Virgin Galactic shows off mothership aircraft

The space tourism race marked a milestone Monday as British mogul Sir Richard Branson and American aerospace designer Burt Rutan waved to a crowd from inside the cabin of an exotic jet that will carry a passenger spaceship to launch altitude.

The photo-op was the public unveiling of the White Knight Two mothership before a crowd of engineers, dignitaries and space enthusiasts at the Mojave Air & Space Port in the high desert north of Los Angeles.

The four-engine jet, with its 140-foot single wing, is an engineering marvel. The space between its twin fuselages is where SpaceShipTwo, the passenger rocket being built for Branson’s Virgin Galactic, will be mounted.

White Knight Two, billed as the world’s largest all-carbon-composite airplane, is “one of the most beautiful and extraordinary aviation vehicles ever developed,” Branson proclaimed.

The Associated Press: Virgin Galactic shows off mothership aircraft.