Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mojave 2008 in Review

A look back at the past, rather eventful year at Mojave:

A pair of brand new Sikorsky S-76++s spent New Years 2008 stuck at Mojave due to weather, having taken the southern route on their way from Connecticut to British Columbia.

A Continental 747 N14024 bites the big one, while three of Learjet's latest aircraft gather at the Test Pilot School, waiting for the arrival of a camera ship for some publicity photo flights.

A Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier hovers over the numbers on Runway 8, while Al Hansen's recently-sold TV-star Antonov AN-2 made a few more patterns before leaving Mojave for a new home.

After years of storage, Scaled Composites innovative and somewhat asymmetric ARES reappeared as a testbed, with a very modified belly.

Death and birth: The last Continental 747 at Mojave is reduced to scrap, while Eclipse brought their newest Conceptjet to Mojave for flight testing.

It was birthday time for the Brothers Rutan, as a whole lot of "fast glass" descended on the sweltering Mojave ramp to celebrate. Meanwhile, a piece of the most exotic glass of all, the XCOR Rocket Racer began blasting its way through the sky in dramatic fashion.

In the most anticipated event of the year, Virgin Galactic rolled out their new WhiteKnightTwo prototype, named VMS (for VirginMotherShip) Eve.

Below left: Sir Richard's parents...his mum, Eve, was the inspiration for the plane's name and its nose art. Right: After posing for the press, Branson and Rutan try to squeeze themselves back into WK2.

The hottest month of the summer also hosted several active flight test programs, including the Seven-Q-Seven 707RE STC program to certify the Pratt JT8D-219 for the venerable 707s. Meanwhile, Project CHLOE flew an anti-anti-aircraft missile pod under WhiteKnightOne, in tests aimed at developing a system to protect airliners. In the end, the pods were shown to be impractical.

BAE Systems' QF-4 program continues to produce target drones as planners have begun discussing the next generation of targets, which could include F-16As.

BAE Systems performed the initial flight testing of the Airborne Tomography using Active Electromagnetics (ATAEM) pod, a DARPA-funded project that will use electromagnetic energy to penetrate the ground in order to detect and map hidden bunkers and tunnels, adapting technologies developed by the geophysical exploration industry.

Mojave's annual Veterans' Day celebration was a time of rememberance for all the efforts so many have given to make our country one where the innovation which takes place at Mojave is possible.

Some of the heaviest autumn snow to hit Mojave in years delayed for a couple of days the much-anticipated first flight of WhiteKnightTwo Eve, which finally took place on the first day of winter.

May this next year bring success and prosperity to all who call Mojave home!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Arrivals Board: Miss Melissa

Last Sunday it was "girls' morning" at Mojave. Right smack in the middle of Eve's maiden flight (she'd just done a low pass and was on downwind for her first landing), Miss Melissa arrived for storage. This old DC-9-34, N927L has a bit of history to her. Back when she flew for Ozark Airlines, she carried the Saint Louis Cardinals team logo and served as their team charter aircraft. After making the transition to TWA, she was the first DC-9 to carry the airline's new colors. After her time with Teenie Weenie Airlines, she was painted in the colors of Argentinean carrier Dinar Lineas Aereas, but that company went belly-up in 2002 before Miss Melissa  could be delivered. Instead, she spent time in storage at Tucson and Detroit before arriving here in the desert.

Monday, December 22, 2008

WhiteKnightTwo first flight!

This past weekend was a big one for Virgin Galactic's space tourism program, as the VirginMotherShip Eve, otherwise known as a Scaled Composites Model 348 WhiteKnightTwo, completed its taxi tests on Saturday and took to the air for the first time on Sunday.

Saturday, December 20

After a week of winter blasts, the 20th dawned cold but calm, promising good flight testing weather. By 6:45 am Eve was out on the Scaled ramp and the sky was turning a brilliant orange above it. Somewhat unusually for a Saturday, the Mojave ramp was a buzz of activity. As the WK2 crews got their aircraft ready, crews from Scaled and Northrop Grumman readied Proteus for another flight in its Air Force MP-RTIP radar test program, the folks over at FTA prepped a former Constellation Airlines Boeing 757 for delivery to its new operator, and over at ASB Avionics, a Northcap/Tepper Lockheed L382 Hercules fired up to leave after some avionics mods.

Finally, it was time for the main event, as WK2 taxied. Word spread through the small crowd of airport folks that the plan for the day was for four high-speed taxi tests, with the KingAir 200 chase plane orbiting above, and if the engineers liked what they saw, then later a flight attempt would be made. 

On the last two of the four taxi tests, the WK2 pilots went so far as to lift the nose gear off the runway, a tantalizing view of what the first take off would later look like. But in the end, instead of making the maiden flight, Eve taxied back to Scaled where she was ensconced in her cavernous hangar.

Sunday, December 21 

The first day of winter dawned quite a bit warmer than the last day of autumn had. Once again, Eve was taxiing by about 7:30, to the delight of the crowd of Scaled employees who had gathered at the base of the control tower. 

When Mojave Tower was heard to clear "Scat 21", WhiteKnightTwo's call sign, for takeoff with airborne pickup, it was clear that there were no more taxi tests, the maiden flight was at hand. As the airborne KingAir chase plane turned final for the pickup, Eve started rolling, the nose wheels came up, the mains lifted, and the crowd cheered.

During the 59 minute maiden flight, WhiteKnightTwo was taken up to 16,000 feet, which according to a  statement that Virgin's President Will Whitehorn made to Flight International (link), was 4,000 feet above the intended ceiling for the day's flight. "That is how confident we are about the aircraft," FI quotes Whitehorn as saying.

At the end of the flight, Eve made one low pass down Runway 30 before circling for a flawless touchdown. It was another historic first for the folks at Scaled, another first for the Mojave Air & Space Port, and most significantly, a major step towards Virgin Galactic's goal of commercial space flight.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Only in Mojave: Snow day

For all you readers to whom snow is "ho-hum", feel free to skip today's post. When you live in a desert long enough, precipitation becomes, well, a little special. And when the white stuff falling from the sky keeps falling, and accumulates more than has been seen in 16 years, it's kinda cool. This part of the world doesn't have many snowplows, so the ability of employees to get to work was somewhat hampered, leaving most of the flightline businesses shut down, and since all the area schools were also closed, it basically amounted to an early Christmas present for a lot of local families who had an extra day to spend together. And, as can be seen above, it left one medevac crew with a bit of extra time on their hands....