SpaceShipOne Breaks the Sound Barrier

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at
Wed Dec 17 14:44:56 PST 2003

Scaled Composite's X-Prize entry does Mach 1.2 on a 60 degree climb
during a test flight.  Pretty damn cool.


SpaceShipOne Breaks the Sound Barrier

Today, a significant milestone was achieved by Scaled Composites: The
first manned supersonic flight by an aircraft developed by a small
company's private, non-government effort.

In 1947, fifty-six years ago, history's first supersonic flight was
flown by Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1 rocket under a U.S. Government
research program. Since then, many supersonic aircraft have been
developed for research, military and, in the case of the recently
retired Concorde, commercial applications. All these efforts were
developed by large aerospace prime companies, using extensive government

Our flight this morning by SpaceShipOne demonstrated that supersonic
flight is now the domain of a small company doing privately-funded
research, without government help. The flight also represents an
important milestone in our efforts to demonstrate that truly low-cost
space access is feasible.

Our White Knight turbojet launch aircraft, flown by Test Pilot Peter
Siebold, carried research rocket plane SpaceShipOne to 48,000 feet
altitude, near the desert town of California City. At 8:15 a.m. PDT,
Cory Bird, the White Knight Flight Engineer, pulled a handle to release
SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipOne Test Pilot, Brian Binnie then flew the ship
to a stable, 0.55 mach gliding flight condition, started a pull-up, and
fired its hybrid rocket motor. Nine seconds later, SpaceShipOne broke
the sound barrier and continued its steep powered ascent. The climb was
very aggressive, accelerating forward at more than 3-g while pulling
upward at more than 2.5-g. At motor shutdown, 15 seconds after ignition,
SpaceShipOne was climbing at a 60-degree angle and flying near 1.2 Mach
(930 mph). Brian then continued the maneuver to a vertical climb,
achieving zero speed at an altitude of 68,000 feet. He then configured
the ship in its high-drag "feathered" shape to simulate the condition it
will experience when it enters the atmosphere after a space flight. At
apogee, SpaceShipOne was in near-weightless conditions, emulating the
characteristics it will later encounter during the planned space flights
in which it will be at zero-g for more than three minutes. After
descending in feathered flight for about a minute, Brian reconfigured
the ship to its conventional glider shape and flew a 12-minute glide to
landing at Scaled's home airport of Mojave. The landing was not without
incident as the left landing gear retracted at touchdown causing the
ship to veer to the left and leave the runway with its left wing down.
Damage from the landing incident was minor and will easily be repaired.
There were no injuries.

The milestone of private supersonic flight was not an easy task. It
involved the development of a new propulsion system, the first rocket
motor developed for manned space flights in several decades. The new
hybrid motor was developed in-house at Scaled with first firings in
November 2002. The motor uses an ablative nozzle supplied by AAE and
operating components supplied by SpaceDev. FunTech teamed with Scaled to
develop a new Inertial Navigation flight director. The first flight of
the White Knight launch aircraft was in August 2002 and SpaceShipOne
began its glide tests in August 2003.

Scaled does not pre-announce the specific flight test plans for its
manned space program, however completed accomplishments are updated as
they happen at our website: The website also
provides downloadable photos and technical descriptions of the rocket
motor system and motor test hardware.

Scaled Composites, LLC, is an aerospace research company located on the
Mojave Airport:
1624 Flight Line, Mojave California 93501
Voice (661) 824-4541
Fax (661) 824-4174
Email: info at

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