RAF Pilot To Join Virgin Orbit Space Programme

A Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot has been selected to join Virgin Orbit's small satellite launch programme on secondment.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew "Stanny" Stannard was chosen following a selection process involving both the RAF and Virgin Orbit, whose partnership was announced in July.

The Typhoon pilot is a member of a squadron which deals with the RAF's testing and evaluation.

"I have flown Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets in the RAF but being involved in Virgin Orbit's space programme is a truly unique opportunity," he said.

'Cosmic Girl' Boeing 747-400 modified for 'Launcher One'.
'Cosmic Girl' Boeing 747-400 modified for 'Launcher One' (Picture: MOD).

Subject to final regulatory approvals on both sides of the Atlantic, Flt Lt Stannard is expected to join the "test pilots", who will trial the Boeing 747-400 'jumbo' from which satellites will be launched, for three years.

"This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space," said Flt Lt Stannard.

"It is a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bringing the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF."

"This exciting partnership will see Virgin Orbit benefit from the skills and expertise of our personnel while propelling the RAF’s space ambitions to new heights," added Defence Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Flt Lt Stannard, who graduated from RAF officer training in May 2007, has amassed over 1,000 hours on Tornados during multiple combat tours, after which he undertook instructional duties.

He was selected to become an experimental test pilot in 2015, and trained at the US Naval Test Pilot School before qualifying as a Typhoon test pilot.

The secondment still needs to gain final US and UK regulatory approvals.

The secondment announcement was made on the RMS Queen Mary ship in California as the RAF's Red Arrows display team flew overhead during the ceremony.

The Ministry of Defence has previously announced it is investing £30 million to fast-track the launch of a small satellite demonstrator within a year.

The demonstrator, also known as Programme Artemis, is being delivered by a new transatlantic team of UK and US defence personnel and firms including Virgin Orbit.

The UK has also joined Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led international military unit aimed at strengthening deterrence against hostile actors in space and at preserving the safety of spaceflight.

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