For the last 47 years, October 4th marked the date the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and started the government-sponsored space race. Now it also marks the date when a privately manned spacecraft started the quest of personal space transportation, and Brian Binnie played a key role as the pilot of the revolutionary SpaceShipOne. Born in 1953 in West Lafayette, Indiana, Binnie began dreaming of flight as a four-year-old boy. Binnie graduated from Brown University in 1975 with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. After earning advanced degrees from Brown and Princeton Universities, Binnie became an Ensign in the US Navy in 1978. During his naval career, Binnie logged over 4,300 flight hours in the Strike-Fighter community.
He completed five operational carrier tours that included 490 arrested landings as well as combat operations associated with Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, and SOUTHERN WATCH. During Operation DESERT STORM he flew 33 combat missions over Iraq in the F/A-18 as a member of VFA-195. In his career, Binnie completed the Naval Aviation Safety School and the Naval Test Pilot School. He spent 13 years in flight-test activities working at each of the Navy’s three principal research, development, testing, and evaluation sites. While a test pilot for the Navy, Binnie evaluated systems for the A-6E Intruder, A-7E Corsair II, and F/A-18 Hornet. In 1998, Binnie retired as a Commander from the Navy. After returning to the civilian world, Binnie went to work as a test pilot for Rotary Rocket, the company that developed a unique rocket powered vehicle called the Roton.
At the same time, he developed a close working relationship with Burt Rutan’s team at Scaled Composites, and Binnie joined their team in 2000. The team’s goal became the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition offered to help jumpstart the space tourism industry. Binnie’s role was to pilot the team’s entry-SpaceShipOne. The task for Scaled Composites was not easy. To win the cash prize, Rutan’s team had to privately finance, build, and launch a spaceship to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles), return it safely to Earth, and repeat the launch with the same vehicle within two weeks. As the project progressed, Binnie completed 54 test flights in the White Knight mother ship and the SpaceShipOne spacecraft.
On December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, Binnie piloted the first powered test flight of SpaceShipOne. Flight 11P reached a top speed of Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 67,800 feet. Mike Melvill successfully piloted SpaceShipOne more than 62 miles high on September 29, 2004, thus completing the first flight for the X Prize. On October 4, 2004, Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne to a record altitude of 367,442 feet and captured the X Prize for Rutan’s team. Over his entire flying career Binnie logged over 4,600 hours of flight time in 62 different aircraft. Binnie is an Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and has published many technical articles. He lives in Rosamond, California with his wife “Bub” of 24 years and has three children: Justin, Jonathan, and Jennifer.