THE BLOG

'Some People Call Me the Space Cowboy ...'

02/12/2014 13:50 GMT | Updated 31/01/2015 10:59 GMT

A stellar contradiction about the confused Sir Richard Branson was overlooked by both The Mail on Sunday ("Branson labeled 'outrageous' over attempts to distance himself from Friday's tragic crash", 2nd November) and Financial Times ("Brand it like Branson", 6th November).

Ten years ago I first learned of Mr Branson's tendency to refract the reality fields around potentially deadly aerospace enterprises. In 2004 a press conference and promotional photo shoot occurred at Mojave, California, with the exemplary businessman, adventurer and multi-talented pilot Steve Fossett. He was finalizing his risky (but eventually successful) brainchild project: to fly around the world, solo and non-stop, in the jet-powered GlobalFlyer. Mr Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic, was the Title Sponsor.

Mr Branson attended the press conference but required that he be photographed with Mr Fossett and GlobalFlyer. Mr Fossett agreed to his sponsor's demand. Mr Branson next insisted he would, like Mr Fossett, appear in a GlobalFlyer-liveried flight suit. Agreed as well. The subsequent publicity photo showed Mr Branson beaming alongside Mr Fossett in front of GlobalFlyer.

Remarkably, Mr Branson also successfully stipulated that he be publicly designated as GlobalFlyer's backup pilot. Which was outrageous since Mr Branson was not a fixed-wing pilot and lacked even a learner's permit. Mr Branson to this day has not qualified as an aircraft pilot (propeller- or jet-powered).

This tendency for Mr Branson to distort reality via signature press conference 'optics' persists. For VirginGalactic publicity photos in 2008 he appeared in a type of pressurized spacesuit used by NASA astronauts aboard (or more likely working outside) the orbiting Space Shuttle or International Space Station. In reality, would-be VirginGalactic passengers would be able to achieve their few minutes of weightlessness in shirtsleeves.

In fact, for experiential junkies another company can reliably "... sure show you a good time ...". It flies tried and true G-Force aircraft from multiple U.S. locations. Those vehicles provide passengers with fifteen magnificent weightless experiences per flight, or eight minutes of total float time (versus maybe four to five minutes aboard a VirginGalactic flight). Moreover, each G-Force seat costs a mere 1/50th of VirginGalactic's $250,000 fee.

Sir Richard Branson's "... luvvy-duvvy all the time ..." PR machine has long wheezed that he and his family will be VirginGalactic's first passengers. Really? Let's hope the company's skilled pilots, worried customers and serious Abu Dhabi investors manage to wrest the controls away from that backseat space cowboy.

The three quoted lyrics are borrowed from the Steve Miller Band's hit song of 1973.

Jim Egan

President

FERRUMAR