Mark Stucky, the lead test pilot for SpaceShipTwo. “As a Marine Corps colonel once told me,” Stucky said, “‘If you want to be safe, go be a shoe salesman at Sears.’ ” Photograph by Dan Winters for The New Yorker
On December 13th, 2018 test pilot Mark “Forger” Stucky piloted SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship into space for the first time after years and years of testing and many set backs. He and his co-pilot Rick “CJ” Sturckow had a “long burn” and reached 51 miles above the Earth (over 270,000′), and reached mach 2.9. It was a historical moment in the modern space race being waged by billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Mark is a modern day Chuck Yeager- if it flies, he’s flown it. He began flying hang gliders in 1974 and has over 10,000 hours in over 200 different types of aircraft- including sailplanes, paragliders, fighters, transports, blimps, spaceships and has uniquely flown more than 1,000 hours a piece in the F-4 Phantom, F-16, F-18 and T-38 and even flew the SR-71 before that program was shut down. Remember that scene in Top Gun when Tom Cruise flips upside down over a Russian fighter and takes a picture? Well Mark has ACTUALLY done that! But Hollywood could never do justice to the life he’s lived- one replete with moon-shot type risk, tragedy, unbelievable accomplishments, incredible talent and dedication and after 40 years of perseverence he got to experience what he’s been chasing since he was in his early teens- going into space. If this episode doesn’t make your head spin you don’t have a pulse. Enjoy.
Show Notes: (these are the questions we ran through for the show)
Mark your resume and achievements is well beyond ridiculous but before we get to that, this Thursday the 13thyou co-piloted with Rick “CJ” Sturckow the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket to 51 miles above the Earth, considered the boundary of space, and reached mach 2.9- three times the speed of sound. I can’t imagine putting a flight like this into words, but can you try?
Mark you’ve flown hanggliders, paragliders, sailplanes, fighters, transports, blimps, and obviously most recently spaceships, including I believe uniquely over 1,000 hours a piece in the F-4, F-16, F-18 and T-38 so clearly “pilot” would be how I would describe you, but if someone asked you at a party what you do how do you answer?
There was an article in the New Yorker printed in August about you titled “Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man” that I can honestly say is one of the most riveting long-form reads I’ve come across in years. It documents the modern space race going on between Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. SpaceX and Blue Origin are pursuing a vertical-launch scheme, like we’ve seen in the movies. You say in the article “It’s automated,” “They’ve got some astronauts, but I don’t know what the hell they’re going to do besides act like they’re doing something.” Can you explain this difference (automation- “Spam in a can”)?
Take us through Virgin’s plan (WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo) and how it all works (difference in “sub orbital” vs orbital, costs, engines, ….)
In 2014 your best friend Mike Alsbury was killed when he made a critical human error, you watched the whole thing from mission control. You say in the article that the rocket is the most fearsome thing you have piloted in over 40 years of flying…and many experts have said these projects are “irresponsibly risky.” Is taking rich people into space a worthy objective, and is it worth the risk?
Lets roll the clock back. I understand an article in National Geographic inspired you to get into Hang gliding and in fact there’s a photo of you launching in Kansas, where you went to college in 1974 in the New Yorker article. We just did an episode on the history of Hang gliding, I’m assuming this is the same Nat Geo Article that made hang gliding a national obsession? Talk about those early days flying…
Your dad was a Mennonite and while he supported your early fascination with the stars and flight, he knew the only way in was via the military, which obviously conflicts with those beliefs. But after college you defied him and joined the Marines. I think a lot of kids, especially during that time were fascinated with being an astronaut, but you actually became an astronaut. Where do you think your drive and persistence come from?
In 1985 you graduate Top Gun school, you were flying on a patrol mission over the sea of Japan, spotted a Russian bomber, caught up to it, flipped upside down and snapped a photograph- Mark this sounds a lot like a famous scene in the movie! Care to comment?
Then you transitioned from the military to NASA in the late 80’s and ended up where Chuck Yeager spent most of his career…tell me about being a test pilot?
Then in the 90’s drones come along, funding for spaceships dries up, and you find yourself flying commercially for United and selling mortgages. I’m going to make a wild guess that this wasn’t exactly how you saw your life going?
So…You join the Air Force in 2003 and head to Iraq…and then in 2004 while sitting in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces watch Burt Rutan’s “SpaceShipOne” go to 62 miles above the Earth. What did this moment mean for you?
In 2007, after 4 deployments to Iraq, and a Bobby Bond Aviator award you move to the Mojave to work on some highly classified stuff, you get back into paragliding and even co-author a manual of paragliding which is still popular today, but it sounds like your family life begins to take a dive. By 2009 your three children won’t even talk to you. How do you balance a family and such lofty aspirations?
And then you have a bad crash paragliding in Vegas…let’s talk reserves and PLF, as I understand you’ve got maybe a unique view there?
I want to explore a sentence in the article about another pilot you begin flying with in 2009, Peter Siebold: “For aviators, confidence is an asset but arrogance is a liability. As Chuck Yeager wrote in his memoir, “Arrogance got more pilots in trouble than faulty equipment.”
You start doing a LOT of test flights for Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan’s company behind the engineering of Virgin’s rocket ships. Tell us about the most harrowing flight during those years?
Tell me about “Transonic” flights and why it’s the “Bermuda triangle of airspeed”?
How do you stay current during the LONG periods of testing and downtime? The article talks about all kinds of G-Force training and stick time- any cross-over to paragliding?
Let’s go back to your friend Mike Alsbury, who made a life-ending human mistake on a test flight in 2014. The fallout from that sounded like it almost ended the whole Virgin Galactic program. What happened and how can we as pilots avoid making these kinds of mistakes? Takeaways to PG?
As we already know in a way how this story plays out with you just flying to the edge of space on Thursday looking back over your long and storied carrier- if you could change one thing, what would it be?
“To paraphrase Harrison Storms, the North American Aviation project manager for the X-15 as well as Apollo, we need to work with thoughtful courage and not be blinded by fearful safety.”
Mentioned in this episode:
Paul Guschlbauer, Ken MacDonald, Myles Connolly, Burt Rutan, Rick “CJ” Sturckow, Bruce Weaver, Nate Scales, Richard Branson, Sam Branson, Peter Siebold, Roy Haggard, Tony Lang
Owens Valley, California from Space, Photo Mark Stucky
Episode 82- Mark Forger Stucky and becoming a Rocket Man
00:00:00 - 00:05:08
Uh-huh. Well, happy holidays to all of you. Welcome to another episode of the cloud base mayhem. This is a super thrilling show. This kind of fell into my lap often. I have these mapped out pretty well in advance. And I know we're going to be talking about and and and most of the time I've heard of the person we're going to have on the show this one out of the blue and March I got an Email from a guy named Mark study. He goes by forger. He didn't he doesn't like being called Mark, which I didn't learn till the end of the show. So we'll come forward for now. But he sent me this Email, and he said, hey, I've been listening to your podcasts, and I'm really enjoying it. And I'm kinda late to this thing. But I'm paraglider, and you know, I dig paragliding and here's a little bit about me. You know, maybe we should talk. And then I started reading and this guy's got a resume. That was like this got to be bullshit. There's no way anybody could have done all this stuff. And I meet the reach back outs. And I'm gonna read you the resume. A second. But respect out as just yes. Absolutely. We have to do this. And then for various reasons, I have been able to connect with with forger and then last about three weeks ago semi male. Let's do this. We gotta do this. This is just gear. Your history is unbelievable. Got gotta get you on the show. And he said, I'm a little busy this week. In a few days, you're gonna find out why they want want. And then a couple of days later was reading flip board going through the news and virgin galactic had launched their first. You know, truly successful flight to the edge space, fifty one miles up, you know, weightless know, that's two hundred seventy five thousand feet, you know, Branson, and musk and Becerra all in this kind of space race with SpaceX and bluh, bluh. Reisen? I think is Bessis and then and Branson's Virgin, galactic. And but he's trying to take people like you and me that have nap two hundred fifty thousand dollars to spare sitting around which I certainly don't but make he's he's after something different than musk. Embezzles already started to make a collect commercial way. Take people up into space that they can see the earth from the from the. Aspect space pretty exciting. Been working on it for years while they're lead. Test pilot is my guest today. Marc forger study. Piloted that aircraft. But that is just one of the tiny things that's not so tiny. But not often talked on astronaut, I tell them nervous already. This was this was super exciting. I think you're gonna find really exciting as well before we get forger and forget to the all the amazing things. He's done just a quick bit of housekeeping. Many of you know, Paul show Bauer came through town back in August on his way, down overland expedition. He's flying SuperCup with his wife Magdalena from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of South America. They just made it they just got down to Chile. So that's almost done unbelievable trip, which I feel kind of honored to have been a part of because I was the one that introduced him to Kenny up in Alaska before I was doing my north known project, and that's what got him in the SuperCup and flying in the whole thing. And anyway, it's been really exciting to watch him. Do his whole expedition all the way down through the Americas nature's Geyer, but when he stopped here in an Idaho and August, he got his personal best. We had a really big big big triangle day, and he was pretty blown away flying around nearly eighteen thousand feet that day. And then gave this amazing talk about his twenty seventeen. X outs campaign outs in general, but. Was about an hour long talk down in front of mine's house, and we recorded it with the with the thinking that we would put this all this out to all of you, and it has been nightmare to attic. Because when you recording somebody sitting in a house, and you get the whole flicker because he's got his screen and anyways been really hard. So huge shout out to miles are editor for pulling this off. It has taken a couple of months literally to put it together. And but instead of showing what was on his screen. You know, we found all the original videos that he used and so I really love how came together, and you can learn a lot from this. This is a bonus episodes of video to our patriot supporters. But it's also by now, you all those of you who support the show should have gotten a newsletter with the link for that as well, if you support the show so was it'll bonus things we do on the side another reason that if you can support the show because you get little.
