“Flying to the Nation’s one and only public Spaceport”
It was my third attempt to fly to Mojave Airport and I almost din’t make it this time too. Mojave Airport lies right smack next to Edwards Airforce Base, in the desert region, notorious for gusting winds, nearby restricted areas and fast moving military traffic. Reading NTSB accident reports, most of them due to strong cross winds, can’t be good for one’s morale when attempting to fly there. That and of course, the danger of running into a T-38 from nearby Edwards AFB or inadvertantly flying into the restricted areas. Mojave itself, is a civilian testing site for new and revolutionary aircraft.
After two previous cancellations due to bad weather, finally the day of our third attempt dawned nice and clear. Kevin and I planned to fly there early to avoid strong afternoon winds. I think, both of us were a little nervous. Moderate to severe turbulence was being forecasted over the mountains, which is always a big no-no for me. After all, I could always fly there another time. As I was going to fly the outbound leg to MHV, a go, no-go decision was mine to make. We replanned the route to avoid the San Marcus area where severe turbulence was reported and after another thorough weather briefing, we filed an IFR flight plan. It was GO for launch!
I could feel the tension and excitement in my bones, as we took off and headed for the desert. The flight was smooth except for some light turbulence over the San Marcus area, nothing I couldn’t handle and before long we were descending over Mojave. I had decided to shoot the GPS RWY 4 approach, as has been the trend since I started flying the newer Cessna 172s equipped with them. Contrary to my initial misconception, GPS approaches are a piece of cake compared to non-GPS such as VOR or ILS, once you figure out how to operate and use the GPS. The journey ended uneventfully, when we landed at MHV on runway 26. We could have landed at any of the runways available, as MHV was reporting wind calm. Thank goodness for that! After lunch at the Voyager restaurant, named after Rutan’s famous Voyager aircraft, that flew a successful non-stop flight around the world, we took a mini tour around the airport looking at all the abandoned and storage aircraft, before heading back.
The return journey was an easy one atleast for me. My part of the excitement was over. With Kevin at the flight controls, I could sit back, relax and reflect, sorting through myraids of thoughts rushing through my mind. I knew well enough, when we set out, that we would not see Rutan or SpaceShipOne, but just flying there held some reverence for me. You see, my encounter with SpaceShipOne and Mojave Airport began much earlier, way back in October 2003, when I was fortunate enough to take a tour of Mojave Airport. We spent more than two hours in the hanger that houses the offices of Scaled Composites, listening to Rutan talk, in awe of the man and the machine. Standing right next to and White Knight (the launch vehicle for SpaceShipOne) surreptiously running a carressing hand over the smooth surface, on that day I fully understood, man’s innate desire to see and touch. It is our five senses that heighten our awareness of our surroundings, what we use to perceive our universe. But it is our sense of sight and touch that we covet most.
Seeing is believing, Touching is Knowing!
As we made our way over the cloud covered San Joaquin valley, I also thought of that fateful day in June 2004. Standing amidst a crowd of some 20,000 spectators, who had made the early morning journey to Mojave, I watched the momentous launch of SpaceShipOne’s first flight into space. That historic flight broke all barriers and opened the horizons to future private manned spaceflight, despite the fact that Melville spent barely two minutes in weightlessness. The journey for SpaceShipOne has ended. It will never fly again and eventually end up in the Smithsonian Museum. It does not signal the end, but the beginning of the golden era of private manned spaceflight, paving the way for many more SpaceShipOnes. If you and I will ever make it space, it is that historic flight followed by the two later XPrize winning flights in October 2004, that will go down in history as the turning point, that spurred the race to space.
I always longed to have been part of the century that ushered in the dawn of aviation, when two brothers revolutionized the way we viewed the skies. One fine day in December 1903, Orville Wright flew the Wright Flyer for a brief 12 minute flight over the banks of Kitty Hawk barely reaching altitudes of 120ft and flew into history. I regret not having been there to witness that historic flight and the decades of innovation that followed it. I am certainly glad to be a part of the next historic flight, the first spaceflight of SpaceShipOne, and the next century that will usher in the dawn of private human spaceflight!