Scaled Composites took the unusual step this morning of issuing a press release about the WhiteKnightTwo flight test program. The move was prompted by stories circulating about a tail scrape incident which took place on the fourth test flight on Apr 20, during a touch and go at Mojave, Calif.
You can check out the statement for yourself, but the bottom line, according to Scaled is that WK2 is doing a lot better than published reports might suggest. Scaled, which is traditionally tight-lipped at the best of times about much that goes on within its innovative walls, is in a tricky position. It is conducting a high-profile test flight program in full view of the public on a highly unconventional aircraft, the test flying of which is bound to be anything but uneventful.
So it has proved and, just as with all other Scaled test efforts bar none that I know of, there have naturally been issues to overcome. In today’s ‘new media’ world, where twittering and blogging bring instant visibility, Scaled’s program for Virgin Galactic is inevitably therefore starting to experience the focused attention that Boeing has been getting for more than two years with the 787.
From an industry watching perspective I welcome Scaled’s decision to come out with news, and an official update. Even with more updates like these, the WK2 and its flight test progress will continue to be subject to speculation – but at least this initiative will help those of us who try to keep our readers up to speed by allowing us to report on a more informed basis. This must be better for all concerned and I hope this is the start of more updates to come.
The statement explains how WK2 was designed to provide acceptable pilot feel forces without boosted controls. “We always expected that the aerodynamics would have to be adjusted as we conducted flight tests in order to optimize the forces (not too heavy, not “overbalanced” and thus too light or unstable),” says Scaled. Interestingly, the statement also mentions how the wake from the main landing gear affected the rudder forces, and explains why horn balances and vortex generators soon sprouted on WK2’s rudder. “We concluded the rudder aerodynamic modification tasks following flight 3,” it adds.
Wake from the solid main undercarriage legs resulted in the need to modify the rudders. (photo: Guy Norris)