00:05:08 - 00:10:01
Gets like this. But if you haven't seen that one please go check it out. It's it's super fun and a lot of learning. They're this that was his fourth. Excerpts Paul's Ben and third three times three of his four campaigns. And he's doing it again this year. So some some great learning there. Great stuff. So forger marks Decky as I just I got I read this because his his resume like I said is just unbelievable. He has flown over ten thousand hours two hundred different types of aircraft. Hang gliders, para liners, sail planes, fighters transport, blimps base ships most reasonably in. He Nikolay has what that means is there's no one else has this over thousand hours of peace in the f four phantom f sixteen f eighteen teeth thirty eight he's also went through a little period that we talked about in the show flying commercial. Jets course beat thirty seven started hang gliding in at the age of fifteen seventy four after. Seeing the article that we discussed back in the hang gliding up soda, National Geographic that just started the mad craze in eighty joined the marines because he really wanted to be a fighter pilot test pilot, and eventually an astronaut and eighty-two got a sail. Lie sailplane license and eighty-two also joined the navy and his first assignment was to fly the fan on the four and eighty five top gun graduate, and I I asked him this. But he did that whole the whole scene in the movie top gun where we're. Tom Cruise flies over the Russian fighter and flips upside down flips off and takes a picture. Well, Marc does that. So you'll hear about that. As though I'm convinced that they they did that scene directly because of Mark's influence, then he becomes United States Air Force test pilot in eighty nine and ninety two starts plying paragliders, and I ninety three becomes a test pilot NASA, and did some really crazy stuff there. Some of it. I didn't understand if he starts planning s s are seventy one before they shut that program down six aero tows from an f one six fighter where he's hanging like thousand feet off line. The middle of the fighter. So we talk about that in this show gift to know, Steve Fossett and couple people in the Pearland project, and then in two thousand three goes back military, active duty and goes over and us four deployments in Iraq flies, does some pretty wild stuff over there. Then I won't give away now, but he does much stuff there. And then let's see two thousand four trained to be a payload commander for the mid air retrieval of Genesis spacecraft and two thousand four co authored the book, paragliding pilots trained manual, maybe many of you have read that or seen that with Mike Mayer, very good manual on paragliding. And then let's see wrote rope route two thousand seven and two thousand two thousand nine of some of you might remember his there. I was safety articles and two thousand nine retired from the air force and was hired by skilled composites. That's Burt rutan very famous person in the whole. Flying world engine powered flying world and started test flying space ship to white Knight to those are the two ships that they just use that in that he highlighted he space ships to basic to to the edge of space. So that just went down there's been some tragedy on the ways, you can imagine. And unbelievable number of crazy stories. Of course, you know, we would need days bays and days to get into all of them the weekend. It's pretty interesting ones here. But that spaceflight yet that just went down Mark is now fifty nine he's lived a thousand lives, and I feel very honored to shared this experience with them and be able to share with you. So without further delay, please enjoy this most insane talk with very very interesting forger sticky. This. Mark. It is really incredible. To have you on the show? I've been wanting to talk to you now for a couple years since you sent me your resume, which is just ridiculous and made me feel like I have not done enough with my life, and I've done quite a bit. So your resumes just kind of ridiculous, but you've just had a really amazing day three days ago you or the pilot in command and went to what fifty one miles above the earth. I guess that's kind of the boundary of space. You reached mach two point nine which sounds awfully fast.
00:10:01 - 00:15:01
To me. That's about three times the speed of sound, according to the article, I just I can't so congratulations number one. I just can't even imagine. What that's like, I know you've been you've been working at this. And with that team virgin galactic for many many years. Imagine this is impossible to put into words. But because it's so fresh just happened three days ago. Can you can you give it a shot? Yeah. Canada. I want say, it's it's great to talk to you. But a little funny for me to send you my resume out of blue and say, hey, this is me my interested in talking to me. I had the reservations about doing that. But I I do just give a lot of credit to initially hang gliding entire in my life and about maybe I'd do that some lessons learned that might be of interest to the people that listen to you just like listen to your podcast. Well, I appreciate you reaching out. I think this we're gonna have a good time here and learn a lot. Now, remember your actual question. But as far as. As far as a couple of days ago. We. Finally had a reasonably long duration burn with spatial. Tune. It was specifically targeted to be long enough to guess above fifty statute miles, which is at least a US historical definition for spaceflight. And I went great. We went as he said almost three times speed of Sam, which is funny. It's not as fast as I have on faster, but I've never been anywhere near that. High. And looking down to earth from two hundred seventy thousand plus with ROY incredible get say, we're over Mojave, and I could say down towards compass. Sam Lucas wail, you know, the Cortez by California out there. Look like, I could toss a rock into LAX. And you know, if I would spun vehicle around the scene fanfare Cisco bay, but now trying to save some propellant. It was our first time up through that high. But anyways, just an amazing experience. But and it was probably big step for me. But really it's a small step for the company because we want to start doing more and more of those than regular flights with passengers in the back the share that experience with them. And that's what I really look forward to. I like the small steps in Reno. It sounds like when we when he first stepped on the moon. You know, the is giants one small. Step for man, one giant step for mankind. I mean, I think you're being humble. But it's I mean what it just a what a remarkable achievement. So. It's kind of a niche market, and I don't wanna act like we're doing is anywhere near going to the moon or or going into orbit. But what we're doing is a very very very small fraction of that price. And it's even though it's expensive to the everyday person. Reliable allow thousands of people to have access to space even if it is only for a few minutes of time, it is potentially life changing. And is an amazing experience. I can't imagine. I hope they'll be pictures and all the other stuff from your from your cockpit window here shortly that must have just been the must have been very special because I what was the highest you'd been before this in the New Yorker article which will get to here in a little bit at talked. I think there was it wasn't too long back the UN to like ninety thousand but this is almost triple that. Yeah. I guess I've been around hundred fourteen thousand I think in in space ship to I've been above eighty thousand seventy one Blackbird and significantly faster than mach two point nine in the Blackbird on. But this was way for sure. And at in the Blackbird, you go mach three straight up. You said in your in your send your Email after you did it on Thursday. And I congratulated you because I've been watching the news wires I figured something was going down because we spoken earlier in the week. It used to keep your eye on things. It's going to be a busy week. You said it was kind of like, you know, like s IV and paragliding. Describe like in what way I can't get a magic two point nine Mark two point nine and floating along at forty K in Paraguay. Well, I don't know how for, you know, world class curb ladder pilot for me, I consider myself. I mean, I've been per glutton for years, I go.
00:15:01 - 00:20:03
I mean, I've got a year without flying a few times a year now that by son started flying a couple years ago. I maybe go once a month sometimes more that sometimes a couple months out fine. You know, and I've I've flown over a hundred miles of antenna, do okay. But I because I don't fly off kind consider myself a p three at technically MP3., I refuse to get a p four 'cause I don't wanna think on that good. But so so I kind of have these appea- three kind of guide that baby can have cool off P four flights in every once in a while looked like a P one on launch. So, you know, got a. Because I don't enough in the desert. So anyway, I don't know. How sl ideas for you? I've done a couple and I really enjoy them. But it's not like, it's here fun. You know, your there's some threat. I mean, the first one I went to watch the guy he was not in. My course. But. Each certainly, you know, there is some threat to metal this is, you know, it was a hell of a lot of fun. But you know, you're doing test flying and going really fast in early high and aside from you know, the over riding test pilots green of creative not screwing up and want to get all the test points as accurately as possible. I also don't wanna relax something stupid and caused things to go really wrong. We'll get to the darker side of that here in a little bit with your one of your friends before we do. Yeah. You're you're flying history. You flown. Hang gliders paragliders sailplans, you were kind of part of the Pearland project for while fighters transports blimps, obviously. Now, you're flying spaceships in include in include have believe uniquely over a thousand hours of peace in the F four the F sixteen f eighteen teeth thirty eight so, you know, if somebody wrote that to me, I would think okay. Well, they're obviously a pilot. But if you know, if you're not stand in a party, and we didn't know anybody in somebody came up and said, hey, I'm Gavin. What do you do? What's your answer to that question? Yeah. That's a tough one. Sometimes I say, I'm an engineer sometimes I Tim Sam pilot or test pilot because if I play, you know, it's tough for me. 'cause if I say, well, I'm just for virgin, galactic. It sounds like on a big ego trip. And then if I same pilot, and it takes them half a dozen questions to get to the fact that I am test pod virgin galactic than it comes across his false modesty. I've got a Dan if I do damned if I. Do you ever answer astronaut, no? You said, and it's funny because at NASA when you get selected to be an astronaut, they air an astronaut just having earned your astronaut wings. The may that's always been a bit of a head scratch for me is like, you know, you getting selected to be a polit your polity mayem flowing you. So I would never call by something astronaut before going into space, and honestly, I don't see myself calling myself one now. I am thrilled. I get to do like do. And I put a lot of value in it. But it's experience it's not the title. So this article you pointed to me it was written back in August in the New Yorker, which is one of the best magazines in on some of the best writing ever, in my opinion. So it was no surprise that. This one was just mind blowing good the title of. It was virgin galactic rocket man, which that's how I answer at a party is virgin galactic rocket. But it's just it's it's riveting it's amazing story. I'll have the linkup to it in the show notes. Those of you are listening just you can almost stop right now. And just go read this article, it's fantastic. But one of the things that does among many other things, it's it's, you know, it's a good document about your life. But it also talks about this kind of space race. I guess if you will this modern space race between Branson's Virgin galactic who you work for businesses, blue origin. Nealon must SpaceX they're they're kind of going after three different things. As is. I understand it. I'm obviously, no expert in this field, but space x and blue origin or pursuing kind of what we've seen in the movies like a vertical launch scheme like going to the moon. And and you you say in the article that you know, that that's that that's automated, I'm quoting you.
