White Knight Two-Rutan's Suborbital Spaceplane

By Willie Bdenstein


Revealed on 23 January 2008, the White Knight Two is quite different from the White Knight, both in size, use of tail, engine configuration and placement of cockpit(s). White Knight Two is roughly three times larger than White Knight in order to perform a captive flight with the larger SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. Engine configuration is also very different. White Knight Two has four engines which are hung beneath the wings on pylons while White Knight's pair of engines are on either side of its single fuselage.

Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites created the SpaceShipOne vehicle that won a $10 million prize for flying twice to the edge of space within two weeks. Virgin Galactic ordered two White Knight Two vehicles. Together, WK2 and SS2 were to form the basis for Virgin Galactic's fleet of suborbital spaceplanes.

The first White Knight Two was named VMS Eve after Richard Branson's mother Eve Branson. It was officially unveiled on 28 July 2008 and flew for the first time on 21 December 2008. The second was named VMS Spirit of Steve Fossett after Branson's close friend Steve Fossett, who died in an aircraft accident in 2007.

Virgin Galactic White Knight Two Carrier Aircraft Lands at Mojave Air & Spaceport 4 Feb 2020

I first saw her in 2009 during my first visit to AirVenture in Oshkosh in the USA, when she was one of the stars of the afternoon shows.

Photo by Virgin Galactic.

Eve, then the world's largest composite aircraft, of similar size to a Boeing 737, completed her third successful test flight. The flight was the longest and fastest to date, lasting more than 2-1/2 hours and attaining a maximum speed of 140 knots and at an altitude of over 18,000 feet. The flight took place at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Scaled Composites was under contract to Virgin Galactic to develop and build this first "mother ship" for SpaceShipTwo. Galactic had sold more than 280 tickets to take passengers to the edge of space.

On 31 October 2014, White Knight Two, VMS Eve, dropped the Enterprise that it was carrying for a test flight. The test flight was the aircraft's first powered flight in nine months and was to include the first flight testing of a new, more powerful and steadier-thrust hybrid rocket engine whose fuel grain was composed of nylon instead of rubber. The flight was the aircraft's 55th and its 35th free flight. VSS Enterprise was crewed by pilot Peter Siebold and the co-pilot was Michael Alsbury. Enterprise fired its new hybrid rocket engine and about eleven seconds later, the space plane violently broke apart, creating a 35-mile-long (55-kilometer) debris field. Alsbury was killed in the crash while Siebold survived with serious injuries.

Eve, successor to Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity has been aloft for more than 20 test flights, three of which have reached the edge of space. On one these flights, Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson and other passengers were aboard.

A P-51 Mustang plane guides White Knight its new home in Washington state.

SpaceShipOne, the world's first private-sector space plane is now one the Smithsonian's exhibits and the White Knight mothership that carried it into history is in a museum as well. When SpaceShipOne was retired in 2004, Scaled Composites used the White Knight for other flight experiments at California's Mojave Air and Space Port. On 21 July 2014, the twin-boom carrier plane flew in to Paine Field in Everett, Washington, to become part of software billionaire Paul Allen's Flying Heritage Collection.

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