Brian Binnie, SpaceShipOne test pilot who won XPRIZE, dies at 69

September 19, 2022

– Brian Binnie, who became the second human in history to pilot a private vehicle into space, has died at the age of 69 in 2004.

Binnie’s death on Thursday (September 15) was confirmed by his family on Sunday. The cause of death was not specified.

“It is with overwhelming sadness, sadness and sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Brian,” his family members posted on Binnie’s Facebook page. “We ask for privacy from our family at this time to mourn the loss of our husband, father, brother and friend.”

Arrangements are being made for Binnie to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

As a test pilot for Scaled Composites, the aerospace design firm founded by Burt Rutan (and now owned by Northrop Grumman), Binnie took off on October 4, 2004 aboard the SpaceShipOne rocket plane. Its 24-minute flight reached a peak altitude of 69.6 miles (112 km), surpassing the internationally recognized von Kármán line that separates Earth’s atmosphere from space and breaking the record for a winged vehicle set by the X-plane rocket plane in 1963. 15 was set up.

Binnie was the 442nd human to go into space.

“People called it the perfect flight. On de-atmosphere, when I ran the engine to 215,000 feet, the ship had no roll pitch [and] yaw rates. It was rock solid and continued well past the X-15 height,” Binnie said in an interview with in 2021. “It was a wonderful experience.”

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The flight qualified Scaled to win the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to become the first privately built spacecraft to go into space twice in two weeks. Binnie’s flight followed test pilot Mike Melvill, who flew the same vehicle 63.9 miles (102.9 km) on October 29. (Binnie flew the WhiteKnight mothership for this flight.)

Binnie was the last to fly the SpaceShipOne, which was donated to the Smithsonian for display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC 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 Binnie was born on April 26, 1953 in West Lafayette, Indiana. However, from the age of 5 to his teenage years he lived with his family in Scotland. Upon returning to the United States, he earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics from Brown University in Rhode Island.

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Binnie also has a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey. There Binnie learned to fly, first aboard a glider as a member of the school’s Soaring Society and then as a student testing experimental designs at Princeton’s Flight Research Center.

This experience prompted him to enlist in the US Navy in 1978. Binnie completed five tours of operations, including 490 arrested landings on aircraft carriers, and saw combat as part of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Southern Watch.

He graduated from the US Naval 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 in 1998 with the rank of commander after accumulating more than 4,300 flight hours.

Before joining Scaled in 2000, Binnie worked as a test pilot for Rotary Rocket, proving that the company’s Roton vertical takeoff and landing vehicle can return to Earth under spinning rotors.

“We did what we promised…demonstrate control of the vehicle in the landing pattern,” Binnie told

Prior to his flight into space, Binnie flew SpaceShipOne twice, including the first powered flight on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. He also flew on WhiteKnight on 12 joint flights with SpaceShipOne.

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After leaving Scaled in 2014, Binnie joined XCOR Aerospace as a lead engineer and test pilot, joining former NASA astronaut Rick Searfoss in the development of the company’s Lynx suborbital vehicle family.

For his 2004 suborbital spaceflight, Binnie was awarded Civilian Astronaut Wings by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and honored by the Gathering of Eagles Foundation. As a member of the team behind SpaceShipOne, Binnie was awarded the Space Foundation’s Space Achievement Award and received the Robert J. Collier Trophy from the National Aeronautic Association.

In 2006, Binnie appeared in a series of television commercials for Miller Lite beer, appearing as part of the “old man order” as described by actor and narrator Burt Reynolds. In 2009, Binnie became a brand ambassador for Ball Watches.

In 2021, Binnie self-published The Magic and Menace of SpaceShipOne: A First-Person History of the World’s First Commercial Spaceflights, sharing more than 400 pages of his experiences with the XPRIZE-awarded spacecraft.

Binnie is survived by his wife Bub and their three children Justin, Jonathan and Jennifer.

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