00:20:03 - 00:25:11
They've got some some astronauts, but I don't think they know what the hell they're going to do besides act like they're doing something. And I saw another thing in there that they were there called spam? And cans, I'm not obviously, not dishing them. That's just how those rockets work and how those ships work. But can you explain the difference between I think a lot of people don't know spaceship to which you're piloting. And and rockets that go that are they're meant to go much higher. Yeah. So the spam in the can was the reference from the movie the right stuff became came out. And was that the late eighties? And that was I think Chuck Yeager was given credit for colony early mercury astronaut stat because they were kind of long for the ride even though they had some kind of manual back-up capability did somebody over in space. It's pretty much just the computer find a trajectory and the riding along, and you know, that was very different than classical tests pollen, but it office ounce like a bit of sour grapes. Also, I mean, if you said, hey, do you want to a rocket plane on the sub orbital flight or or fly over the automated? I mean, I think twice about that one. 'cause I think aren't though would be really really cool. I know what they but Manley flying rocket plane is amazing cruel. Also, I guess I need to do is visually Phya rocket planes. Or now that would be the Alta. But to talk about what you're doing or to get your question. So you know, you on Busk is pure orbit on a hit. He's he's thinking big satellites the space, and you know, his long term goal is Mars. And I think everything he's doing is a stepping stone to get to Mars by launching big satellites getting government contracts. It's paying the bills to fund the research and the development of the Mars space craft Beza has gone. Well, Richard Branson is trying to do the sub orbital space tourism so take half a dozen well heeled customers up into space for a few minutes. Very amid back down for a quarter of a million bucks a ticket which sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money, but you know, people can spend the better part one hundred thousand dollars to be gutted up Mount Everest so via that kind of market out there. Offset would have a lot of people that could have that kind of money to pay for a hour long. Fly. But you know, that's opposed to going though, which will cost tens, and tens and tens of millions of dollars. So even though you can poop us for just doing these sub orbital cannonball trajectories. It is a very small fraction of the prize at opens up space to a lot more people instead of just a handful of people. And Bet's us kind of doing something in between. He's doing some or blow and working on orbital and wants to go to Mars to. So I don't know if he'll always be doing sub orbital they'll be direct competition for long time. I think what they're doing is really cool. They do take off for wave booster comes back land. Vertically like on musk does with his thug nine here lightly. Although the capsule where the people are in they had a handful of life doubt. They haven't had people of yet if all on but the capsule comes down under parachute. Looking like the Apollo capsule did from the late sixties and seventies. So the very different. But I think I think they are are all mazing in their own way. So we're going to shortly here. We're gonna rewind go way back to how you got into all this in your beginnings in in hand. Gliding in military stuff. But before we do one of the room moving parts of the article was your friend, Mike Macau's buried, very good friend years in two thousand fourteen understand you were back at mission control this. You know, this could have been a flight, and you were piloting on or co piloting, and he made a pretty critical human mistake that that ended up, you know, destroying the aircraft. He was killed the the other the other pilot was miraculously came down under parachute. And he he lived. But the experts have said that that these projects that you guys are undertaking or irresponsibly risky, and and you say in the article that the rock at your flying is is one of most fierce things you've piloted in over forty years.
00:25:11 - 00:30:03
And you've piloted a lot. Is the is the risk worth. It is ITO is is taken rich people up into space worthy objective. Is lost paraglider worth Gavin. Yes. It is. I bet anybody that's been percolator hang gliding for longtime like like like we have as themselves that every once in a while when somebody gets ballet heard or or worse and. You know, I certainly on on both England per, glenside. Take back a bit for a while. I end up missing it. It's a kind of flying. I can't get anywhere else. So no other fine fills that doored. You know, they're. I'm not up to to commit suicide. But at the same token, you know, my father live to betas Nazis, but he should have fun for a lot of those years. I'd I'd much rather have quality of life and have fun and a. Aneta maybe died because of it, then, you know, you know, it gets a bell curve if you really want to be safe home and base benfit much for all three meals. But. Yeah. Who wants that? Now as far as you know, the talk about whether spaceflight is worth to me. It's like come on. I mean that that's that. That's how the humankind out how the of a human race progresses, you need people to take the steps. But you also need the majority to not take these steps. And I think it's built into us on you need a a small percentage of people that are not satisfied with the status quo. They're not satisfies dating box over there not satisfied looking within the horizon. Or now, they have to get on the have to get on the ships sail out the on where they can't see keep on going into the unknown. And that is how the human race, you know, advances to the next thing discovers new world new trade routes and everybody benefits from that. But it's risky e can't have everybody doing it. Or else? You know? There's no doubt voyagers have explores heavy, you know, it's more risk than standard person. So if everybody does that is probably not the best thing for the human rights. Need a need the majority that stay behind in after the explorers can go out fep slips of our else establish things can open it up for the masses to me. That's what spaceflight is. I get tired of the arguments about it. You know, we have solved poverty on earth. You know, if you look at the mouth of money, we spend on space fight it. It's a token amount. Compared to how much money is spent on other stuff and. You know, we we have to address poverty, we have to dress other things we have to dress our environment, but we get through all the money at all things. And and it wouldn't solve them just to work at them in the it's like everything's a compromise. And so I feel that you know, and people say why were doing sub orbital tourism is just a flash in the pants. You never know what will open up the next generation, you know, it's like a are two hundred fifty thousand dollar ticket price is in modern dollars equivalent to first class airline ticket was in the late twenties early thirties for flying across the Atlantic. So and obviously now that's become commonplace and everybody flies. So you never know. What where we'll take you. But I believe that push a battery is very important for mankind. Yeah. Will. I I can't see me affording that the price of the ticket. But I you know, the cost keeps coming down. I sure want my daughter in that ship. I mean what what an experience in. Yeah. You're analogy to paragliding is is perfect. Okay. Let's roll back clock. You there's a great picture in the article of you, hang gliding in one thousand nine hundred seventy four, you know, we just I don't know if you caught that. But we just did this big future. In history of hang gliding podcast. We interviewed a bunch of people that, you know, went all the way back before the ripe brothers and auto Lilienthal and stuff, but I'm assuming that you credit getting into it from a National Geographic article, I'm assuming that's the same article that just made this kind of gold. Rush of hang gliding back in nineteen seventy seventy four.
00:30:05 - 00:35:01
Talk talk about those those early days because it's you know, it sounded like when I heard this history from that was very eloquently told by Bruce Weaver could Hawkeye it's that it's you know, it was it was a real exciting time in that sport was the February nineteen seventy two issue Basle geographic. And and the. Yeah. Had an article on the fifteen which got my attention and somewhere near as through it. And it was a happy birthday info article about people baking bamboo bat. So's ISKRA Susan and flying how small hills in California in I was stunned, but I've never never contemplated such thing. And suddenly, it was like something that, hey, maybe this was something I could do and I took two years of pastoring my dad and threatening to build my before he FIS it. Okay. Anyone in fifty percent with me on my first. Platfo moves eighteen foot standard rogue all on which I started flying. Yeah. May seventy four and and and did you take to it right away? Was this was this. The first thing you, flew or were you already into sail planes and some of the other forms of flight. Then definitely the first thing I flew that we were lower middle class and. I did not I went out, and I got an eighteen foot standard Rogalla which was suited for hundred pound pilot. And I was not I was barely hundred pounds and a just a skinny little kid, and it was way too. Big over glider for me, barely balance of dang thing. The the guy bought it from his killed awake later by drunk driver on his motorcycle. So I was pretty much self taught for number of months in took me. It took me a couple months of going out every weekend and get blown backwards, you know, in cartwheel across the slopes in and never flying just trying to figure it out. And then. It was funny because I really believe in visualizing stuff and one one day thinking about it. And so I just felt like you know, what I think I can do it. I think the next time. I go out at the winter good. I think I can fly. And that was exactly what happened. It was a smooth wind went out and fluid in some power. But you know, a couple years later, I'm doing summer job teaching for the plow moose company on weekends. Teach. Somebody a weekend with a taken me months to learn on my own you get all instructors back then. A buddy of mine here when he his first his first time paragliding, he was there was a guy in a local shop that that he had come in for some reason guy, local, Sean, hey, I'm going paragliding. Anybody wanna go and my buddy Nate who's you know, jet pilot now this was back. I think in the late eighties. Yeah. Yeah. I'll go and they went up and ran up a hill and he flew down. And and the guy that had taken him said. Well, okay, now, you know as much as I do. Fun. Jeff creek. Your dad, you mentioned your dad, so understanding was is Mennonite. And and while he he really was sounded very supportive of your your early fascination with flight and then eventually the stars. He he knew the only way in would be through the military, certainly back then and really still the case now for the most part, but that doesn't work with with being a Mennonite. So, you know, I I think a lot of kids, especially, you know, back then, you know, after Apollo and after Armstrong, you know, a lot of kids wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut, but you actually became one putting on the spot here a little bit. But what do you what do you think, you know, you join the military you kinda win when when against your dad, you just you you really pursued this you obviously stayed really persistence. What do you owe that to? There's two quotes. I remember from childhood one was a sixth grade teacher told me, I could do whatever I want as long as I could accept the consequences of it. And then I remember we had to be Mennonite church every week, which you know, board the crap out of me. But I remember Thurman were the pastor was talked about these. People have done to the small town say houses town knows a good town. And and the old man there would say, well, what did you think of your last town, they go we really liked our last time because. Yeah, I think you'll like this town because they didn't like the last town say, yeah.
