British pilot will become first to captain Richard Branson’s space tourism flights
Last updated at 3:22 PM on 1st August 2011
A British pilot is set to fulfil his childhood dream by becoming the first captain to fly tourists into space.
David Mackay, 53, will be the chief pilot for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic when it begins the first sub-orbital space flights by 2013.
Over 400 passengers have already paid £125,000 for the privilege of a weightless flight 100km above the earth's surface.
Flying high! David Mackay will be piloting the Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, shown here on its maiden flight from the Mojave Air and Spaceport in Mojave, California
Spaceman! Mr Mackay, who has always dreamed of being an astronaut, will fly passengers in the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, shown here gliding towards earth
Mr Mackay, of Salisbury, Wiltshire, has held a lifelong ambition to a space pilot after watching the 1969 moon landings on TV as a schoolboy.
He said: 'I was a frustrated astronaut all my life. I grew up at a time when space seemed to have no boundaries and lots of us presumed humans would be living on the moon and landing on Mars.
'When I was 12, I saw the Apollo moon landings and I thought that was really fantastic and exciting and thought that's what I want to do.
Pick me, boss! Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson has sold the exclusive seats to the public and Mr Mackay will be behind the controls for the flight
'I found out that those astronauts were ex-test pilots, so I rather ambitiously decided that I would join the RAF, become a test pilot, then become an astronaut.'
In preparation for when he soars into the sky, Mr Mackay has temporarily swapped his home for the Mojave Desert testing ranges in California taking test flights in Virgin's WhiteKnightTwo 'mothership'.
The aspiring astronaut spent 16 years with the RAF before joining Virgin Atlantic in 1995, working as a captain with Virgin Atlantic.
Mr Mackay is one of just four pilots selected to become Virgin Galactic test pilots working with the development team at Virgin's Spaceport centre in the US.
The WhiteKnightTwo is a jet-powered cargo aircraft which will be used to launch the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft carrying commercial passengers.
Mr Mackay said his experience made him the obvious choice to be the first pilot to take tourists into space.
The high-flyer added: 'I've been involved with it for a long time. There's quite a bit of test flying to be done yet.
'So by the time it comes to the first commercial flight I will be as experienced as anybody on the project, so it makes sense for the most experienced people to be on that first flight.'
It will take about an hour for the mothership to reach an altitude of 50,000ft before the spacecraft it is carrying is launched.
The spaceship will then fire its rocket motor and accelerate to 2,500mph in less than a minute as it leaves the atmosphere.
Describing what the passengers will experience, Mr Mackay said: 'It will be close to 4g acceleration which is a huge push in the back.
'So it will be a very exciting rocket ride, it will last about a minute and they will be pinned back into their seats.
'There will be a bit of noise and vibration so they'll definitely know they are on their way into space.' Once the ship is 360,000ft above the planet, passengers will be allowed to unstrap their seatbelts and experience weightlessness.
They will see the Earth from above before the craft makes its return in the three-and-a-half hours journey.
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