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SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight No. 4 Flight Transcript

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 11, 2015
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SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo after being released on Oct. 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

Part 3.1 in a Series

Below is an excerpt from the cockpit recording of the SpaceShipTwo crash on Oct. 31, 2014. The transcript picks up about 1.5 minutes prior to the spacecraft’s release from WhiteKnightTwo. The Mojave Air and Space Port’s control tower has just given SpaceShipTwo clearance to land on Runway 30.

Descriptions of what is happening in the SpaceShipTwo cockpit and what pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury are doing are in brackets [] and italics.

All times are given in UTC. The accident occurred at 10:07 a.m. PDT.

SpaceShipTwo Flight Transcript
Powered Flight No. 4
Oct. 31, 2014

SIEBLD 17:05:38.69
Alright, you’re clear to arm, uh, at pylon release, I’ll call for fire, and uh…call the pitch up, pitch down, trim, feather unlock one point four.

ALSBURY 17:05:54.11
I’ll uh, I’ll try to keep a hack on that three-forty-five as well.

SIEBOLD 17:05:57.54

SIEBOLD 17:06:12.02
Alright, then after, uh, shutdown, roll boost, uh, while we have some speed, roll boost will come off. primary (R-C-S) is uh, comin’ on. set the, uh, attitudes…feather uh, up, at uh, apogee…reset trims for minus ten…you’re cleared to feather at, uh, apogee, if I haven’t called for it, and, uh, remind me on the uh trims, if I haven’t gotten to ’em.

SIEBOLD 17:06:43.84
Alright, the visibility’s goin’ down a little bit here…I still have lakebed, and uh…

Alsbury 17:06:52.68
L minus thirty.

BASE 17:06:54.438
((scat two-one, glide trims good)) Green for release.

ALSBURY 17:06:55.41
Alright, stick?

SIEBOLD 17:06:57.27
Stick is forward.

SIEBOLD 17:06:57.37
[Places both hands on control stick and moves it to a forward position.]

ALSBURY 17:06:58.40
[Quickly moves left hand toward lower center console, then quickly moves left hand up to the LAUNCH CONTROL ARM switch.]

ALSBURY 17:06:59.98
Armed. Yellow light.

ALSBURY 17:07:00.40
[Removes left hand from LAUNCH CONTROL ARM switch, an amber colored arm pushbutton light below switch is illuminated.]

SS2-COCKPIT 17:07:01.23
[Pilot places head firmly against headrest and slightly readjusts his seated position. Remains with head positioned on headrest until vehicle breakup. Co-pilot’s head is slightly off headrest and moves toward instrument panel as he reaches for switches on panel. At no time during the boost portion does co-pilot’s head touch the headrest. There is slight noticeable vibration to the pilot’s helmet due to it being pushed against the structure of the seat and minimal vibration noticeable to the co-pilot’s helmet during boost portion of flight.]

ALSBURY 17:07:03.30
[Moves his left hand onto ROCKET MOTOR ARM AND FIRE panel and makes an upward motion in vicinity of a switch.]

ALSBURY 17:07:14.50
[Moves left hand near ROCKET MOTOR ARM AND FIRE panel.]

WK2 Co-PILOT 17:07:15.92
((five. four. three.)) Two. One. Release. Release. ((release.))

SS2 CREW MEMBER 17:07:19.01
Clean release.

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:19.27
[There is a visible jolt to cockpit and occupants.]
[mechanical sound associated with the operation of the SS2/WK2 release mechanism.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:19.51

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:20.00
[Shadow of WK2’s wing can be seen quickly crossing inside of cabin of SS2]

ALSBURY 17:07:20.13
[moves left hand toward ROCKET MOTOR ARM switch.]

ALSBURY 17:07:20.69

ALSBURY 17:07:20.87
[Makes quick motions with his left hand near ROCKET MOTOR ARM and FIRE switches.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:21.20
[Relaxes forward pressure on stick.]

ALSBURY 17:07:21.29

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:22.73
[Both PFDs auto sequence to BOOST phase and graphically change.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:24.46
[strained voice] Good light.

ALSBURY 17:07:25.30
[Makes contact with left hand on left side of the control stick. Fingers and thumb of left hand appear to be around left horn of control stick.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:25.90
[Uses both hands on stick to make minor lateral movements to make left and right roll corrections.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:26.28
[strained voice] Yeehaw.

