Cosmic carrier: Inside Virgin Orbit's Boeing 747

Is this the most unusual use for the Boeing 747 yet? Robin Evans speaks to Virgin Orbit chief test pilot and seasoned jumbo jockey Kelly Latimer about using the Queen of the Skies to get to space

It is January 17, 2021. A Boeing 747-400 with a strangely familiar livery crosses the Pacific coast north of Los Angeles. Aboard are a special crew and a single VIP, but this was no president. Instead, the aircraft pulls off an unusual trick. Pitching to an angle no airliner would normally achieve, Cosmic Girl makes the first successful air launch of an orbital class, liquid-fuelled rocket.

img_86-1.jpg
Flying with a captive carry LauncherOne for the second time in December 2018
VIRGIN ORBIT/GREG ROBINSON

In command was Virgin Orbit chief test pilot Kelly Latimer: “When it first drops, we hear the thud of the hooks opening and feel the aircraft roll to the right. We can hear the engine ignite and watch the first minute of the rocket’s flight.”

Become a Premium Member to Read More

This is a premium article and requires an active Key.Aero subscription to view.

I’m an existing member, sign me in!

I don’t have a subscription…

Enjoy the following subscriber only benefits:

  • Unlimited access to all KeyAero content
  • Exclusive in-depth articles and analysis, videos, quizzes added daily
  • A fully searchable archive – boasting hundreds of thousands of pieces of quality aviation content
  • Access to read all our leading aviation magazines online - meaning you can enjoy the likes of FlyPast, Aeroplane Monthly, AirForces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, Aviation News, Airports of the World, PC Pilot and Airliner World - as soon as they leave the editor’s desk.
  • Access on any device- anywhere, anytime
  • Choose from our offers below