MOJAVE, Calif., Oct. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Just over fifty years ago, an historic competition for the first pilots to fly into space yielded the Mercury Seven astronauts. Today, from an intense selection process with more than 500 applicants including some of the best pilots in the world, Virgin Galactic has selected former USAF test pilot Keith Colmer as the first astronaut pilot to join the commercial spaceline's flight team. Colmer will join Chief Pilot David Mackay to begin flight training and testing, leading to operational missions to space with Virgin Galactic's revolutionary vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Additional selections will be made as the company nears commercial operations.
Colmer brings 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental aircraft test flight experience plus more than 10 years of combined military experience in USAF spacecraft operations and flying. He has logged over 5000 hours in over 90 different types of aircraft. He will report to Mackay and Vice President of Operations, Mike Moses, as Virgin Galactic prepares to undertake powered test flights, leading soon thereafter to commercial operations.
"Keith brings the kind of tremendous multi-dimensional talent and skill set that we are looking for in our astronaut pilots," said President and CEO George Whitesides. "But equally important to us are his impeccable character and his outstanding record of high caliber performance in highly demanding environments. He sets the bar very high for others to come."
Following completion of USAF pilot training, Colmer served as a combat F-16 pilot in the Colorado Air National Guard, with two combat tours to Iraq. He was then selected as an operational test pilot, managing various sensor and electronic warfare flight test programs for the F-16, at the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) in Tucson, Arizona.
He then became the first Air National Guard pilot ever selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He served as Operations Officer for the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, where he led F-16, F-15 and T-38C flight test operations, specializing in high angle of attack flight test and training on the F-16. Keith then completed two classified assignments, finishing his active duty tour as a Combined Test Force Director and Squadron Commander for a classified program.
Colmer is the recipient of the Order of Daedalians Orville Wright Achievement Award, as the outstanding pilot training graduate in 1989, the Aaron C. George Award from the USAF Test Pilot School, the Lieutenant General Bobby Bond Memorial Aviator Award and the Lieutenant General Howard Leaf "Test Team of the Year Award" for the United States Air Force.
Colmer, whose aviator call sign is "Coma," joins an elite team in Mojave, CA, where Scaled Composite's test pilots and Mackay have been putting WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo through an exhaustive series of test flights to fully explore and quantify the performance profiles of the two revolutionary vehicles.
"This team in Mojave is second to none," said Mackay about Scaled Composite's test pilots. "Keith and I are indeed fortunate to have their expertise and body of work to build on as we enter the final phases of the test program and prepare to open space to all."
"I am extremely honored to have been the first astronaut pilot selected through competition to join the team," said Colmer. "Virgin Galactic is truly revolutionizing the way we go to space, and I am looking forward to being a part of that."
Colmer has a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has both a Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering and a Masters degree in Telecommunications from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a graduate of the USAF Undergraduate Space Training program, the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program and USAF Test Pilot School, Class 02A.
Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, is on track to be the world's first commercial spaceline. The new spaceship (SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise) and carrier craft (WhiteKnightTwo, VMS Eve) have both been developed for Virgin Galactic by Mojave-based Scaled Composites. Founded by Burt Rutan, Scaled developed SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 claimed the $10m Ansari X Prize as the world's first privately developed manned spacecraft. Virgin Galactic's new vehicles share much of the same basic design, but are being built to carry six customers, or the equivalent scientific research payload, on sub-orbital space flights, allowing an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience and offering astounding views of the planet from the black sky of space for tourist astronauts and a unique microgravity platform for researchers. The VSS Enterprise and VMS Eve test flight program is well under way, leading to Virgin Galactic commercial operations, which will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
SOURCE Virgin Galactic