MOJAVE, Calif. (CBS13/AP) – The pilot killed in a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s prototype space tourism rocket was as capable behind the controls of experimental aircraft as he was tackling technical challenges in the offices where the vehicle was designed.
He was also known as a devoted husband and father of two young children.
Michael Alsbury, 39, was “a respected and devoted colleague,” according to a statement Saturday from Scaled Composites, the company developing the spaceship for Virgin Galactic. Alsbury was co-pilot of the ill-fated test of SpaceShipTwo. His body was in wreckage found in the Mojave Desert.
“Without mincing words or really embellishing anything … I consider Mike Alsbury the renaissance man,” said Brian Binnie, another test pilot who worked at Scaled Composites for 14 years before leaving the company in February. “He could do it all. He was an engineer. He was a pilot. He worked well with others. He had a great sense of humor. I never heard him raise his voice or lose his cool.”
Peter Siebold, 43, who piloted the mission and parachuted to safety, was described as alert and talking with his family and doctors.
Alsbury had at least 15 years of flight experience and logged more than 1,600 hours as a test pilot and test engineer, according to a biography posted on the Society of Flight Test Engineers’ website. He was listed on the website as an event speaker for the group last year.
At Scaled Composites, Alsbury participated in the flight testing of nine different manned aircraft and co-piloted SpaceShipTwo when it broke the sound barrier during its first powered flight last year. He was also sitting in the co-pilot’s seat when the craft first dropped in 2010 from its carrier aircraft several miles above the Earth for an unpowered glide test.
Alsbury flew primarily as the craft’s co-pilot, logging at least seven trips from 2010 to early 2014, according to test-flight logs.
Alsbury’s next-door neighbor in Tehachapi, California, Patricia Kinn, had known him for years and described him as a devoted father of a young son and daughter. The last time she saw him, he was playing with the kids in his yard.
“He was a very down-to-earth family man,” Kinn said. “He was very humble. He never bragged, never boasted.”
Kinn, who works in flight testing for another company, said the aerospace community is a close one connected with businesses at the Mojave Air and Space Port and nearby Edwards Air Force Base.
“It was a horrible day yesterday for everyone,” she said “What’s hard is the family is suffering the loss of their dad. And they were very tight.”
Alsbury earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He was the recipient of Northrop Grumman’s President’s Award for Innovation-for-Affordability Excellence this year.
Siebold is a 1990 graduate of Davis Senior High School.
Binnie said Alsbury was a “home-schooled, home-brewed” pilot who earned his way up through the ranks at the company, starting as an engineer. Alsbury had also put himself through commercial pilot school and was certified as a flight instructor.
“He was definitely the kind of guy who had a vision for himself, and he did what he thought would get him where needed to be to fly SpaceShipTwo,” Binnie said. “Mike loved what he did. I think his career ended with him doing exactly that. … That yesterday ended up in a tragedy was kind of heart-breaking for many of us.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.