00:35:01 - 00:40:12
This may not be a good town for you. And basically the gist of that little story was. That you know, kind of what you make it and you need to enjoy the journey. So I never ever thought I could be nasty or not. But I thought the path towards it. Could be fun. And you know, I I never never contemplated. What's growing up that I could be a fighter pilot? I fantasize about flying fighters by never want by that possibility at just to basically being in college insane and recruiters some I literally I had my junior year. I had a my visor Kansas state university said, you know, as much as you're cutting classic. Oh, hang glide. Have you considered the air force? How that actually planted the seed and I went to air force. They weren't the least but interested in may. But the marines were kind of went from there. So I went after call the point of this is. I really like flat school. I really thought I'd hate the military. But it could be a you know, I could fake by way through it. If I got to fly jets in the reality was I enjoyed the military the treatment, well like the life. I actually believed in what I was doing surprisingly. And it just it just kept on doors Kipling opening up just kept on working towards them is a little bit. Like, the the guy. That's pretty old live does if I would've done was gonna live this long taken care by self. If I if I would've known that was going to get this far actually studied harder. Maybe. Got a real engineering degree or something. So no regrets. Okay. So I I'm jumping to my own conclusion here. But I don't think this is that big of a jump. But I hope I'm not wrong. But in nineteen eighty five graduate from the top gun school. We've all seen that movie. Of course. And I don't know if it was after before, you graduated it wasn't clear in the article, but you were flying on a patrol mission over the Japan, you spot a Russian bomber you catch up to it. You flip upside down and you snap a photograph. I think pretty much everybody on earth knows the scene top gun. Did they actually take? I mean was that something that they put in the movie because of you know, I I doubt is funny. I went to get an eighty five in the movie came out at your later, and some my family was much more pressed that I've got a top gun. Did Lee much before the movie came out? I'm sticking with it, man. I think that was you. The funny thing, and you probably won't believe it is that was at night. Really? Yeah. So they had to tone it down for the movie. When we join up on these when we do intercept on the Russian airplanes. It was interesting because you know, the ego flap folks to the to the terrip were the the tail gunner sat and he had these big teardrop shaped, plexiglass windows any. Some of my peers would soup them off. And you know, we're it was Cold War. We hate them. They ate us. And I never really felt that way. I remember the first joined up one of them guy, flashed a look like a playboy centerfold at me. You know? So I just got laughed at or each guy doing our own job got technology other guy, and maybe we aren't that different. But they would kinda give you this. You know Luther had down like zip down flaps down for us. And we've been briefed. Anytime do not do that. Because they wanna take photographs of your missiles. So they can really know maybe take a look at a serial numbers and figure out exactly what you're carrying. And with version they are and get until June off of that. So I never flipped upside down during the day lie. But one night. It was just is a cool is, you know, as being Russian back on bear bomber which as you know, four engines counter rotating props and it was this lumbering along with flashing lights and now after after a while of escort defy wanted picture of inside roll up side down the top of it and took a patient looking down. He's still have that bigger. My ex wife. I'm sure has it somewhere in the garage with that kind of lost that in the divorce that back. Out to get back. That's mazing. And so at this stage, would you call yourself a test pilot or is it not too? Is it not till you? Join NASA in the late eighties is that we're work with their time line here with me a little bit.
00:40:13 - 00:45:02
To air for theft boats, go as a marine exchange in nineteen ninety nine. And prior to going to test pilots had been what they call an operational test pilot where you're taking the latest and greatest operational aircraft and really put it through the ringer test. Plows go up there and make sure things fly right? And they're stable on adequate control on an operational possible. Go basically, try them for it and simulated combat missions, which is just about as much fun as you have for three years. So I guess technically how's that test pilot than because operational test pilot in the sense that of most people's of test pilots considerate was after went to a year long test pilot school, would you credit? I mean, obviously, if you know, you're you join the military you go through top gun school joint. You you. You you leave the military getting NASA? I mean, obviously people. Our identity along the way, you're a really gifted pilot. I have theories about why, you know, some people get really good at paragliding, hang gliding, really fast. And obviously a bunch of that talent. But obviously a lot of it is, you know, how you approach risk is that the same in flying airplanes that were maybe more directly out what do you credit your giftedness too? I don't know. I do know that before you know, before the marines, son. They basically gave me a. A contract. If you join we will send you the flight school, and what happens there is up to you. But before I can do that. I had to take a, you know, whatever their equivalent of SAT or something. But, but it was a it was a two part test took several hours and a lot of just kind of like the I q stuff like it ACT or SAT. And then there were this this other part where you they show you a just a basically like a stick drawing of an airplane fly in you know, caught it whether it's come Naji going away, the Bank, whatever with very rudimentary train behind you behind it. And then you have like ABCD each horses which were against dick, Dr of us out, the cocktail you now any like, which which which of the five choices corresponded to that airplane the scene that airplane was in. And they gave you, you know, weighed more than you're supposed to have time to just sit and think about okay, let me see coming at me his right-wing down. So he's the right turn his nose as high. So he should be climbing. You know, you don't have to do that. You just have to you know, I guess have instinct, and I finished that before the time was up, and and they were and then they graded at my maxed out the score and your pilot are, you know, in the avenues to like Bob find anglers for years kind of laughed. But so, you know, I don't I credit hang gliding giving me that air sense. Whether I had some kind of three d cents before L. No. But. I credit. Hang gliding was actually. And did you show? I mean that sounds a lot like Commons. You know? Like, you're the two you're you're almost like, you're two brains. You have the fast side and the slow side. Do you like it sounds like the, you know, the emotional intelligence that the kind of gut instinct is what you're really strong with the did you? But did you also do really well on the in the multiple choice, the hard where you really gotta think through the ACT the SAT's that side of things too. Yeah. Also, an above average, your injuries background. Well, it's more of a science background. I don't have an engineering degree. But I think a lot of engine took allies generic courses while I was trying to figure out with a wanted to do. I mean, it's funny. I took by sophomore year in the summer. I worked for civil engineering company. I remember sitting in a small as we're doing draftsman stuff, you know, making, you know, mechanical drawing with pencils, and and getting a conversation with one of the poise there, you know, that was a real genera and probably late thirties about I remember, I'm saying, you know, I think I could flip if I- stolen fifteen I could fly Beal the land. But, you know, just fantasizing about flying fighters, you know, and.
00:45:03 - 00:50:01
I'm not can't remember how I got on. No deal. Just. Yeah. So anyway, I took a line generic courses, by didn't know, what gonna do do I want to fly, but didn't really have that passed air never had any money to take lessons or anything. And you know, hang gliding kinda got me into. I wonder I wonder how much of the hang gliding really built your instinct for that. Kind of thing is fascinating. But I always. I thought it was a smart student. I was always like an airbase B student, mainly d-. Guess I didn't apply myself that aren't if I play off. I get as I know I have some raw mental ability. And then I probably honestly, I can probably think fast and slow. Yeah. Right. Mix. Right. So so late eighties. You jumped from the brains to NASA. And then you know, we all remember this. It was headlines a lot in the nineties. Drones. Get really big funding for a lot of NASA disappears. And a lot of the kind of experimental stuff that I'm imagining was what you're working on in the late nineties. You you you have to make a huge jump start flying commercially for United. You're selling mortgages, I'm gonna I'm gonna go ahead and make wild guess that. This isn't exactly where you saw your life going back, then that were those kind of dark times or by being too dramatic. So you know, I left NASA. I could've stayed are flying. But it was wasn't rewarding. Because all test flown. The. You know, the only one gun towed enough one of six on a thousand Vert rope behind a C one forty one at does word step and done a lot of thrust mentoring flights in a unique F eighteen and a lot of supersonic land their stuff in a very highly modified f sixteen about sixty thousand feet, then suddenly all his projects went away. But it wasn't like we got rid of airplanes at the time. I could still go out and fly. But I just and my wife at the time was never satisfied, and she really want moved further away from the desert. So well cries I lived in our way, I did spend all my life in a car commuting. So all of that. We're kind of maybe think, well, you know, if we're not really doing but Steph line, maybe maybe just go being airline Pollick. Then we can move livery watt. And maybe I can provide that way. Of course, you know, that was right before nine eleven and after nine eleven I was didn't have you know, longevity. Do has gone best get furloughed and started looking at ways of, you know, bring food at the table for the new summit has made a lot of money in the mortgage business. Of course, it was a tie the market. And so I got in, you know, about the time the bubble burst. And it was it was Dr time because I by salary by starting salary unite. It was below my mortgage payment, let alone would you have to do for, you know, family of five after that. So. Working hard on mortgages. And and was somehow and suddenly was offered that chance to go active duty in the air force which was unique because I had been rained before but all were down. And then so you go to Iraq in two thousand three but dig into that a little bit. How many how how do you at that stage in your life, your flying commercially? You're doing these mortgages is just a buddy that I mean, how did they they still know you were out there. How'd you get the invite to go do that? So I was doing military. Reserve duty as a air force reservist. Teaching at the test pilot school and fly the fate of sixteen of teeth thirty eight and so is after nine eleven were Sunday down the the active duty guys need to go to war. And did he go to other stuff were? I guess if you're if you're active duty. You're it's not like you're warmonger. But that's what she's been trained for. So that's what you probably want to go do support country. And I think that left a vacuum in the schools as where they you know, I was a part time is there on the side making ends meet and teaching holiday had a pretty good resume being a former NASA Bala. So they said they saw the opportunity that the recalled to active duty in semi to the the tests pods Govan's as a full-time instructor.
