Brian Binney, who in 2004 became the second person in history to send a private spacecraft into space, has died at the age of 69.
Binnie’s death on Thursday (will open in a new tab) (September 15) his family confirmed on Sunday. The cause of death was not named.
“It is with great regret, sadness and sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Brian,” his family members wrote on Binnie’s Facebook page. (will open in a new tab). “We ask for privacy at this time as our family mourns the loss of our husband, father, brother and friend.”
Arrangements are being made for Binnie’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
As a test pilot for Scaled Composites, an aerospace design firm founded by Burt Rutan (and today owned by Northrop Grumman), Binney took off aboard a SpaceShipOne rocket plane on October 4, 2004. His 24-minute flight reached its maximum altitude. 69.6 miles (112 km), surpassing the world-recognized von Karman line separating the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, and breaking the winged ship record set by the X-15 rocket plane in 1963.
Binnie became the 442nd person to fly into space.
(Image credit: Scaled Composites)
“People called it the perfect flight. On re-entry, when I kept the engine at 215,000 feet, the ship had zero roll, pitch, and [and] yaw speed. It was solid and continued above the height of the X-15,” Binney told Space.com in a 2021 interview. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Flight qualified Scaled to win the Ansari XPrize. (will open in a new tab), which has offered $10 million to the first privately owned spacecraft to fly into space twice within two weeks. Binnie’s flight followed test pilot Mike Melville flying the same vehicle on October 29 for a distance of 63.9 miles (102.9 km).
Binney was the last person to fly SpaceShipOne, which was donated to the Smithsonian for display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The vehicle became the basis for Virgin Galactic’s larger SpaceShipTwo. (will open in a new tab)which is designed to carry two pilots and up to six paying passengers into space.
“I don’t see any single-seat spacecraft in the near future. So maybe I’m the last guy to go into space alone,” Binnie said.
William Brian Binney was born April 26, 1953 in West Lafayette, Indiana. However, from the age of five until his teenage years, he lived with his family in Scotland. Returning to the US, he received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics from Brown University in Rhode Island.
Binney also had a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey. It was there that Binnie learned to fly, first aboard a glider as a member of the school’s soaring society, and then testing experimental designs as a student at the Princeton Center for Flight Research.
This experience led him to enlist in the US Navy in 1978. Binnie flew five combat missions, including 490 delayed landings on aircraft carriers, as well as participation in combat operations as part of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Southern Watch.
He graduated from the US Navy Test Pilot School in 1988 and served as a naval aviator for 13 years testing systems for the A-7 Corsair II, A-6 Intruder and F/A-18 Hornet.
He retired from the Navy with the rank of commander in 1998 with over 4,300 flight hours.
(Image credit: XPrize Foundation)
Before joining Scaled in 2000, Binnie worked as a test pilot for Rotary Rocket, proving that the Roton VTOL could return to Earth under spinning rotors.
“We did what we said we would do… demonstrated control of the spacecraft as it landed,” Binney told Space.com.
Prior to his spaceflight, Binney flew SpaceShipOne twice, including his first powered flight on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. He also flew WhiteKnight on 12 joint flights with SpaceShipOne.
After leaving Scaled in 2014, Binney joined XCOR Aerospace as a senior engineer and test pilot, joining former NASA astronaut Rick Sirfoss in developing the Lynx family of suborbital vehicles.
For his suborbital spaceflight in 2004, Binney was awarded civilian astronaut wings by the FAA. (will open in a new tab) (Federal Aviation Administration) and was honored by the Eagle Collection Foundation. As a member of the SpaceShipOne team, Binney was the recipient of the Space Achievement Award from the Space Foundation and recipient of the National Aeronautics Association’s Robert J. Collier Trophy.
In 2006, Binnie appeared in a series of television commercials for Miller Lite beer, appearing as part of an “ancient order of men” as actor and narrator Burt Reynolds described. In 2009, Binnie became a brand ambassador for Ball Watches.
In 2021, Binney self-published The Magic and Threat of SpaceShipOne. (will open in a new tab): A First-Person Story of the World’s First Commercial Space Flights, recounting his experience with the XPRIZE-winning spacecraft in over 400 pages.
Binnie is survived by his wife, Bub, and three children, Justine, Jonathan, and Jennifer.
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