WK2 aborts Spaceport America flyby

As you may have heard by now, WhiteKnightTwo was unable to make its planned flyover of the groundbreaking ceremonies for Spaceport America on Friday. Flightglobal.com has a good summary of the aborted flight, which ran into problems when an actuator warning light came on during the flight, apparently just as they reached the Arizona-New Mexico border, according to the flight track on FlightAware. The plane diverted to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, where as of this writing (7:15 pm EDT) it still is.

Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn broke the news of the diverted flight during the groundbreaking ceremonies at the Spaceport America site. “Today on flight 10 at 47,000 feet, the pilot saw an actuator light go on, and they have decided, as a matter of pure precaution, to land at Phoenix to check the plane,” he said at the end of his prepared remarks. “That’s normal in a test program. So it’s not going to be here shortly, but they’re hoping to come here later on in the day, or if not, tomorrow.” Whitehorn said afterwards that they diverted when they saw that warning light “despite the fact that there’s no problem with the aircraft at all.

Actually, New Mexico won’t be seeing WK2 later Friday or Saturday. I talked with Steve Landeene, executive director of Spaceport America, upon our return to Las Cruces, and he said he advised them to fix the problem with the plane and simply fly back to Mojave. The major reason for that is the lack of advance notice to tell people when and where the flyover would take place. Instead, they’re considering having WK2 make another trip to New Mexico at a future date, when sufficient advance notice can be relayed to the public.

“So I do apologize that you won’t be seeing WhiteKnightTwo in the next hour and a half, but that doesn’t matter to us because we know it’s capable of doing the job it’s going to do,” Whitehorn said. “It’s early in its test flying program; it’s only flight 10. We’re planning over 200 flights in the program; a bigger test program than Concorde had, because we are going to make sure that no one gets in that plane–commercially, scientifically, or industrially–unless it’s going to be 100 percent safe for them, 100 percent safe within the terms that we can be able to provide in the future.”

Update 7:35 pm: Stand by: there may be a WK2 appearance tomorrow morning in New Mexico after all. More details later tonight.

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