Author photo

By Cathy Hansen
contributing writer 

Mojave Air & Space Port – then and now (part 4)

Short Flights


October 29, 2022

Jim Mumaw

SpaceShipTwo on White Knight Two for rollout ceremony.

I have been trying to touch on some of the exciting happenings and new projects that have spread their wings at Mojave Airport over the last 50 years. The airport district was formed in 1972 when Dan Sabovich served as airport manager.

This is the last of the series of articles. I left off last time when Brian Binnie rocketed SpaceShipOne into history, becoming the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within the span of a 14 day period, thus claiming the $10 million Ansari X-Prize. That flight was on Oct. 4, 2004.

White Knight Two & SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson jumped in to the commercial space program with Burt Rutan and Scaled composites.

The Scaled Composites, Model 348, White Knight Two was revealed on July 28, 2008 – named after Branson's mother, Eve and flew the first time on Dec. 21, 2008.

Rollout for SpaceShipTwo was Dec. 7, 2009 on runway 30. Branson had a special tent set up and a dramatic show planned. Mother Nature had her own show that caught Virgin Galactic off-guard. The winds blew at speeds over 100 mph and it was blowing horizontal snow. Unfortunately, the fancy tent blew away. Airport Manager, Stu Witt, called for an evacuation of the tent before it lifted off the ground. All aircraft was safely in the hangar by the time the winds reached 100.

On April 29, 2013, SS2 flew the first powered flight, after three years of glide flights.

The first SS2 was lost during a flight test. One pilot, Pete Siebold, survived, but co-pilot Mike Alsbury, did not. It was one of the saddest days at the spaceport.

The second SS2, VSS Unity was unveiled in February 2016. First glide light was in December 2016. Virgin Galactic moved VSS Unity flight operations to Spaceport America in New Mexico in February 2020.

Virgin Orbit 'Cosmic Girl'

A specially modified Virgin Airlines 747-400 is the airborne launch aircraft for 'LauncherOne,' a liquid fueled rocket that is released from under the left wing of the modified 747.

Four successful flights have originated from Mojave Air & Spaceport since 2021, flying to altitude over the Pacific Ocean and dropping LauncherOne, a two stage rocket that releases small satellites called "CubeSats" into low Earth orbit.

Recently, on the first night launch, July 1 this year, seven satellites were successfully launched. They were provided by multiple government agencies that will conduct experiments in space-based communications, in-space navigation and climate change. This mission, also known as STPS28A, was awarded to Virgin Orbit through our subsidiary Virgin Orbit National Systems by the U.S. Space Force Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP). Virgin Orbit is planning on adding a second 747-400 launch aircraft this year to carry and deploy payloads to Low Earth Orbit under Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne program. Recently, Cosmic Girl landed in Cornwall, England for a historic upcoming launch in November 2022 from the United Kingdom. On track for a November launch, "Start Me Up" is led by a joint mission between the U.S. and U.K. governments, launched by Virgin Orbit, the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA), UK Space Command and Spaceport Cornwall.


Stratolaunch Systems, founded in 2011 by Paul G. Allen, has been developing an air-launch platform to make access to space more convenient, reliable and routine. Rollout was May 2017 and this huge aircraft has as a wingspan of 385-feet, uses six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines. The aircraft was constructed by Scaled Composites for Stratolaunch Systems. When Allen passed away in October 2018, Cerberus Capital Management acquired Stratolaunch in October 2019, and they announced they would use the aircraft to provide a high-speed "hypersonic" flight test service.

The aircraft features a twin-fuselage design and the longest wingspan ever flown, at 385 feet, surpassing the Hughes H-4 Hercules flying boat of 321 feet. The flight crew is in the right fuselage and the flight data systems is located in the left fuselage. Stratolaunch, the multi-vehicle launch platform, will carry a 550,000-pound payload and has a 1,300,000-pound maximum takeoff weight. Launched from the Roc carrier aircraft, Talon-A vehicles are rocket-powered, autonomous, reusable test-beds carrying customized payloads at speeds above Mach 5. This capability enables routine access to the hypersonic flight environment, which is critical for scientific research, technological development and component demonstration.

The Talon-A can be fitted out with different payloads and is fully reusable, designed to enable swift, repeatable testing of hypersonic flight technologies for all manner of applications.

Stratolaunch has completed seven successful test flights since the first test flight on April 13, 2019. A captive-carry flight with the Talon- A reusable, hypersonic launch vehicle mockup will be taking place soon at Mojave! They were on runway 30 last week conducting taxi test.

Airport management changes

The year 2002 brought change to East Kern Airport District when a new General Manager was hired to take the place of Dan Sabovich, who retired after 32 years of service. Stu Witt took over and was instrumental in leading Mojave Airport to become America's first inland spaceport in 2004. He recognized the potential of Mojave becoming a leader in the commercial space industry when Burt Rutan was attracting billionaires to finance his space projects, including: Paul Allen and Richard Branson. Witt also pushed to change the district name to Mojave Air & Space Port in 2012.

After Witt's retirement in 2016, Karina Drees, was selected to move up to General Manager/CEO, from Deputy Manager of the Mojave Air & Space Port and retired in 2021 when she was selected to be president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington, D.C.

MASP Management & new airport name

Mojave Air & Space Port District's budget has increased substantially over the last 50 years from the $120,000 that first General Manager, Dan Sabovich started with to over $10 million today. MASP is the economic engine of East Kern County and the number of people employed by firms at the spaceport number in the thousands. The future looks positive for the spaceport.

Due to the significant aerospace contributions of Burt and Dick Rutan to Mojave Airport, the Board of Directors voted to add "Rutan Field" to the Mojave Air & Space Port name. Mojave Airport is shown on FAA aviation charts as "Rutan Field." A new logo was designed and is now being used, Mojave Air & Space Port at Rutan Field.

Zach Reeder, former Scaled Composites aerospace engineer, said at a district board meeting, "We should call this airport 'Rutan Field' because it wouldn't be a spaceport, if it hadn't been for Burt Rutan."

New Spaceport management

Todd Lindner was selected by the MASP board to serve as the new General Manager/CEO. Formerly, he was the Jacksonville Aviation Authority Director, at Cecil Spaceport.

After less than a year, his wife became very ill and they returned to their home in Florida to be near family.

Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo first flight with rocket.

Tim Reid, Director of Operations has stepped in as interim General Manager/CEO. Reid was born and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming and has always had a passion for aviation, starting off when he was selected for an internship with the Experimental Aircraft Association at age 16. He soon obtained his Private Pilot License and eventually became a Certified Flight Instructor. Tim has held several roles in airport management including most recently as the Operations Manager for Portland International Jetport in Portland Maine. Tim is an accomplished pilot and Certified Flight Instructor, and tries to spend some of his free time flying. Tim is a Certified Member of the American Association of Airport Executives and is currently working on his Accreditation. He possesses a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Wyoming, and a Masters in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is also a Pro-Board Certified Firefighter, Fire Instructor and previously held credentials as an ARFF firefighter.

A 50th anniversary celebration is planned at Mojave Air & Space Port on Saturday evening, Nov. 19, 2022.


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