FAA investigating off-course descent of Virgin Galactic’s flight with Richard Branson

Source: The Verge

Richard Branson’s July flight to the edge of space is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration for veering out of its designated airspace mid-flight, the FAA said on Wednesday after a report from The New Yorker. The mission’s two pilots were alerted to yellow and red light warnings mid-flight that, according to sources in The New Yorker, should’ve prompted them to abort the mission. The flight continued and ultimately landed safely.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane air-launched from its carrier aircraft on July 11th carrying founder Branson and three company employees over the firm’s New Mexico spaceport, Spaceport America. The rocket plane soared 53.5 miles high, skimming the edge of space for a few minutes of weightlessness before free-gliding back to a runway, using the rocket-propelled momentum from its ascent. Branson and the company lauded the mission as a success shortly after, with the company’s president Mike Moses telling reporters “the ship looked perfect” at touchdown.

But as the space plane was accelerating toward peak altitude, the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, saw cockpit warnings that indicated the ship wasn’t flying as steeply as it should have been. Such warnings “should scare the crap out of you,” Masucci was quoted by The New Yorker as saying in a 2015 meeting with other company pilots. That gave the pilots two options, per company procedures: “implement immediate corrective action, or abort the rocket motor,” the magazine reports. Triggering an abort and returning Branson and his crew to ground without reaching space would’ve been the safest option at the time, multiple sources told Nicholas Schmidle, the article’s author who also published an exhaustive book on Virgin Galactic’s history earlier this year.



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