First Flight For WhiteKnightTwo

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WhiteKnightTwo, the twin-fuselage all-composite aircraft designed by Scaled Composites to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft, flew for the first time on Sunday morning, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California. The flight lasted about an hour. "Today Virgin Galactic passed a huge milestone in its mission to create environmentally benign, safe and affordable access to space," reads a brief statement posted on the Virgin Galactic Web site on Sunday. "In the early hours of a beautiful Mojave morning, its revolutionary carbon composite carrier aircraft performed a flawless maiden flight. Congratulations to Burt Rutan and all at Scaled Composites for this fantastic achievement!" Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, told Wired.com, "With these aircraft, nothing is ever a foregone conclusion. It's not like pulling another Airbus off the line and putting it into the air. This was a big moment. I think it was a big milestone for the whole industry." More test flights are expected, then sometime next summer WK2 will take off carrying SpaceShipTwo, the rocket ship that will carry space tourists to the edge of space. A short video clip of the takeoff and landing is posted at the FlightGlobal web site.

WK2 is powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW308A turbofan engines. Officials at Virgin Galactic have said they expect to start flying tourists into space before the end of 2010.