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Virgin Galactic Recruits Female Test Pilot Kelly Latimer

Virgin Galactic’s Second SpaceShipTwo Spaceliner
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo spaceliner is lowered onto its landing gear for the first time. On Nov. 9, 2015, Virgin Galactic announced the selection of NASA test pilot Kelly Latimer as the latest spaceship pilot to join its ranks. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Kelly Latimer, the first female research test pilot ever to join what is now NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, has joined Virgin Galactic as the spaceflight company's newest pilot.

Kelly Latimer, experienced research test pilot and newest Virgin Galactic flier. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Latimer, a retired a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, worked on NASA projects such as the 747 space shuttle carrier aircraft, the T-34 and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a flying astronomical observatory.

"I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything," Latimer said in a statement from Virgin Galactic. "Flying is the tip of the iceberg: Some [of] the most meaningful work for me will be joining Virgin Galactic's team with their incredible experience and organization to complete the vehicles' design and test and setting up operations before the first flight." [Photos from SOFIA, NASA's Flying Telescope]

 Latimer has more than 6,000 flight hours and 1,000 test flight hours in over 30 aircraft during her work with NASA, the Air Force and Boeing. 

"Kelly's impressive leadership in operations and experience with heavy aircraft and as a test pilot make her well-suited for our upcoming return to flight," Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic's senior vice president of operations, said in the same statement. "We look forward to Kelly's contributions in what is sure to be a busy and exciting year ahead."

Latimer is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, having worked as an instructor at Edwards Air Force Base and as senior advisor to the Iraqi air force. She flew more than 90 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and she was also the 418th Flight Test Squadron commander.

At Boeing, Latimer was involved with system development as well as aircraft design, engineering and certificate. She did the first flight tests for the company's KC-46/767 aerial tanker program, and was deputy director for airlift operations (as well as chief pilot) for the C-17.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.