White Knight 2, the aircraft that carries Virgin Galactic's commercial suborbital spaceship aloft, returned to the skies over Mojave, Calif., three weeks after a landing gear problem grounded the plane.
The White Knight crew was performing touch and go's as part of a training exercise on Aug. 19 when the left main landing gear partly retracted. Because of the plane's twin-boom design, it came to rest on the tip of the left vertical tail and the left nose gear, "a unique balancing act (that) minimized the damage," says manufacturer Scaled Composites on its website.
"The engines, which would have made contact with the ground on a conventional aircraft, remained untouched while still feet in the air," Scaled writes.
Following weeks of tests and inspections, Scaled made some minor modifications to the landing gear and cleared the plane for a demo run on Monday.
The flight, writes Scaled, was to "shake the cobwebs off after three weeks of downtime and prove out the newly configured gear. "
Following a rigorous testing program, SpaceShipTwo is expected to begin flying passengers in late 2011 or 2012. Tickets to ride cost $200,000.
(Image: White Knight 2, back in the skies. Credit: Scaled Composites)