Virgin Galactic has hired a combat veteran and test pilot for NASA, Boeing and the U.S. Air Force as the first woman to join its six-man pilot corps.
Kelly Latimer joins Sir Richard Branson’s aspiring spaceline with more than 6,000 flight hours and more than 1,000 test flight hours under her belt, Virgin Galactic said in a statement this week.
“I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything,” Latimer said in a statement.
She said “some of the most meaningful work” she will do at Virgin Galactic will be helping “to complete the vehicles’ design and test and setting up operations before the first flight.”
Virgin Galactic is building a new SpaceShipTwo after its vehicle broke up during a catastrophic test flight last year that killed one pilot and injured another. Virgin Galactic is planning to fly tourists to space from New Mexico’s taxpayer-funded Spaceport America but the company first must restart and complete a test flight program of its spaceship.
A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, Latimer served as an instructor for the T-38 trainer jet and the C-17 transport plane and flight-tested C-141 transport aircraft. She flew combat missions during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom — the government’s name for the war on terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — and she advised the Iraqi Air Force and its reconnaissance squadron.
During her years in the military, Latimer also served as a flight test squadron commander of 280 personnel and led more than 650 military, contractor and civilian personnel in a program to test airlift and special ops systems, Virgin Galactic said.
Latimer was the first female research test pilot hired by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, where she conducted experimental flight tests on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, known as SOFIA; the T-38, C-17, 747 shuttle carrier aircraft, and the BE200 and T-34 research aircraft.
Later, Latimer worked at Boeing where she conducted the first flight tests of Boeing’s KC-46/767 aerial tanker. At Boeing, Latimer had responsibility for global operations, managing test pilots and other aircrew to prepare for test flights, Virgin Galactic said.
“Kelly’s impressive leadership in operations and experience with heavy aircraft and as a test pilot make her well-suited for our upcoming return to flight,” Virgin Galactic’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said in a statement.
Latimer earned a bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds a master’s in astronautics from George Washington University.