00:50:01 - 00:55:00
I did. The small world thing. I don't know. If you've ever heard ROY haggard is one of the great inventors of the first real double surface. Hang glider that infamous comet the nineteen eighties talk. Totally changed Anglada. He called me up. And he was the company that was contract by NASA to do minner retrieval of the Justice spacecraft when it came back from a multiple year long missions collect basically stardust, and it was supposed to be come back down deploy powerful and be caught mid air by apparent by a helicopter, and they had two helicopters. And they wanted somebody to be mission commander that they felt had experience with national asset test programs, but was also familiar with per falls. And somehow I came to mind so and the air force like agreed to that as long as you know, didn't cough air force anything. So. They pay for my money to come out and train up and fine. And then came out that they did a study and. You know, they're supposed to catch a pair for mid air for pretty funny there spent a fly to, you know, a white room, you know, Dugway proving grounds all the secret germ warfare is done by lots. But were they have that really unique facilities Aaron they're gonna hover over this billion. And you know, the trap chapter opens up a lower the it never touches ground or human hands. You know, priceless. You know, payload anyway comes out that even though they've gotten very Acura a as opposed historically that there were some wind profiles where young what they did the worth rocket fire or the Daschle that the final burn correction. A while the space craft was a couple weeks out. It was going to land at this time on this date, and it could potentially be strong winds or something they were going to do their best weather forecasting. But there's a chance that the winters stronger the helicopter could not actually make back with just you know, with his paraglider and payload flailing behind it was just too much drag. So they they had to come up with a way to reduce drag in literally was a guy repelling how the helicopter and sliding like a big fabric condom or like a concertina bag. You know down. Over the paraglider over the over the person while helicopter kept on struck at sixty miles per hour. So Harry calls he's explaining this all to me. And you know, there's. There's free people on the helicopter. There's a helicopter pilot. There's the guy operates a winch. And then there's the mission commander payload commander. So you know, there's only one person that could repel out. He's like, do you think he can do this? Like, you know. Yeah, I can do that. And they go come on, you know, two days later, I'm down there. Like Elsinore repelling the helicopter to show. I can do this. They gotta make a movie about you. Also, we're flying along two thousand nine I recall out, and I sleep this thing, you know, it's a dummy payload somebody gets back to the air force general's like what you know, we didn't sign up for this with the Heli doing and that only they cancel my participation in the program on Sunday. The top of the list to be something Iraq on a non flying Bill. Con man, I'm just catching stardust. So yes with Iraq for a few months, but but but even that had the silver lining. That's funny all works out. You see? So you you go to Iraq. And you're sitting in is this true. You're sitting in one of Saddam Hussein's, former palaces in two thousand four and you you flip on the TV, and you watch Bertin's, which, you know, everybody the knows anything about flying knows about Bert you watch spaceship one. So the predecessor the one you're using now go sixty two miles above the earth. Is that true? That would happen. Yeah. That is true. So you know, I had seen them. I've seen some the earlier test flight that hadn't gone to space, but I'd say to where they fired the rocket went from my backyard other therefore face another one where I just got a little bit of Intel intelligence ballot and drove out in the road underneath a profile on watch them. So I was amazed by the program. I'd been followed for Naff asna couple times. But hadn't had been checked.
00:55:00 - 01:00:02
And I was okay with that to me. It's it's like, you know, getting ticked to be Miss America. You can have fifty beautiful talented women, but you can't expect you don't be the one pick. And you know, the only picking four pilot, astronauts, I never expect that'd be in one of the top four. So as I could find not getting picked. But then WHEN Sunday unveil spatial one, I was jealous hell and very interested in the program. But yes, so but their actual x prize flight where they went into space sitting on a in a in a former Saddam's palace watched it on CNN, and it was amazing that must've been I mean. I mean that really changed the trajectory of your life, right? Watching them. I was not the time. I was very interested in then. And and you know on their winning flight, the Branson was already sponsoring number little bit mad a virgin galactic sticker on the side. They were talking back March operations due on tell you nother story though that enjoy was at the same time. I was in Iraq that Genesis spacecraft came back for Ansari. So those are the two things I watched I watched spaceship one go up the space, and also, you know, Dahlan wash the Genesis comeback to see how Rory haggard with cash thing and mid Erica. And it just pummeled in the ground the parachute never opened. So. Yeah. I was I was I had this research on that. Because I I'd forgotten that so the whole the whole hanging out of the helicopter on the line and putting the putting the concertina bag over it didn't work on it never happened because never got stole. They had some accelerometers on the spaceship that was supposed to detect reentry deceleration and they were installed backwards. So they they never felt like they had decelerated in the atmosphere. Sunday, never triggered the parachute. So the satellite that could never touch the ground smashed into, you know, many hundreds of miles per hour. So I saw this happen, and I had very haggard cell phone number, and I have a satellite phone, and I knew he wouldn't answer his on the helicopter by immediately called him got his voice mail left. A message that sorry I saw would happen. But if I was on helicopter, our still caught it. Don't make that mistake again, man. Wow. Okay. So four deployments in Iraq. And you're over there till two thousand seven you win the Bobby bond aviator award some assuming you're doing. What what are you doing in Iraq? Then are you are you you said in the beginning, you weren't flying? But are you flying? Yes. So I was supposed to be a in. No. Here your whatever that's not flying assignment year doing lays on between the army and the Iraqis in the air force. And basically, it's a big waste of time. But some are there the Iraqis are starting up their on air force, which were helping them with and I get reported on that. And and the people in charge of is actually a all British Colonel and Commodore and he gives me shit one day over the phone. So he he wanna hell, you know, configure out how we can get this coordinated, you know, do something instead of just sitting on your ass and at and trying to get tidbits of information to put out in a daily report. I knew I didn't not have air force approval for that. So I actually did it on my way of the country, and I ended up flying with them. And so then they kind of knew me, but as all my way to get through to go back to the states. And then they have next that you know, one of airplanes went in. It's an Iraqi aircraft that's bad enough. They, you know, in the wreckage, it's you know, one Iraqi, but it's a air force special operations command pilot and they've got four special operators troops in the back in. So a lot of American deaths deaths. Mazer his father was highly qualified. And so some is like, okay where these aircraft come from are they airworthy in should they be flying him? And suddenly it was like we have to say the real test pilot over there to do a real quick assessment. And. He needs a builder in two weeks. And by the way, forger it's you so in the end the that Bobby bond award is basically the air force test pilot of the year, or the I've got a war that for that for that kind of work.
01:00:02 - 01:05:02
And then that opened up a another job for me. And that's when you got back. Yes. So I go over there for a few weeks at a time. And you know, valued stuff and tell them what needs to be done. And then in the end a ship. A couple of airplanes back the US Ramada fi them, and we make kids to go back over there and modified the other one's my recommendation was that they should not slime period that they were not airworthy thous- not the right answer. So they did that when they went over modify the other ones, but that's I'm that was other people that I trained, and they went over there that they flew a few flights and the guy was died, and they shut the program down. Right. Yeah. So two thousand seven you come back, and you don't you know, you've you've been paragliding all the way back in the nineties. But it sounds like you kind of get back into flying. You're back in the desert. But you're I guess maybe because he's been gone a lot or for whatever reasons. It sounds like your family life starts getting pretty pretty. Rugged. How was living bagasse and? Now. I mean that last year got one I got three kids wanna graduate from college. And was you know, not living home. Another one was off to college not live at home and the third one was in her senior year at university of Nevada Las Vegas. It wasn't like they were young kids. But yeah, at that time, I was I was off working sometimes I'd be gone for a week in back on the weekends. Because of the the job is doing. But that didn't actually seem like a stressful thing. I mean stressful thing was my wife, and I didn't get along and we had never really gotten along. And then I lit up breaking my back paragliding and was kind of like the straw breath. Camel's back with her which is probably good thing. For me. Literally the will. Okay. Let's let's jump to paragliding. Then to tell me about the accident in. You wrote me an interesting note about reserves because it was this your third one. Not my second reserve deployment. Okay. He talked about paragliding, I'm living in Vegas. Not flying. Very I mean, actually is hardly find all the first time I'd gone out and flown. A Jane I saw a mid air and. I thought the guy with a died. He was totally cascade. All the way down. Exactly how the phase with the glider is getting each oth-. Lasers getting worse and worse dirty. He's Smith Saleh's back horrible, lavish feel non I raised over there with another guy, and he's Bruce mazing. They let them out the hospital at night. But I only flew a couple of times those guys, and and I tend to fly when I go other places not to go to Salt Lake City and five point of the mountain or something, but not very, right? So here was I really wanted to fly cross country along the red mountains. And I felt like summer in Vegas is dangerous. I wanna go I decided, hey, this is the last week, and I was gonna try now I have never tried before. But. I really want to fly cross country. And so I wanna go on Saturday. And my wife's really want me to do something else days. I agreed and I didn't bother checking the weather the next day and towed up, and it was just before I told up I could see dust devils distance where they they cross. We're talking on the dry lake bed needed dust devils, really tight cores, and you know, they disappear once they left the lake bed. But you know, that they didn't stop. He just couldn't see him. And I ended up flying a few miles going as flying with Tony Lang, and we would alternate who was a hat, and and and the other guy get low and then one guy catch a Thermo and get up in the guy to run there. And now I was out in front, and I started getting low and I got down to three fifty feet. I had this rule of thumb that below four hundred feet over in hospitable terrain. You know, hard rocks and stuff. And I'm not gonna thermal. So I feel you land on the road slow into invisible dust of on at first it was pre- past. I had biggest collapse of my life. I mean, seventy percent of wing was gone. But it was did not put me in a big turn right thing. It was just gone night pumped it out felt like I knew the bad air was to admit I reopened. I started to turn away.
