Virgin Galactic is looking for 2 pilots to fly its spaceflight missions. Here’s what it takes to be the next closest thing to an astronaut.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic
  • Sir Richard Branson’s space company, Virgin Galactic, recently posted a job listing for two pilots to join its commercial spaceflight team.
  • Pilots flying for the company will initially be flying test missions for Virgin’s aircraft but will eventually transition to space operations.
  • The job is based at Spaceport America in New Mexico with lots of opportunities to travel in the upper altitudes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ever wanted to be an astronaut but didn’t know how to break into the highly competitive industry? Well, Sir Richard Branson’s commercial spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, just put out a job posting for two pilots to fly its space-bound aircraft and it’s the next best thing to being a NASA astronaut.

The ambitious endeavour aims to eventually open up space for tourist travel, with seats on the Virgin-branded spaceship costing around $US250,000. But while the passengers in the back will be paying through the nose for the opportunity, pilots with the “right stuff” will be getting paid to chart a new course.

While spaceflight missions are still potentially years away, the current day-to-day involves flying and assisting in the crafting of test missions for Virgin Galactic’s two aircraft, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. The opportunity to take to space is, however, on the table as the job posting elaborates that the candidates will eventually be part of “commercial spaceflight operations,” bringing passengers to the edge of space for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Taking the job would require relocation to Virgin’s home base at Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, right in the middle of nowhere in the vast American Southwest, with additional opportunities to travel for missions in Mojave, California.

Take a look at the requirements of what it takes to be a Virgin Galactic pilot.

Be must be a US citizen or a protected US person.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic

The requirement to be a US citizen or other US person as defined by 22 CFR §120.15 is due to space technology regulations implemented by the US government. Lawful permanent residents as other protected US persons under 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3) can also apply for the position.

Have an FAA Commercial Pilot’s Licence and Class 1 medical.

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic

Any pilot for higher must possess a Commercial Pilot’s Licence that requires a minimum of 250 hours of flying. Class 1 medicals are also standard for any pilot flying for an airline and involve going through the most thorough examination performed by aviation medical examiners.

Have a degree in a related technical field.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Virgin Galactic doesn’t specify what kind of degrees will suffice but fields related to aviation typically include engineering disciplines. Some commercial airlines also require either an associate or bachelor’s degree for their pilots.

Be a graduate of a Society of Experimental Test Pilots-recognised test pilot course.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. GENE BLEVINS/reuters

Virgin Galactic pilots are constantly performing test flights with their unique aircraft that the candidates would be involved in flying. A recent flight test saw WhiteKnightTwo, named VMS Eve, drop SpaceShipTwo, named VSS Unity, from 50,000 feet above New Mexico to simulate a re-entry procedure.

The spacecraft glided from the altitude all the way down to Spaceport America, reaching speeds of Mach .70.

Have 2.5 years of test pilot experience following completion of a Society of Experimental Test Pilots-recognised program.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic

The requirement ensures that candidates for the position are comfortable and competent to perform test flight operations. Each test flight has its own risks as these are new, experimental aircraft and spaceflight is new territory for most pilots.

Have at least 3,000 flying hours.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. Virgin Galactic

The 3,000-hour mark is a typical requirement for pilots applying to most major airlines. Depending on the pilot, it can sometimes take years to fly that many hours, which is why it’s a good indicator of experience.

Have operational experience in an aviation project or business.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic requires its pilots to be a part of various additional aspects of the business, not just flying the aircraft. Having prior experience being a part of a project or business helps achieve that goal.

Be able to clearly communicate aviation knowledge and safety information.

Virgin Galactic pilots. Virgin Galactic

Spaceflight is a new venture and most, if not all Virgin Galactic customers will be first-time astronauts. As the ultimate authority on the aircraft, pilots will be tasked with customer relations and that includes answering questions, addressing concerns, exuding confidence, and easing fears.

Have experience in a role where you had the responsibility of authorizing and implementing policies and procedures.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic pilots will be involved in creating new procedures and best practices for the aircraft during the test phase. Unlike a traditional pilot job, the pilots won’t simply be told how to fly the plane but will need to learn how to fly it in the unique circumstances the spacecraft will be flying in.

Be a team player.

Virgin Galactic passengers. Steven Counts for Virgin Galactic

Flying a spaceship isn’t a one-man job, it requires hundreds of behind-the-scenes workers ensuring that everything goes smoothly. Crew resource management is also essential to every flight, not just those heading to space.

Meet the personal requirements.

The expected view from a Virgin Galactic flight. Virgin Galactic

The Virgin Group and its subsidiaries have always been known to operate with a unique culture and in order to maintain that, Virgin Galactic outlines a few personal requirements that its pilots need to meet. They include the following:

  • Be motivated, enterprising and enthusiastic
  • Check your ego at the door
  • Be a self-starter and possess a sense of humility
  • Work well under pressure
  • Thrive under challenging circumstances
  • Communicate clearly
  • Be confident and persuasive
  • Maintain the highest level of integrity and confidentiality

This pilot gig is about to get more excited as Virgin Galactic has made some advancements recently to bring its mission closer to reality.

Virgin Galactic recently announced a partnership with NASA to develop supersonic-capable vehicles to provide high-speed transportation. Ever since the famed Concorde disappeared from the skies, the desire to re-imagine supersonic transport aircraft has spurred development from multiple companies.

The duo will now work together to develop new technology aimed for civil use that could dramatically bring down travel times in commercial transportation.