Scaled Composites is the company founded by Burt Rutan that designed and built SpaceShipOne, winner of the X-Prize. The rocket plane completed the requirements by making two successive flights into space after launch from a mother ship. Now the work is on a larger machine, SpaceShipTwo, that is launched from its White Night lifter to provide Virgin Galactic’s paying customers with the experience of space and zero-g.
Some of the team spend their leisure time in evenings and weekends in building and flying light aircraft to compete in events like the Reno races. Elliot Seguin, a flight test engineer and pilot might spend his day at the computer or aboard White Night conducting tests. But in his down time he’s designed and built a Formula 1 class racer, and following SpaceShipTwo’s second powered test flight last week, he headed out to Reno to enter the races.
“The Formula 1 class of air racers is tightly defined. The airplanes must have at least 66 feet of wing area and weigh at least 500 pounds. They are also all required to use the same Continental 0-200 engine (though they can be highly modified). So anybody looking for maximum speed tries to build the smallest, most slippery airframe possible.”
Seguin’s problem was that most aircraft in the class do not give him enough leg-room to fly effectively. At 6ft 3ins he had to make something he could fit into. The result is his Wasabi Formula 1 air racer, designed to fly fast and low round the pylons dotted through the course circuit. In some ways his activities call to mind those of Burt Rutan himself, who loved flying and creating custom-made machines to test his skills. Rutan ended up with technology that is about to make civilian spaceflight a practical and commercial reality. He confirms that we still live in a world where people can set themselves adventurous and ambitious targets and can, by attaining them, advance the progress of humankind and the opportunities open to it.
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