ALSBURY 17:07:26.80
[Begins moving left hand off of left horn of control stick. Begins left hand movement toward Feather Lock Handles.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:26.83
[PFD speed display on both PFD auto switches from ADC to INS by displaying the KEAS gauge from a black to a greyish white background.]

ALSBURY 17:07:26.91
[strained voice] Point eight.

ALSBURY 17:07:27.37
[Places left hand on Feather Lock Handles.]

ALSBURY 17:07:27.47
[Moves Feather Lock Handles slightly right out of lock detent.]

ALSBURY 17:07:27.57
[LT and RT Feather Lock Handles appear wider than previously seen. Handles appear to slightly diverge.]

ALSBURY 17:07:27.90
[Co-pilot appears to be leaning forward and into a downward unlocking motion with his left arm and shoulder.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:27.99
[Pilot’s left thumb rapidly moved from right to left and back again in the immediate vicinity of the trim hat switch on the flight controls. The movement appeared consistent with a possible quick left lateral trim input.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.10
[Left hand is briefly removed from Feather Lock Handles and LT and RT portions appear to converge.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.27
[Left hand has shifted grip to LT side of LT and RT Feather Lock Handles.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.39
[straining] Unlocking.

ALSBURY 17:07:28.40
[A slight right motion to move LT and RT Feather Lock Handles out of LOCK detents.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.43
[A downward motion of Feather Lock Handles begins, handles appear to be slightly twisted with LT Feather Lock handle lower than RT Feather Lock handle.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.60
[Feather Lock Handles are in mid transit.]

ALSBURY 17:07:28.90
[Feather Lock Handles appear to have reached UNLOCK position.]

ALSBURY 17:07:29.00
[Relaxes Left hand grip on Feather Lock Handles while still touching mechanism.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:29.57
[FEATHER NOT LOCKED Light illuminates on backup panel.]

ALSBURY 17:07:30.07
[Moves left hand off of Feather Lock Handles.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:30.67
[There is a slight but noticeable right roll indicated on ADI on both PFDs.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:30.97
[FEATHER OK TO LOCK Light extinguishes, FEATHER NOT LOCKED Light remains illuminated.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:31.40
[Both pilots’ bodies appear to begin to be pushed downward into their seats.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:31.42
[strained voice] Pitch up.

ALSBURY 17:07:31.76
[strained voice] Pitch up.

SIEBOLD 17:07:31.79
[Pilot’s left thumb rapidly moved to a position just above the trim hat switch on the flight controls and remains near the hat trim switch until the end of the recording. During this time, no forward, aft or lateral trim input movements were seen.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:31.80
[Backup FEATHER POSITION INDICATOR Light appears to have moved slightly upward on scale. ADI begins showing a pitch up trend on both PFDs.]

ALSBURY 17:07:31.80
[Co-pilot’s head appears to move noticeably forward.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:32.03
[Right roll indication on ADI on both PFDs appears to become more level.]

SIEBOLD & ALSBURY 17:07:32.26
[Sound of grunting]

ALSBURY 17:07:32.33
[Co-pilot’s head continues to move forward toward his lap. There is some movement of left hand off of left knee.]

SIEBOLD 17:07:32.37
[Pilot’s head begins to move off headrest and slightly forward.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:32.47
[There is a noticeable vibration to the cockpit image.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:32.80
[Both pilots’ torsos appear to be slumped forward with their harnesses restraining their bodies. pilots’ heads have been pushed forward toward control panel and almost into their laps.]

SS2 COCKPIT 17:07:32.80
[End of recording. End of Transcript]

The Series

3 responses to “SpaceShipTwo Powered Flight No. 4 Flight Transcript”

  1. TimR says:

    3 1/2 seconds. Nice draft of a future book I hope. Excruciating to read the events compressed in 3 seconds and decompressed by our desire to understand what went wrong. Tough to read the details of those 3 seconds. The sensation of powered flight in SS2 is unlike training in an Extra and going for months if not years between experiences of that SS2 powered flight leaves pilots renewing sensations and tackling and grappling with their emotions. An Edwards test pilot would take their supersonic crafts out for spins knowing what the performance envelopes of each were like over and over again. The long intervals between powered flights must have been a factor for these pilots. Siebold’s exclamation is a way of shed unwanted emotions as much as it is a way to express a thrill. And what were the G-forces and and vibration levels of this new engine using ‘nylon’ in comparison to the original engine? Looking forward to part 5.

  2. patb2009 says:

    you are doing a great job here.

  3. Veronica says:

    Thank you for writing this

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