01:05:02 - 01:10:01
And then I had a more dramatic smaller claps as much more romantic, and it just immediately immediately went in other rotation and I never been in an SI IV. Then to me guy was felt like a sap God has gone way. I'm going another way below one hundred meters through my shape, even that the time. I thought you know, I'm going to recover this thing. But my rule of thumb is valid control hundred meters for sheet once before in my life and the moments eat out. Through the then I remember thinking, this is unnecessary. I would I've no would have recovered this. But but but I've got this rule of thumb. I'm gonna live by and through the shoot the first time, I got ground Russ. I remember thinking damn I'm really glad or 'em or the in the process of and it opened up. I got a half swing landed. Totally fine. And it and it really brought home died made the right decision. So here I am again. And. Still thinking it was stupid. I shouldn't be doing. I throw the parachute. I like the first time. I throw it didn't open right away. And that was follow rotations hanging. Limp in the middle of the rotation. But I'd already thrown it. So instead of trying to work on the glider gotta work. I don't want to carry she'd opening sometime later. So I'm jerking on the brow trying to go. And then suddenly that the glad like comes out of its spin. And I wanna go out of comes out at spin is gonna wanna dive. And I was purposely not looking at the ground up until that point of time could always try and get the per sheet opening because I I didn't want it wouldn't help matters. But some you know in a recovering from a span sixty feet above the ground in allegis dive. And I'm just barely get my hands on the brakes start breaking when I fly into the ground baby. Twenty degree angle at thirty miles per hour. You know, if I would have been fifteen feet. Higher would have just been a close. Call fifteen feet lower with a probably been dead. So, you know in the piled in, you know, feet, but I. Brooklyn back not from that, you know, the vertical impact impact of the horizontal pack. I mean, I just basically got dead over like a Jack knife, you know, over my, you know, my feet and asked what compress my my spine, so bad, and you know, the three vertebrae. If you if you gleaned and all your history and all your years of flying. Are there are there? You mentioned that, you know, this was like the rule, and you were gonna live by it did that come from your did that come from airplanes. I mean did that come do? Do you do find that they worked together? Do you have kinda similar protocols that that we those of us who don't fire plants can learn from? Yeah. Totally came from airplanes. And that was started by military by operational career in the floor. And you know, four is not known for great, Ammon qualities and to God, the spin, you know, there's a Jhansi Deva recover. And in any case, if you're Alec control below ten thousand seat, you're supposed to check in a ten thousand feet above the ground is pretty dang high. Especially when you have a you have any Jackson seat or you can be sitting on the runway you could pull that handle. And he gets good parachute. And you walk away from it. So to say, but if you coming down fast spin a ten thousand seat, you know, that seems like a lot of aptitude. And but yeah, everybody knew people that. You know, blew off the debt that something happened to them. They try to recover the airplane a little too long and in the end they jacked in. They don't get a parachute because they're coming down so fast, and they die. And so the bottom line was, you know, if you wait until you think I've really got a handle now. And what what makes people do that is this sense ground rush? There's some altitude and speeds that that combination. Suddenly, you'd get the sense of ground rush, and the e-e-e-e-no I've got I I can't six as I need a jet. I need it throw parachute. And that's where it came up with a basically hundred meters. To me. My rule of thumb was at five in Allah control for awhile. You know, like I've been trying to fix a cascades or something. This is never happened to me. But if it did there's no reason that there's four hundred feet, I'm going to throw the reserve no later in that gives you know. Hey, you try, but if I'm Alec control below that, you know, if I'm flying along, and I must in three fifty I go out of control instantly throw parachute.
01:10:01 - 01:15:02
If it's anything other than momentary. And that's the thing where it can be embarrassing. Right. Because you know, maybe what a flow in Alabama. You know, the important thing is to learn how to actively fly say don't have that. And the other thing I do is just don't put yourself in that situation. It's just trying to put all my eggs in one basket. You know, there's certainly I'll go out and fled. Chris liner Marshall on a good day. Any take off? Yeah. I'll start therm link below three infancy on that initial climb out because it's a relatively smooth smooth. Side. I'm there on a good day or something it's not. It's not too bumpy. I feel that's acceptable. I'm taking this small window time when thermal together up then after that, I really try the honor that rule now I'm not throwing line. If it's just a, you know, a glass updates you're all fly around by butts giving off the of the bushes, but it's a risk versus reward thing and delete yourself in out. And I think that whole thing like, you know, potentially being embarrassed, you know, who cares your life. Yeah. It's. But gone with that too is I won't, you know, I always want have to outs, you know, the per for one out. But if it's over there full of power lines or it's over someplace where y'all drowned or dive or just Silva jagged rocks and you'll probably get seriously injured come down a repair in a parachute. Well, many providence not real out them. So I'll get myself even more out to toot that we we've done a couple of shows to let them a lot of paragliders most if you fly longtime we'll have reserve stories, but there's also the whole odds of the first one not working, you know, now in competitions in mandatory to carry two reserves. And so I think that that starts coming into play big time when you're if you're really in a proper like auto rotation situation. There's a pretty good chance that you're gonna throw reserve right in your wing. And and so, you know, you've got to be, you know. Really really heads up or you know, it's kind of nice to have that second woman. If you've got the second one that takes time, and you're you're burning out too. So it's yeah, we there's gotta be gotta be heads up when it comes to that. And there's you know. I trying to say is there's no hard rule. There's there are times where it's way more appropriate to throw it when you've got, you know, over a thousand feet of of out the tune. I need it. Well, there's plenty of YouTube videos were. People's revive the gopro video up there. But you can see they're coming down. They got something bad going on. But you don't get the sense that it the grounds not there. They don't have dog ground respite, but suddenly get ground rush day further reserve and a hit before the opens in maybe they maybe they don't die because there's a proper slope. They got lucky, but I think there's just tons of examples that you cannot rely on ground rush. If you if you if you do it will be too lightly. Yeah. That's a great point. There's a there's a sentence in the in the in the article that want to explore you this this comes from. Let's see another pilot you begin flying with Peter seebold who was the co-pilot. I'm not sure if that's the right terminology with your buddy. Mike how's berry when they have their their their tragic accident? He's the one that actually escapes. But the the sentence that I want to explore with you as it's for aviators confidence in an asset. Wait confidence is an asset. But era Gance is a liability as Chuck Yeager wrote in his memoir Aron, Scott, more pilots in trouble than faulty equipment. Can we just stick on that for? Expand on that a little bit. Yeah. So that statement is is of research done by the the reporter offered Nick fiddle. I don't argue with it. I -gree with their let me. If if arrogance, you know can be a bad thing. But honestly, I mean, I think. To be you have to have some level of confidence to want to fly paragliders. If you to timid you going to pull the gladiator with authority when he got a launch to Tim it is actually more dangerous. But of course, overly confident is dangerous to so some of competence confidence. I think very important, I guess what defines arrogance on. No. Honestly, I read about Chuck Yeager. I think that's kind of funny because I think he's been pretty arrogant. And I I I mean air dirty laundry.
