Spaceflight Insider

Former U.S. Air Force Colonel joins Virgin Galactic as pilot

T-38 aircraft Dryden Flight Research Center Kelly Latimer NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Kelly Latimer in front of a T-38 Talon. Photo Credit: NASA

Virgin Galactic issued an announcement on Monday, Nov. 9; in it, the Pasadena, California-based firm revealed that it had hired Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Latimer, U.S. Air Force, Ret., as a pilot. Latimer is a combat veteran, one who also has experience at NASA and Boeing. She is also a test pilot – experience that will come in handy as the NewSpace firm works to send paying customers to sub-orbit via the company’s SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic is privately-owned by English businessman and investor Sir Richard Branson and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS. The company has been working for more than a decade to get the first commercial suborbital spacecraft approved and ready to carry paying tourists on brief suborbital jaunts at $200,000 a ticket.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747 aircraft NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Latimer flew NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft. Photo Credit: NASA

For her part, this was the latest step in a career that seems to be leading in one direction – up.

“I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything. Flying is the tip of the iceberg: some the most meaningful work for me will be joining Virgin Galactic’s team with their incredible experience and organization to complete the vehicles’ design and test and setting up operations before the first flight. I’m thrilled that my test pilot experience has led me to Virgin Galactic and look forward to making access to space for everybody a reality,” Latimer said via a release issued by Virgin Galactic.

Latimer is used to breaking barriers – she was the first female research test pilot hired by NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. She carried out a test flight as well as test support on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747SP aircraft. She has also held similar roles in regards to T-38, C-17, the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, as well as the BE200 and T-34 aircraft on an array of projects.

“Our pilot corps, led by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, is an integral part of Virgin Galactic’s talented commercial operations team, and Kelly’s impressive leadership in operations and experience with heavy aircraft and as a test pilot make her well-suited for our upcoming return to flight. We look forward to Kelly’s contributions in what is sure to be a busy and exciting year ahead,” said Virgin Galactic’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses.

Virgin Galactic, which is hoping to continue test flights of the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft as soon as next year (2016). This will mark the first time the vehicle has done so since the Oct. 31, 2014, loss of the VSS Enterprise, which broke up during a test flight – resulting in the death of one of the two pilots on board – and injuring the other.

A more complete review of Latimer’s extensive qualifications can be found here: Kelly Latimer


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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