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Fired flight director accuses Virgin Galactic of lying about problems on July suborbital flight

A former Virgin Galactic flight director, who was relieved of his duties just before the company’s July suborbital flight that carried Richard Branson and then fired shortly thereafter, has accused Virgin Galactic of misleading the public in its statements about the problems that occurred during that flight.

Virgin Galactic has claimed that the high winds forced the spacecraft away from its planned flight path.

Mark Stucky, who Virgin Galactic fired eight days after Branson’s flight, said his former employer put out an inaccurate statement about why VSS Unity flew unauthorized into Class A airspace for 1 minute 41 seconds during its descent. Class A airspace is primarily used by airlines, cargo operators and higher performance aircraft.

“The most misleading statement today was @virgingalactic’s,” Stucky tweeted. “The facts are the pilots failed to trim to achieve the proper pitch rate, the winds were well within limits, they did nothing of substance to address the trajectory error, & entered Class A airspace without authorization.”

There is no way to know if Stucky’s accusation is correct. We might be seeing a bit of personal anger on his part considering his firing. At the same time, the FAA’s statement about this issue made no mention of winds, which suggests the Virgin Galactic statement might not be true.

Regardless, Virgin Galactic’s track record in matters of safety has not been stellar. The company needs to quickly resolve these issues or they will become a lingering sore that will damage sales for future suborbital flights.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Joe

    The FAA investigation will show what happened. If it is bad, then hopefully people have sold their VG shares.

  • sippin_bourbon

    So I have a theory.

    No flight is perfect.

    I say that, because as a flight student, I would look back at a flight, and see what I could have done better. It was rare, but twice I found a minor fault with the equipment ( nothing life threatening ).

    That being said, I imagine every space voyage, with all the complexities, have some faults. And I certainly hope that the various proprietors are seeking, find, and acting on them.

    What I do not know is:
    a: Are the faults that Virgin Galactic (VG) finds unique?
    b: Are they self-reporting by VG (which implies transparency with a goal toward safer commercial flight) or leaked (implying coverup)?
    c: Do other companies have similar issues, but they are simply better at PR than VG?
    d: Are these really deal breakers for VG?

  • Patrick Underwood

    There must be more to this, because Class A starts at 18000 ft and ends at 60000 ft. It blankets the entire planet. Period. So there is absolutely no way for VG to avoid Class A. It’s like trying to avoid water while scuba diving. I’m guessing a reporter didn’t understand what was actually said.

  • Edward

    From the article:

    Stucky said Mackay and Masucci should have declared an emergency so controllers could have cleared the airspace below them.

    I’m not a pilot, but can’t controllers be informed of a flight deviation without an emergency being called? I should hope that an airspace incursion does not require an emergency situation for resolution.

    Patrick Underwood,
    The problem is less that Unity flew through those altitudes and more that it flew outside the protected zone. Theoretically, an airliner could have been authorized to fly where Unity passed through.

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