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Helmsdale man will captain world's first commercial space flight

By SPP Reporter

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David Mackay with model of VSS Enterprise
David Mackay with model of VSS Enterprise

Test pilot Dave Mackay, who grew up in Helmsdale, is set to make history as the captain of the world’s first commercial flight into space.

The 54-year-old recently took up the post of chief pilot with Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space venture, Virgin Galactica.

And he has been named as the captain who will be at the helm of the VSS Enterprise – named after the spaceship on Star Trek – when it makes its first voyage with paying passengers.

The son of a police officer, Mr Mackay spent his childhood in Helmsdale. His father died last year but his mother is understood to still live in the village.

Mr Mackay has said he set his heart on becoming an astronaut at the age of seven when he won the Ladybird book of space as a Sunday School prize.

Aged 12, he watched the Apollo Moon landing on a black and white television at school in Sutherland.

"I was a frustrated astronaut all my life," he said. "I grew up at a time when space seemed to have no boundaries and lots of us presumed humans would be living on the moon and landing on Mars."

Mr Mackay joined the RAF in 1979 and spent 16 years with the service, half of that time as a test pilot.

He graduated with his test pilot wings from the French test pilots’ school, Ecole due Personnel Navigant d’Essais et de Reception (EPNER) in 1988 through an exchange with EPNAR and the RAF’s Empire Test Pilot School.

His work included trials on the Harrier G7, before becoming Officer Commander of the Fast Jet Test Flight at Boscombe Down in 1992.

In 1995 he left his position as Principal Fixed Wing Tutor at the Empire Test Pilots’ School to join Virgin Atlantic. He became a captain on the Boeing 747 in 1999 and also flew the Airbus 340.

He has flown over 11,000 hours on over 100 different types of aircraft.

Mr Mackay began working with Virgin Galactica in 2003 and is based at the Mojave airbase in the desert of Southern California.

His first space flight is due to take place in around 18 months’ time when the passenger seats will be occupied by members of the Branson family including Sir Richard.

Some 440 people have already paid a deposit for the first commercial space flight. They include celebrities such as Russell Brand, Kate Perry, Victoria Principal, Professor Stephen Hawking and science-fiction director, Bryan Singer.

Tickets cost $200,000 with deposits from $20,000

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