vehicle is controlled from the ground; the single person on board does not any flight duties.