Virgin Galactic Selects Pilot for Spaceflights

Former U.S. Air Force test pilot snags the gig.

SpaceShipTwo Pilot

SpaceShipTwo Pilot

After combing through more than 500 applicants, Virgin Galactic has hired a pilot to take fare-paying passengers into space aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo.

That man is Keith Colmer, a former U.S. Air Force test pilot with 12 years of flight-testing experience. Colmer has logged more than 5,000 hours in 90-plus aircraft types, experience that helped him beat out a competitive applicant pool, which included 10 current and former astronauts.

“We selected the best pilot for our vehicles,” Virgin Galactic’s George Whitesides recently told the Los Angeles Times. “Unlike most spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo is actually flown to space. So the emphasis is on people who have tremendous pilot skills.”

Colmer will now begin flight training aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo.

If all goes according to plan, the latter will be used to launch SpaceShipTwo into suborbital flight, where paying passengers will experience weightlessness before the spacecraft re-enters the atmospheres and glides back to Earth.

When that service will begin, however, is still up in the air. While Virgin Galactic’s initial timetable called for the beginning of passenger flights in 2008, the company’s chief pilot recently announced that they won’t start for at least two more years.