Tuesday, October 21, 2008
From The Editor: The Sky's Not The LImit
I first met Lina Borozdina at Oshkosh in 2005, when Richard Branson and Burt Rutan announced a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites to manufacture a fleet of suborbital spacecrafts intended for space tourism. Lina, a biochemist who had mortgaged her home to purchase a $200,000 ticket on the suborbital flight, was next to me in line for a helicopter flight over the air show grounds. But as our flight time approached, she looked increasingly worried. She was having second thoughts about going in the air, and it became apparent that this astronaut-to-be was afflicted by a fear of flying. Nonetheless, Lina was determined to travel to space, having dreamed of it since her childhood days in Ukraine.
Three years and a round of centrifuge testing later, Lina is as excited as ever and now wants to work on her pilot license. In 2010, she’ll join five other passengers and two pilots on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo as it’s carried to approximately 50,000 feet by its launch vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo. After separation, it will climb to 360,000 feet in just 90 seconds, exceeding speeds of Mach 3. At the recent roll out in Mojave, Calif., designer Burt Rutan and Virgin Galactic President Richard Branson unveiled the mothership, the world’s largest all-carbon-composite aircraft. Contributing author Marc Lee was on site at Mojave Airport, and in this issue, he tells us how innovative advancements in aircraft design like these and others are making dreams come true.
From her suborbital perch, Lina will experience weightlessness and enjoy a visibility of 1,000 miles in all directions. Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson, a retired NASA astronaut who flew five missions, explains what she’ll see: “Although it will not be a full globe view from 360,000 feet, it will be spectacular. Earth is an 8,000-mile diameter ball, and even if we’re 276 miles above it, there’s still a very big ball we’re looking at. But the view from 360,000 feet will be very inspiring!”
Contributing author Laurel Lippert also had a flight experience that she’ll never forget when she attended McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminars. She trained with bush pilot Lori MacNichol and her experienced team, operating on some of the most challenging airstrips that the Idaho backcountry has to offer. Even if you won’t be flying in the backcountry often, the training is still invaluable. Pilots learn to master airspeed, gain confidence and increase their knowledge about their own airplane and its capabilities. Laurel brings us along in her Cessna 182, as she learns to navigate by river and road, execute emergency canyon turns, land on a 20-foot-wide gravel strip with no possibility of a go-around, and fly a figure-eight approach to a 1,700-foot uphill strip with a dogleg in the middle.
Not long after she returned to her Tahoe home after the training was completed, Laurel made a flight over the Sierra Mountains and, as always, looked for emergency landing spots. This time, though, when she spotted a bare clearing that could be an option, she saw it with a new perspective. What was once just a hope that she might survive such a landing was now replaced with a knowledge that she would survive, because she had already been there, on a tiny landing strip in Idaho. The new level of confidence that she had gained was like having a safety net, a feeling of comfort that would make flying over the mountains more relaxing and enjoyable.