Stratolaunch is hiring — nearly a year after the death of its billionaire backer, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and five months after the company’s monster plane took its first and only test flight.
Allen founded the venture in 2011, with the goal of using what is now the world’s largest airplane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets and space planes. But after his death at the age of 65, Stratolaunch trimmed its staff dramatically. Some saw April’s test flight at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port as primarily a tribute to Allen, and as the prelude to either a sale or a shutdown.
Representatives of the Allen family’s Vulcan holding company have insisted that Stratolaunch remains operational. LinkedIn listings indicate that Jean Floyd is still president and CEO, although three company vice presidents left in July.
Now Stratolaunch is posting 11 job openings, including listings for two test pilots. “As a test pilot on the history-making Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft, the world’s largest-wingspan aircraft, you will have the opportunity to accomplish new milestones in aviation,” the company says.
The pilot positions are among nine openings in Mojave, with two openings (for a purchasing agent and a contract specialist) based in Seattle.
Last week, Virgin Galactic test pilot Nicola Pecile, who works virtually next door to Stratolaunch’s Mojave facilities, said via Twitter that he and other test pilots have received notices about the listings:
The program is back on in few weeks. Looks like they found some investors. Hiring of test pilots was just sent out to SETP members the other day. I’m expecting a big announcement soon! Which is great, would have been too bad to not continuing with the test program…
— Nicola Pecile (@NicolaPecile) September 19, 2019
We’ve asked Vulcan about the reported investment, the hiring push and any expectations about an announcement. We’ll update this report with anything we can pass along.
One of the big questions surrounding Stratolaunch has focused on the market it could serve: Executives say up to three rockets could be launched from the plane in flight, potentially heading to any orbital inclination. Another plus: Weather conditions are less of a factor for air launch, since the plane could fly around adverse weather and land anywhere with a runway big enough to handle its 385-foot wingspan and 1.2 million-pound weight.
Before Allen died, he talked up Stratolaunch’s potential role in satellite monitoring for the purposes of wildlife conservation, climate studies and the fight against illegal fishing. Those issues were among his top environmental priorities — and remain so under the leadership of his sister, Jody Allen, who is now the chair of Vulcan and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust.
A year ago, Stratolaunch said it expected to get its monster plane certified for air-launch operations after 18 months to two years of flight tests. It’s not yet clear whether that timetable will still hold. But Stratolaunch looks as if it’s getting ready to set the clock ticking again.