Sci Station Canada

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Feeney: Inspired amateur on a shoestring

Good article on da Vinci on Wired News: Self-Taught Pilot Going to Space

"Feeney hinted that Wild Fire will be ready for a first ascent by the end of September.
'One of the things I've been telling the media in the last few weeks is that (Rutan) beat us to the starting line by about 90 days,' Feeney said in a telephone interview. 'But we're going to make it to the starting line, too.'
A launch 90 days after SpaceShipOne's maiden flight would come sometime around Sept. 20. Feeney says the da Vinci Project will unveil further details for Wild Fire in Toronto on July 21. But he didn't go beyond that in talking about the group's schedule and also declined to discuss plans for test flights before a prize attempt."

So try to arrange to be in Saskatchewan arround that time! I never realised how little industry experience Feeney had ...

Feeney describes himself as being an "entrepreneur and inventor all of my life" who spent "part of a year" at the University of Toronto but has no formal training as an engineer. Unlike Melvill, a veteran test pilot with 7,000 hours' flight time in 138 different aircraft, Feeney's a relative novice to flying. He said he's put in about 25 hours flying light planes.

But Feeney said experience in planes isn't as important as it might seem. He pointed out he's been doing intensive simulator training at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto. He said the ground training is actually more relevant than conventional flight time.

"A ballistic rocket does not fly like an aircraft," he said. "The way that you fly is completely different."

That's because guiding the Wild Fire capsule will depend on continual use of the craft's RCS controls -- the reaction control system, an array of thrusters used to steer and orient the craft as it climbs out of the atmosphere. That's experience that can't be gained in a plane, said Feeney.

You've got to hand it to him - the man's got guts! The prime movers of the X-Prize teams seem to be split between long time AeroSpace industry warriors like Rutan and inspired amateurs like Feeney.

Another surprise from the article is the shoestring budget. I mean I knew that da Vinci was mainly volunteer effort but ...

[Feeney] estimates the entire effort, which dates back to 1996, has cost "$1 million Canadian in cash and $4 million Canadian in kind" -- the equivalent of $3.8 million in U.S. currency. That compares with the $20 million or more invested so far in SpaceShipOne by Allen.

"Burt Rutan said he developed his ship for the same money NASA would have spent on a study of the concept," Feeney said. "We did it for the price of the paper clips that would have held the study together."

Watch the skys.


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