01:15:02 - 01:20:06
I I think that the scene in the in the right stuff were, you know, Egypt's at the end in the. Rocket powered NF one of four. I mean, he lost at airplane because of his era Gance show that Mariah stuff, but in in my view and experts at around at the time it was his air against the cost the Las Earp line. But that doesn't mean that any of us can't goof up, but it's should be aware of here. Yeah. Okay. So the about ten years ago you start doing a lot of flights for scaled composites scale composites is I understand it is the company manufacturing an engineering behind version. Galactic their versions like the client and. Imagine. There's there's been a heroin flight or two there is there. You know, I want to be sensitive to what you can. And can't say, but the. Or maybe not even a version flight. But can you can you recount? You know, a flight that was like roof that was exciting. Yeah. I mean, we have the the sixteenth glide site on facial to on the very first one this guild Bilton. We're doing a flight just four virgin it was supposed to be. A high speed dive to go the fastest speed that we plan to go is supposed to be the last flight prior to put the rocket motor in lighten the rocket butter. So we're supposed to exceleron the transatlantic speeds which in a stubby low. Elevated glider requires a very aggressive dive, the moment, your lace, and we had it we had trained for that. For long time. I knew what says the us what to do. And the moment we released the aircraft the spaceship knows could style like it was supposed to but it never stopped pitching down. And. I mean that's flights for you. The the horizontal stabilizers were stalled at native angled attack. So is like they weren't even there were only added negative angle tax just wanted to keep on diving and tuck under which is what did so within a couple of seconds at tucked under in disagree light went into an inverted spin. So that was obviously Duffy that we plan for and it was Priore watering. It's funny that the things that go through your mind. I remember as it was happening. I remember thinking I'm going to be the pilot in command. The commands a bail outs, Richard Branson the net. The dollar program going to be the one that crashes thing in the desert. But. Luckily, luckily, we recovered from the Spanish foot back. Describe I don't because I don't either. But I think a lot of people are scratching their heads. What is trans on mean? And why is it the Bermuda? Triangle of airspeed. Transa- be now is generally defined as between eight tenths of speed us out at one point two times speed point eight mach one point to mock. And it's just really hard stuff, really changes. And the facts there are it's tough to it's tough to predict them, you know, wind tunnels and computer, food computational, fluid dynamics or great low point eight. We have great flutter programs for subsonic and the same strip for super aside about one month. There's great computational fluid dynamics for for supersonic. But in the transoceanic things happen strangely different parts of the wing behave differently or rack at a different time detail, and so both on the Fudd aside, the early namic stability and control side. You know, we do our best to try to predict there. But. There's always some unknown there in any way when and how how they actually happens, and and the intricacies so are are tough. So we win it's very very tough to do that in the low L over glider the train for that. Take spaceship. You're either coming downhill really fast or else, you're accelerate extremely fast. There's not you can't I can go up an ethics teen, and you can tell me whole point eight eight mach, plus their MAs porno to mock, and I can do that. But he can't space you up. I mean, you can try to do it in a really steep dive. But then you're flying through wind shares of its and just different temperature profiles would change mocked by few hundred.
01:20:06 - 01:25:02
So it's a very tough to to do. In glide flight testing any cannot do underpowered flight testing. Fascinating. So like this this flight that you just did on Thursday when you're mach two point nine is that kind of like when you're like. Yeah, man. This is cool. We're all good. It's it's more of that kind of getting to there and coming back down through there is that where you're still still kind of get your hackles up. Yeah. I've gone through the trance-like on exceleron enough that I'm I know what to expect. It's pretty good. You know, we're still, you know, we're always. There's a little affects of trim schedules or center, gravity that can affect transferring pitch or even release out date. This time we re released a few thousand feet lower than we've ever released before. And that was specifically something that I and the fight. This department was trying to push as a way to God of. Get the boundaries of stability and control. I don't think operational. We want to release that low. But thought it was important to do on this flight and it worked out pretty well. So we're learning from it. So but the once it was above mach two, and it just seemed to only be getting better. And yeah, I would have loved to run the rock muttering longer. But this is a big step for us in, you know, we're taking the aircraft airland amicably speeded never gone before. And also means we're going to significant heating that you know, we we didn't want us run folder ration-. And see what we got. We wanted. Take a big step combat in see make sure that all the thermal protective system worked as as design. So that we didn't have any hot spots in some that you can't tell after fly, Mark when you when you. You know, it sounds like to me. I mean these tests flights don't happen every day. You know, it could be months and months and months, and in some cases years after after Mike was was killed. How do you stay current? Because it sounds like that's super important and then tie that into. Maybe is there crossover with paragliding there too. Because we're always talking about that, you know, you only five times a year. You're your own worst enemy. We have an excellent simulator. If flies like the real vehicle. It's got nice visual. I think that's the most important thing that I can fly day in day out. And it's it's integrated, you know, integrated with control room once a week, we do as integrative simulations where we have we have a couple of people that sit on consultation down the simulator behind. You can't see what they're doing. And we call it a mayhem because they're they're giving you emergencies. They can be very subtle small emergencies that you'd never noticed this. You really flip through all the pages on the TV screened on the multifunction displays, but he can't do that. Because you're too busy flying. But they can see him up the control room, and they they have to decide when to speak up and tell you the day something or they can be more complex emergencies where you know, we get a master caution or master warning light and has a. Deal with it or they can be stuff is extremely severity. Just don't have time to pull out a checklist, you have to react instantly and through memorize procedure. So they can give us all of that. And it's it's great where we are. You know by the time I flew a couple of days ago. I was as trained as I could possibly have been, but that's good for that. But it can't simulate the unbelievable feeling of having semi thousand pounds of thrust behind you. When you weighs thirty thousand pounds, and your, you know, your celebrate in about three times a force of gravity. It's a cannibal chop off an aircraft carrier. But instead of stopping after second half that's going on for meta. And you are very actively flying and doing stuff a little time. It's it's a pretty bizarre feeling. It's to me. It's almost like, you know. I mean, I joke if it's like lacerra, you your feet together. With a hundred foot rope to the horse amend smack in the ass in have star Gallup Manhattan me do stuff. You know? It's your your are seriously off to the races in you have to perform and a new that one is really tough to to train for you know, we go to centrifuge a couple times a year. And so we can simulate that kind of acceleration. But it's not a flight simulator where you know, all I ever courted displays on like a surface pro end will practice procedures will act like we're flying.
01:25:02 - 01:30:01
We'll make the calls, and that's been a really good thing for us. 'cause we've changed some of our procedures because of that. But nothing can truly simulate like a like the real flight Cam and kinda true for paragliding. Keep can't go out and simulated that will just kinda have to go out and do it. What what happened to Mike? Is it, you know, from in reading about the accident sounded like it was, you know, incredibly traumatic for you you're in mission control. And he said something that you immediately were like what what the hell. No stop. And it was too late. Why what happened to his mind there somebody that's that train? It's done at that many times. I mean, I guess we're just guessing, but what's your theory? Got a pretty good idea. So I mean every everybody could make the steak, and yeah, that's a fourth powered flight. I'd flown in the left on the first two and on the right seat on the third. One is on the rights does instructor pilot. So very familiar with them. The senior doing is. You know, you're always trying to be a step ahead. What's coming next? And you know, we got a flight we have flight cards in normal flight cards, you have one card for each maneuver. And that's how we have the stack of cards, but for the actual, partly you drop, it you release everything all they're all those test points or ensure hand on the seagull card because he can't fi spaceship and be flipping cards and cash doing stuff you you're off to the races. And. You know, in my view, he was thinking about what came next, and you know, he made the point eight call which was required. Call I'd come up with after the first flight. Come up with that. Because I thought it was a good way for the co-pilot to to be in the loop. And and to make sure the pilot new basically that it was just about to happen because it changes transatlantically for a few seconds. So by saying porn, eight mock you'd like okay, everybody's right for this. And then right after that it does. This little pitchy maneuver than you supersonic in many start trimming so their stuff to do. But then in the case on that version of spaceship within a few seconds after that you're supposed to lock. But at time you doing mach one point sore, and that's perfectly safe. I mean, I actually you know, we could unlock the fettered out one point to do that on my first flight for for reason, it's lights, but he made the point eight mug. Call and his next action was supposed to be at one point four Mark where he'd unlock the feather. And I think he just looked ahead had a brain fart in. You know, skipped a patient nnl. And to me, the big the real sad point of that is he said, very plainly. I heard it the control room. I was sitting in the back of the control room is not the test conductor. Very plainly. But it was not heard by Pete eight under saying copy with them. They're busy doing other stuff in to meet as the the biggest Sandpoint about all his, you know, you've got two people in there. So that fund person says something that isn't right. Maybe other prisoners, stop so Peterman Peterman smirk out. Peter missed what you heard. Yeah. Yeah. Never couple other. To think in tribute to it that, you know. I wasn't happy that they did that way. But you know, we learn from it. See the to say that you should have had a it shouldn't have been possible to do that. But. I would expect that when the space have been operational. We would have more safety mechanism place this common not to do that in early flight tests because it asked complexity in some ways gonna make things more dangerous. But now, we do have such a thing. And I it's kind of like the equivalent. I remember in the eighties and early nineties. I think star like us. Thought by thousands. But there are other cars were people would start the admission put it in gear. And they swear that there is stepping on the brake Izhar they could break wasn't doing anything to cars, accelerating. A couple of seconds later. They already ran into something in the parking lot. And, but you know, you wouldn't see any, you know, the investigators will go near that wouldn't city sign of anything wrong with the brakes.
