Hoot Gibson Recounts His Career, Looks Ahead Toward Space Tourism Gig

Air & Space Magazine has a cool profile for four-time shuttle pilot Robert “Hoot” Gibson, who has flown 111 types of aircraft during his long career. The story reviews his early flying career, his adventures as a NASA astronaut, and his post-shuttle career racing airplanes:

In 2004, Gibson flew his green and yellow Cassutt, an experimental homebuilt designed for aerobatics and pylon racing, at 237.9 mph, beating a 20-year-old record. He also set a world altitude record in it.

The Cassutt is fast, but it’s Riff Raff, a big red and white Hawker Sea Fury that Gibson races at the Reno Air Races, that draws the crowds. At the 2007 races, Gibson clocked a blistering 437 mph—the aircraft’s fastest qualifying time.

Riff Raff ‘s owner, retired physical therapist Mike Keenum, has over 10,000 hours of flight time and flies Riff Raff in airshows, but at Reno, he wants Gibson’s hands on the stick and throttle. In races, says Keenum, “the difference between winning and losing, between life and death, is measured in split seconds. You’ve got to be able to think fast, decide fast, and act fast. Hooter does all those things better than anyone I know.”

Hoot is interested in going back into space – this time working for a commercial tourism company. He says he’s already been turned down by Virigin Galactic, but he remains optimistic:

“When the next generation of commercial rockets for tourists is ready to test fly,” Gibson said, “there’ll be a line of pilots hoping for a seat.” He flashed a confident smile, then added, “I’d kind of like to be at the front of it.” He has already been part of one effort, signing on in 2006 as chief pilot at Benson Space Company, which did not survive the death of its founder, Jim Benson, last year.

Beyond the parking lot, we could see a 737 approach nearby Washington Dulles International Airport. “Someday that’s what leaving for orbit will be like,” said Gibson. “A scheduled flight in a spaceship with wings.” With Hoot Gibson in the cockpit?

Read the full story.