Residents of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, might have been forgiven for thinking there was some close formation flying going on above their heads yesterday. It was actually WhiteKnightTwo, the launch craft for Richard Branson's commercial space venture, being unveiled to the public for the first time at the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Air Venture gathering.
The aircraft is part of a collaboration between engineer Burt Rutan, who made it into space back in 2004, winning the $10 million Ansari X prize, and the British billionaire, who started his fortune flogging music to limeys back in the Seventies. The twin-fuselage plane doesn't actually make it into space, however. Instead, she climbs to around 50,000 feet before blasting the project's spaceship, the adventurously-named SpaceShipTwo, into space at four times the speed of sound.
Virgin Galactic, the company behind the venture, has already taken 300 bookings at $200,000 a pop. Future spaceboys include Stephen Hawking and Bryan Singer, and Branson has pledged to take his Mom and Dad, 89 and 92 years old respectively, on SpaceShipTwo's maiden voyage.