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13 March 2009
Third test flight ahead for VG mothership

A third test flight of Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo mothership is 'imminent', says the company.

This follows the successful maiden flight of the carrier plane christened 'Eve' in honour of Richard Branson's mother at the end of last year. A second successful flight took place in early February.

It's company policy not to commit publicly to a precise date in advance, as at this stage in an experimental programme they only take off when conditions are just right. This means light winds and generally good weather.

The test programme is going well, reports columnist Leonard David of the website SPACE.com.

He was told by Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn: 'We now have just under four hours flying on WhiteKnightTwo and have now gone above 18,000 feet. We are very pleased with progress so far and it would be fair to describe her performance so far as flawless.'

Mr Whitehorn says that the forthcoming test flight will include flying higher and longer.

The carrier plane is designed by Scaled Composites and powered by four Pratt and Whitney turbofan engines. Her first test flight in late December took place at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and lasted an hour.

There's a video of its take-off and landing on the Flight International website at Rob Coppinger's blog Hyperbola, together with a news report.

'It went well... all the big things worked well,' said Dick Rutan, brother of Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan. 'Overall, 99 percent on target and everybody is really happy.'

According to Leonard David, WhiteKnightTwo's public debut will be at the AirVenture Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at the end of July.

Meanwhile Virgin Galactic's chief test pilot David Mackay has spoken on audio to Rob Coppinger. David Mackay came to the company on a part-time basis while he still works for Virgin Atlantic, who he joined in 1995 after spending 16 years with the RAF.

And Rob Coppinger says that Hyperbola will have part four of its series of webcasts with Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn on Monday 16 March.

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