December 18, 2004 - In a fitting tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright, a sellout crowd in excess of 500 people turned out to see and hear one of today's true aviation pioneers at EAA's Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet Friday night at EAA AirVenture Museum's Eagle Hangar.
SpaceShipOne pilot and EAA's own Mike Melvill thrilled the audience with an exclusive pilot briefing of his September 29 space launch in Mojave, California. His was the first of two successful flights by the team at Scaled Composites, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Mojave Space Ventures and his boss and fellow EAAer, Burt Rutan.
"Last year, EAA's role was to recognize history and 100 years of aviation," said EAA President Tom Poberezny. "Also our theme was to launch the second century of flight." That launch occurred literally, he said, when a group of aircraft homebuilders - EAAers - did something that was believed to be impossible: put an aircraft into suborbital space.
With a multimedia presentation also seen on EAA's special webcast of the event, Melvill guided his audience through N328KF (SpaceShipOne's N-number, signifying 328-thousand-feet) from cockpit to propulsion system. He then described his epic flight, from take-off beneath White Knight, ascent to altitude, separation and launch. The audience gasped when Melvill experienced 29 unexpected rolls, then expressed collective relief when he corrected the rates and reached the apex at nearly 338,000 feet. Video depiction of his feathered re-entry and glide back to earth prompted one of several standing ovations.
Also at the Wright Memorial Banquet, EAA welcomed three of the seven members whose membership cards accompanied Melvill into space. Present were Joe Dickey, Buffalo, New York; Joel Weaner, Jacksonville, Florida; and Curt Rivard, Arlington, Minnesota. They received their cards back in the form of special commemorative plaques with signed cards from Melvill and Burt Rutan.
Those unable to attend will also receive plaques and include Pete Turner, Red Springs, North Carolina; Dianne Wieman-Deyeso, San Antonio, Texas; John McGowan, Sunnyvale, California; and Mike Hazard, Bad Axe, Michigan.
Another special guest was introduced, Kevin McCue, Tuscon, Arizona, who was pilot of the 1.1 millionth Young Eagle in November.