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Unemployed? Virgin Galactic Seeks Pilot-Astronauts

SpaceShipTwo, WhiteKnightTwo
April 14, 2011 — There have been many signs over the past couple of years that commercial passenger spaceflight is becoming a reality, often best illuminated by the success of SpaceshipOne and the steady progress of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. The latest sign comes in the form of a job announcement from Virgin Galactic seeking pilot-astronauts for its spaceflight system test and development team. They say the economy is rebounding and this just one more option for jobseekers who may be what Virgin describes as “very special.”

The full job description from Virgin Galactic is below:

Virgin Galactic has launched its search for pilot-astronauts. This unique opportunity initially involves working as part of the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo spaceflight system test and development team in Mojave, California, then taking the experience gained from that program to the spaceline’s commercial operations at its operating base, Spaceport America, in New Mexico.

These will be the very first commercial pilot-astronauts, something which will undoubtedly excite the interest of a great many. Successful candidates will have to be very special: both a full-course graduate of a recognized test pilot school and highly and broadly experienced. Virgin is looking for pilots with significant experience of both high-performance fast jet-type airplanes as well as large multiengine types – not only that, but “prior spaceflight experience is an advantage.”

Virgin Galactic is on track to become the world’s first private spaceline. It is dedicated to becoming a world leader in sub-orbital commercial space tourism with a longer-term vision to develop other space technologies that have the potential to open space to significantly more people and users.

Company objectives in the lead-up to commercial operations are to confirm that the spaceflight system meets Virgin Galactic's exacting standards, and to set up an operational base at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic actively strives to promote innovation, value, integrity, and a sense of enjoyment in all that it does. It will remain a very high-profile part of the Virgin Group and has the potential to become its global, flagship company.

Start Date
Virgin Galactic is recruiting three pilot-astronauts to join its initial pilot-astronaut ranks. The first pilot-astronaut will support the ongoing flight test program of the spaceflight system and will ideally start with us in June 2011. Additional pilot-astronauts will be drafted as the flight test program reaches key milestones toward commercial launch activities.

Role Purpose
Reporting to the chief pilot, the pilot-astronauts’ primary responsibilities are to operate the spaceflight system in accordance with government regulations and company policies and procedures, delivering a sub-orbital spaceflight service to Virgin Galactic customer-astronauts that is as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Key Duties
In addition to flight duties with the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, pilot-astronaut duties will also include flight-planning activities, mission control coordination and ground-to-air support, record-keeping, and training obligations.

Flight-planning activities will involve route planning and airspace coordination with personnel at Spaceport America, White Sands Missile Range, the local Federal Aviation Authority Air Traffic Control, and Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Mission control duties include ensuring the safety and continuity of the operation by taking all necessary actions and keeping all relevant parties informed.

Initial pilot-astronauts are responsible for training of new company pilot-astronauts, supervision of ground and flight training (initial and recurrent), and implementation and supervision of update and improvement programs for pilot-astronaut training. Pilot-astronauts will also be involved in training activities with customer-astronauts prior to flight to ensure familiarity and competence with communications systems, seat and harness mechanisms, and general flight procedures.

The initial corps of Virgin Galactic pilot-astronauts will also take part in the development and flight test of the spaceflight system. Working with Scaled Composites and The Spaceship Company, pilot-astronauts will monitor, advise, and assist, where appropriate, in the design, development, flight testing, and introduction to service of the spaceflight system. Initial pilot-astronauts will be responsible for evaluating the fitness-for-purpose of the spaceflight system in terms of systems, handling qualities, performance, and pilot workload.

In preparation for the start of commercial operations, the initial pilot-astronaut corps will establish the recruitment standard for future pilot-astronauts and assist in the selection and training of additional commercial pilot-astronauts. They will also support the operational team in establishing company manuals, in particular defining operating procedures, mission rules, in-flight emergency response procedures, and training syllabi for pilot-astronauts and customer-astronauts.

Once commercial operations have commenced the pilot-astronaut will move from the role of testing the spaceflight system to regularly flying the missions. This will involve close contact with the customer-astronauts of Virgin Galactic, taking them through the training prior to each mission flight and ensuring a high level of service and communication are maintained at all times both on the ground and in the spaceflight system. All pilot-astronauts will be ambassadors of the Virgin Galactic brand, ensuring the customer-astronauts experience the highest customer service standards.

Virgin Galactic essentials for pilot-astronaut successful candidates

  • Must be a U.S. citizen – compliant with ITAR (22 CFR §120.15)
  • A current FAA commercial (or equivalent) pilot certificate and FAA medical (you will be required to produce evidence of both at interview)
  • Degree level qualification in a relevant technical field
  • Graduate of a recognized test pilot school, with at least 2-1/2 years post-graduate flight test experience (you will be required to produce evidence at interview)
  • A diverse flying background with a minimum of 3,000 flying hours to include considerable experience in large multiengine aircraft and high-performance fast-jet aircraft, and low lift-to-drag ratio glide experience (e.g. simulated flameout landings) in complex aircraft
  • Operational experience of an aerospace aviation project or business
  • Excellent, current knowledge on a diverse range of aerospace matters
  • Ability to communicate aviation knowledge and safety related information simply, succinctly, and clearly
  • Previous responsibility for authorizing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure a safe and efficient operation
  • Be a proven team player

Very limited exceptions to the above may be considered for those with truly outstanding test flying or spaceflight experience.

Preference will be given to those with experience of:

  • Spaceflight
  • Commercial flight operations
  • Flight instruction


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