01:30:01 - 01:35:01
There were. The the March look bore like a acceleration of all time. And you know, nobody would ever take blame for it. But in the end, they put in what all cars have. Now, you can't take the you can't take the gearshift out of park Foot's not on the break because the reality they thought they had their foot on the brake on exceleron or so when things start moving farther on the break, which is really excel writer, and after a couple of seconds over with, and we we kind of did the same thing where now you cannot unlock the Fedor and less. All the conditions for for debate. You know, there's there's regions were unsafe to do that. And you basically have to have all the conditions for safety met before it will be allowed to electrically unlock. I think probably everybody listening who's learned how to ride a motorcycle has done that at some point. I turning you always hit the always hit the gas. When you trying to hit the brake. Oh god. It doesn't go too bad. That's unusual human factors. I mean, if if motorcycles were just being invented now in quivalent of the test positive would never prove that it because they'd say, hey, there was a percentage of time where somebody will mess this up, and he could have really bad consequences. So they would never invent a motorcycle like that. Now, just like they would never then attell Drager airplane now. But historically, people are the do that, you know, so. You know, so. You know, it's there. How do we this is maybe a reach to try to take it from flying? From Mike's accident flying Rocketship Mark to paragliding. But if you thought about it all like, how to eliminate the brain farts in in in this slow sport because that's certainly one of the greatest killers for sure just I mean, you hear that all the time after somebody as an accident like just man, I just I just skipped that step. How how often is it happen? We just saw that hang glider, not get clipped in and Switzerland. You know, the tandem guy that video that went viral. You know, the the tandem pilot forgotten men in and you know, how do we have you thought about that? To me. I nothing comes to mind of of brain farts at up in a way, I can understand the brain for a launch. You didn't. He didn't fasten your leg straps on paraglider. He didn't oak in hang glider. But do you know of accidents where people are just flying had a brain fart? No, not really. Yeah. I think you're. Yeah. You're right. I mean, I think you're kind of at that stage. You really tuned in in in in like, we talked about it's not it's not gear failures than it's, you know, it's like your thing you get a dust devil. And and you either you either act correctly, we don't. So I think what thing does help me as. All those years of marine pilot, a monthly magazine called approach magazine, and the navy has put up the navy the Marine Corps, and there's just two navy marine squadrons. And they're always there. I was stories in there, you know, that for people to learn from, you know, this happened to me, and I was I was amazed. How many of them began with here, I was fun along. And I never thought this was happening to me. And then this is what happened and and might take away from that was. Wow. Why would you think could never happen to you in our you know, they use a quote that's been attributed to me. We're not selling shoes at Sears. We're flying fighter jets. They crash on occasion. It can happen to you. And if you don't think it can happen to you than you are more dangerous than the person thinks that can happen to them. I like that. So yeah, just remember all the time. It can happen to you. So so what I do not to be morbid. But I always thinking of things that can go wrong. And then sheriff lying how I will deal with it. So I have never launched unhook. But it's like a never landed with my gear up on an airplane. But I'm the last person. I would laugh at something that did that if somebody last Europe I will try to understand what led them to do that. And how I can make sure that doesn't happen to me. I don't think I'm smarter than them. I realized wow. To happen. Another person. What was the situation? How do I keep that from happening to me? So even though I've never lost unhooked. Certainly my mind got over. What I would do if I lost. And. What I would do if I launch that my leg straps now. I will the other thing that really tries.
01:35:01 - 01:40:08
Hey, when you think you're ready to go. It's never that important that you run off. You know, let's make sure it really ready to go. But you can still make the mistake. So you know, I I see that that Tanum hang on video that she saw kind of amazed by some comments like, oh, you should've turned back in jail. And now that right away come on. He's totally out of control. He was that instructor is fighting for his life as he's got. You know is a quivalent weight hanging from the control bar, which will put an dive on the lifts outta control bar, which opened the left hand turn. And he's fighting to get the wings level and control. He's not going to make some smooth uphill down when landing with any chance of success. The the other thing that hit me about that is it's like kind of like when somebody in the movies, somebody walks up sticks a gun he read with getting the car with me. It's a busy street that person never screams. He's got a gun runs away. Because he thinks I might get shot them. But if I get in the car, he think may. Maybe there's a chance as will get better. Even though the the chances are only get worse. Now, you go somewhere where there will be no witnesses, and they can take their time to kill you. But but it's human nature the put out to try to put off the dangerous. So you take off things are ugly. You're not gonna go. Well, we try to crash now. It's no let me try to six. If this is scary. This is too scary for me right now. So I'm gonna keep on going down the road, which is what that guy did in. I look at that. The other thing is I don't know what he was doing with them grabbed his leg doing all these other things like, hey, just care beaner is right there if he if he scooped into his own harness and sure he would have drug him off on landing, but he could have flared drug off twenty miles per hour crashed him at forty and, but it's tough to come up with those things if you have never if you think it could never happen to you. And you don't go through all the. Cheer flying. Yeah. One of the most valuable things that I use over and over and over again now flying in otherwise after I did that trip with will get you know, he uses this thing, and he gives talks about this. And he talked about it on the podcast with them. But the positive power of negative thinking, and that that's a good way to put that is if you if you're just what could potentially go wrong and how I deal with it. If and when it does. Okay. Last question you've been very kind with your time. And this is a blast. I hate that. We're we even have to come to an end. But I'd love to ask you, just you know, when you look back at this quite storied career that really actually do hope they make up someday. If you could change one thing, usually I asked this question, you know, if you go back to your fifty ourself, you know, what would you change? But I'm just gonna ask just a life question here. If you when you look back at forty plus years of flight, you could change one thing. What would it be? I wish take an SIB lottery Lear. Could as I. I know guide us, you know, an outstanding cross country pilot. Just decades of experience he's probably gonna hospital five times if not more. He's never had. And you need to do they really did before it ever gone. I mean, I taught myself out full stall done that a few times. And you know, that's not the smartest thing to do. But every time I go one. I learn stuff. Although honestly every time I go to one I hear some stuff that I disagree with. But they're still stuff to be learned. And and it's real important. I think now if I look at my career in that's funny. I kind of thought people I got I'm kind of like Forrest Gump my way through aviation while I've had dreams it's not like I've done this great career planning. And it was all all meant to be is just every bad deal. I ever had in up to be a good deal in some way. So maybe it's just power positive thinking. I don't know. But also look at things. I say how my wife, and I didn't get along. If she would not have been dissatisfied living in the desert while as a NASA, I probably would've never had quit and gone. The airlines and go in the airlines gave me bigger plan experience. So after I went back in the air force, when when you know composites was looking for so many that could fly white Knight to the big mothership spaceship to suddenly I had experience.
01:40:08 - 01:45:07
I wouldn't I had experienced not a typical fighter pilot would have. And I shouldn't do run a great career planning. So I look back would have changed a thing. I mean, I wish I had engineering degree. But if I wish kind of what got better college. At the time. But if I did shoot, maybe I would have taken the different job. You know? I'm very happy with out stormed out. Awesome. What's next? Hey, you know, I would for the two gun into space on the weekly base someday enough out. What's next? Let's get this chest program complete get the fancy interior, then moved to New Mexico on star flying passengers. I know you have to be careful about what you say about about version just in general the media side of things, but how far out do you would you. Guess they are. Well, you never know what you know, what's next to be discovered. But the fact that I mean have going above fifty miles. And you know, we don't see anything we lost decals on the spaceship. I mean big deal. I have not seen any hit of anything wrong with anything would have been happy to throw another rocket motor and go right back up again. And I think any subsequent step we data full duration. Random people is is very low low risk as opposed. I'm talking programmatic way. I just don't think we're gonna Sunday. Discover at mach three bays totally different than mach two point nine. So, you know, I I think hopefully, we'll be New Mexico in twenty nineteen carrying people. Wow, amazing Lisi. Well, I hope it comes true, Mark. Thank you so much as just a total delight. I appreciate it. And thanks for your time and good luck. Just man. Good luck. Sure. And if you ever call me for Jura hate, Mark. Jim I we should've started off with that. Not raised on Mark. I was raised on other nicknames. But I've been called for jury for three years that's kind of a strange call sign. I should've known better. It was in all your emails. I I play that right off the bat think I would appear glider I'm daft. Thanks for the fly with you sometime. Absolutely. And I wanna fly with your son to you guys can get up your some valley, and or I'll get down there to the desert. But yeah, that would be fantastic. We should spend some time cloud base together and share share some more stories. Thanks for care. Enjoyed that. If you're getting something out of the cloud base may him podcast all we have ever asked for is a bucket show. The reason we're not relying on sponsors to support the show is that I just don't believe that the advertising economy and the digital economy is a really truly honest and truthful way to have a conversation with you if I'm trying to hawk the latest latest weighing the latest mattress, or whatever it may be number one. The ads are annoying to me when I listened to the podcast, but there's it's. Ads are seen as free and podcast is seen. They're seen as free, but they're not free. There's a cost there this intrinsic cost there, and there's a cost to the relationship between me, and you my listener. So I rely on you to make all this impossible as you can imagine it's not just talk and record. And we put it up there's tons and tons of editing, and there's the music costs and there's the storage costs and his website costs. And then there's just the time, you know, sitting down with these people often takes weeks, sometimes months once a month is this one did to put it together. So. All we ask for the buck show. If you can't support us financially and not everybody can and we don't need everybody to. But if you can't support us financially can do so in a few different ways. Go to cloud base, mayhem dot com. And you'll see the ways to do it there. You can become a regular support through patriot. And be rewarded for doing so t shirts and hats and books other stuff and also bonus material like talked about at the top of the show with the polka show our episode, you can do one time support through pay pal? All ask you to do their to send the buck not listen to twenty and send appropriately because they outtakes their little chunk things as they have to. But you can support us in many other ways by if I if you can't do it financially. You can do it by rating us on I tunes or Stitcher or however, you get your podcast, you can share it with your friends on the way to launch.
01:45:08 - 01:45:41
You can log about it on your own blog. You can post about it on social media. You can share when we put it out on Facebook and his and other platforms. What this is all about is. Just sharing knowledge trying to make not I'm we are all on the part of the show. We're trying to make this trying to make our community safer trying to make us all better pilots and trying to also bring some entertainment. So if it's valuable to you do any of those things that goes, a long ways, it makes all this possible. I really appreciate it. Thank you see on the next show.