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SpaceShipOne, crew honored

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sun Sep 19, 2004 6:56 pm
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chabot imageBy ALLISON GATLIN LOS ANGELES – The accolades continue to pile up for Mojave’s own SpaceShipOne and the team that launched it into the history books.
Designer Burt Rutan and test pilots Brian Binnie, Mike Melvill and Peter Siebold were honored by their peers Saturday night for their work on the pioneering space program, the first privately funded, manned space program to successfully reach and return from suborbital space.

The Society of Experimental Test Pilots bestowed two of its most prestigious awards upon the SpaceShipOne crew during its annual fall symposium at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

Rutan was awarded the James H. Doolittle Award, established to recognize outstanding technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology by a member of the society. It is the second time he has received this honor. The first was in 1987 for his design of the globe-circling Voyager aircraft.

Binnie, Melvill and Siebold were presented with the Iven C. Kincheloe Award, in recognition of outstanding professional accomplishment in the conduct of flight testing.

The Kincheloe award was named in memory of a pioneering Air Force test pilot who died in a F-104 crash at Edwards Air Force Base in 1958. It is a prestigious honor for a test pilot that acknowledges outstanding contributions to developmental flight test for a specific project.

Unveiled to the public in April 2003, SpaceShipOne is designed to be air-launched from the White Knight carrier aircraft, then use a rocket engine to boost it to 100 kilometers above the Earth, where the occupants experience weightlessness and see the blackness of space. Completing an arc, the spacecraft descends to a runway landing, much like a glider.

The star-spangled, composite-built spacecraft made history by reaching the 100 km mark on June 21. The flight made pilot Melvill the first civilian commercial astronaut.

Now Mojave Aerospace Ventures – the partnership between Rutan’s Scaled Composites and billionaire investor Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft – is going for the gold.

The Ansari X-Prize competition, intended to jump-start the commercial space-travel industry, will award $10 million to the first privately funded team to successfully build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers – 328,000 feet – and safely return to Earth, then turn around and duplicate the feat with the same ship within two weeks.

SpaceShipOne is scheduled to make its first flight for the competition Sept. 29, with the second as soon as Oct. 4.

In 1982, Rutan founded Scaled Composites Inc. of Mojave, considered by many to be among the world’s greatest aerospace prototype development companies.

Rutan designed the Voyager aircraft, which his brother Dick piloted nonstop around the world in 1986. The aircraft now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.

Rutan has been honored with some of the highest awards in and outside aviation, including the Collier Trophy, the Presidential Citizen’s Medal and the Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson Skunk Works award from the Engineers Council.

The three SpaceShipOne test pilots were recognized for shepherding the aggressive test program through all of 15 test flights flown so far. In addition to piloting the spacecraft itself through the process of envelope expansion, all three have performed other significant technical roles in the program, including development of the White Knight carrier aircraft, training aircraft and the simulator.

Melvill previously won the Kincheloe award in 1999 for his work with the Proteus high-altitude multimission aircraft.

Also during the awards banquet, seven society members were named as SETP Fellows, the highest level of membership attainable.

Among those named with ties to the Antelope Valley were Vergil Givens; Robert P. Harper, Jr.; Gregory V. Lewis; Fred Madenwald; and Melvill.

A graduate of West Point and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Givens came to Edwards Air Force Base in 1951, eventually becoming the Air Force Flight Test Center’s project control officer for the F-104A. He joined Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in 1956 as an engineering test pilot, working on numerous development programs.

Harper is perhaps best known for his role in developing the Cooper-Harper Pilot Rating Scale for airplane handling qualities. A former Naval aviator, he has flown a wide variety of aircraft and taught flight handling qualities to student test pilots and engineers.

Harper was involved in re-entry vehicle flying qualities research and development of the X-15 and lifting body simulations, as well as simulations for the B-1, space shuttle, X-29, Tacit Blue, B-2 and Concorde.

Lewis is deputy director of the National Test Pilot School in Mojave, with over 5,000 hours in more than 60 different aircraft. Prior to joining the school, he served for 20 years in the Air Force, where he flew a combat tour in F-4s and piloted flight test assignments in the F-16 initial development and a research F-15.

His last Air Force assignment was in the research projects division at Edwards AFB, both as a project pilot and managing Air Force participation in several joint programs with NASA.

A former Marine Corps test pilot and instructor at the Naval Test Pilot School, Madenwald joined McDonnell Douglas following his military career, where he tested numerous munitions for airworthiness on all models of the F/A-18 Hornet.

At Edwards AFB in the late 1980s, he helped develop the F-15E. Madenwald piloted the maiden flight of the F/A-18E/F Superhornet in 1995, and served as chief test pilot for all phases of that aircraft’s development.

He is director of flight test for the Integrated Defense Systems sector of The Boeing Co.

Also named as Fellows were French test pilot Alain Rabion and aircraft and helicopter test pilot Ramon J.A. Gibson.

SETP was founded in 1955 to produce safer and more effective flight test by sharing experiences among test pilots. The Lancaster-based organization now includes some 2,050 members in 33 countries.

The annual fall symposium is the culmination of the society’s efforts, providing pilots with written and oral forums, and formal and informal settings to share information.

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