And finally it happened – Virgin Galactic managed to win with poor weather conditions and other minor problems with their vehicle and performed successful glide flight with VSS Unity deployed from VMS Eve, WhiteKnightTwo class motherplane.
First success after lasting for two years break from flights. Virgin Galactic and its founder Richard Branson can celebrate their return to flying – VSS Unity, second from SpaceShipTwo class spacecrafts, performed first glide flight after being deployed from WhiteKnightTwo motherplane. This test flight is part of flight campaign, which led from flights of WhiteKnightTwo and VSS Unity through separating and glide flights of VSS Unity to engine flights of VSS Unity in the end. First engine flight is planned for 2017 and it will be first powered flight after disaster of VSS Enterprise during Powered Flight 4 on 31 October 2014.
Last two glide flight attempts were performed in the middle of the November 2016 and unfortunately they were finished with two failures. For the first time VMS Eve take off from Mojave Air and Space Port on November 1, 2016. After climbing and reaching correct altitude for deploying VSS Unity, strong wind caused decision of cancelling mission and return to the ground. Next flight attempt was conducted on November 3, 2016. At 16:36 GMT WhiteKnightTwo and VSS Unity were finishing ascend maneuver, but separation planned for 16:46 GMT was interrupted. Later Company announced on official Twitter profile, that mission was scrubbed again due the not specified problems with VSS Unity. Flight campaign was interrupted, but Virgin declared to resume flights already in the 2016.
Luckily we were not forced to wait for a long time to see another flight of VMS Eve with VSS Unity attached. On November 30, 2016, motherplane took off from Mojave Air and Space Port. This flight was in fact planned as test before another flight, when VSS Unity should be released from VMS Eve. Finally this day has come – on December 3, 2016, VMS Eve with VSS Unity under the wing took off in the early morning hours from Mojave airfield. Inside VSS Unity their places took test pilots Mark Stucky and Dave Mackay; VMS Eve took off with three crew members: two pilots: Mike Masucci and Todd Ericsson with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher. After climbing to 15000 m, at 07:40 local time VSS Unity was released. It started its flight to Mojave. After few minutes it started to perform turn maneuver and descent gently being still observed from close distance by small single engine plane. It landed safely after ten minutes of glide flight and reaching max speed at 0.6 Ma. VMS Eve landed after Unity after 1 h 20 ‘ of flight.
It is only beginning of flight campaign and it should not be surprising, that VSS unity reached only 0.6 Ma. Company will gradually change flight parameters to close as much as possible to profile of engine flight and check vehicle in every situation. As it was mentioned before, first engine flight is planned for 2017 and probably it will be rather second half of the year.