Virgin Galactic, the privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the appointment of its newest pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Latimer, US Air Force, Ret. A former combat veteran and retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Latimer joins Virgin Galactic with extensive experience with heavy aircraft and as an experimental test pilot for NASA, Boeing, and the US Air Force. 

Latimer was the first female research test pilot hired by NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, where she conducted experimental flight test and test support on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747SP, T-38, C-17, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, BE200 and T-34 for various NASA research projects.

Latimer’s service with the US Air Force began with undergraduate pilot training at Reese Air Force Base, TX and as a T-38 instructor pilot. She graduated from the US Air Force Test Pilot School Edwards Air Force Base, where her roles included C-17 Instructor Aircraft Commander, C-141 experimental test pilot, and Senior USAF Advisor to the Iraqi Air Force and its reconnaissance squadron. Latimer personally flew 90+ combat sorties with members of IqAF Sq 70 and flew 130+ combat hours in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. As 418th Flight Test Squadron Commander and Global Reach Combined Test Force, she led more than 650 military, civilians and contractors to execute developmental and operational testing of airlift and special ops systems and commanded a flight test squadron of 280 personnel. 

Before joining Virgin Galactic, Latimer held positions at Boeing where she was a key team member on system development, aircraft design, engineering and certification and conducted the very first flight tests of Boeing’s KC-46/767 aerial tanker program. Latimer also served as Deputy Director for Airlift Operations and Chief Pilot for C-17 and was responsible for operations globally, managing test pilots and other aircrew to prepare for and conduct safe test flight operations and ensuring the application of crew resource management principles.

Latimer has logged more than 6,000 flight hours and more than 1,000 hours in test flight in over 30 aircraft. She is type rated in heavy aircraft and fighters including B767/B757, B737, B787, and T-38/F-5. Latimer graduated with honors and distinction with a bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and a master’s degree in astronautics from George Washington University.

Virgin Galactic’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses said: “Our pilot corps, led by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, is an integral part of Virgin Galactic’s talented commercial operations team, and 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. We look forward to Kelly’s contributions in what is sure to be a busy and exciting year ahead.”

Latimer said, “I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything. Flying is the tip of the iceberg: some 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. I’m thrilled that my test pilot experience has led me to Virgin Galactic and look forward to making access to space for everybody a reality.”