What does it take to lead the Virgin Orbit pilot corps? An undying love for all things aerospace, to be sure. A strong background in engineering and science helps. Maybe throw in a couple thousand hours of flight time in high-performance heavy aircraft for good measure.
The latest addition to our flight team embodies all those qualities and much, much more — and pretty soon, he’ll be the Pilot in Command for all Cosmic Girl operations. We’d like to give a very warm welcome to our new Chief Pilot, Eric Bippert!
From the very outset of LauncherOne development, the inimitable Kelly Latimer has served as our Chief Test Pilot. In that role, supported by fellow pilot Todd Ericson, she guided us through the early iterations of our flight test program, developed our flight conops, and helped to transform Cosmic Girl from an ordinary passenger jet to a fully-fledged carrier aircraft. Of course, she was also Pilot in Command for our first Launch Demo this past May.
Even while pursuing all those streams of work, Kelly was also simultaneously flying Virgin Galactic’s mothership VMS Eve (she’s truly a force to be reckoned with!). Now, as we prepare for our next flight and ramp into commercial operations, it’s time for us to grow our Virgin Orbit pilot corps — and we’re really jazzed about the skills and leadership Eric brings to the team. We’re also delighted that Kelly will continue to support us from her home base at Virgin Galactic. In fact, she will still be the Pilot in Command on Cosmic Girl for our second launch demo, which is coming up fast.
“Cosmic Girl and the entire Virgin Orbit family have been such a big part of my life these past few years, so it is difficult to turn the reins of the Chief Pilot job over to someone else,” Kelly commented recently. “But I have known Eric Bippert for years and have absolute confidence in the fantastic job he will do leading the flight and launch teams through their future launch operations. Knowing that Cosmic Girl will be in the very capable hands of Eric and the rest of our incredibly skilled flight crew, I’m super excited to re-focus my efforts on Virgin Galactic’s progression into commercial space service. I’m looking forward to continuing to contribute to this amazing team, although in a lesser role, and watching the team do what they do best: blowing our minds with air-launch.”
We’re getting Eric trained up right now on everything he needs to know to smoothly step into the role of Chief Pilot. Fortunately, with experience flying 49 different aircraft from the C-17 to the Goodyear Blimp, he’s got a great head start. Welcome to the Virgin family, Eric!