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Interview with Col Rick Searfoss

Firehole Technologies,, recently completed a phase of finite element analysis for XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx, a suborbital vehicle being designed and built for the commercial space tourism industry.

This craft, first unveiled in March, 2008, will be built utilizing composite materials. The two-seat suborbital spaceship, roughly the size of a small private airplane, will carry people or payloads to an altitude where they will experience weightlessness and see the stars above and the Earth and its atmosphere below. The composites analysis provided by Firehole will lead to faster construction assisting in the Lynx’s targeted first take off in 2010.

A crucial element aiding in the 2010 targeted launch is Col. Rick Searfoss. As a Former NASA Astronaut, and a previous test pilot for XCOR, Col. Searfoss will be a primary test pilot for the Lynx suborbital vehicle. Through his extensive aerospace experience, Col. Searfoss is an obvious choice to pilot the Lynx. His aerospace knowledge and experience comprise of piloting two space shuttle missions, STS-58 (October 18 to November 1, 1993) and STS-76 (March 22-31, 1996), and commanding the STS-90 mission (April 17 to May 3, 1998). Including spending 39 days in space, Col. Searfoss has logged over 5900 hours flying time in 71 different types of aircraft. He is also no stranger to XCOR and has piloted XCOR’s EZ-Rocket 8 times; most notably at the Countdown to the X-Prize Cup in Las Cruces, NM, October 2005. He also flew all forty test flights of the XCOR Rocket Racer LOX/kerosene prototype, including three airshow flights at the 2008 Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Oshkosh AirVenture.

Firehole Technologies recognized a unique opportunity to interview Col. Rick Searfoss. The following interview occurred on July 9, 2009:

Q: How long have you been a test pilot with XCOR and what previous test pilot experience have you had?"

A: I spent nine years in the astronaut core as a test pilot. Prior to that I spent time as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force base in California. I was also a graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School."

Q: What attracted you to becoming a test pilot?

A: My Father was in the Air Force so I grew up around aviation; plus I always wanted to be an astronaut and being a test pilot was the only pathway to the field."

Q: What are you most looking forward to when flying the Lynx suborbital vehicle?

A: I am really looking forward to returning home safely," he laughs, "I will be testing a brand new vehicle, so I must approach it methodically with all my prior lessons taken into consideration while flying the Lynx. However, I am very excited to be part of something that has never done before, especially while working alongside a group of very experienced, talented and creative people."

Q: As an experienced pilot, what are some unique challenges that you foresee with suborbital flight?

A: "Testing the changes in aerodynamics in the transonic regime, where some of the flow around the vehicle is supersonic while some still remains subsonic, due to the potential flying qualities and handling challenges that might arise. Other than that, the whole aspect is getting it out of the atmosphere, using the reaction control system. It effectively is a spacecraft, so it will be interesting to take it higher and faster."

Q: What has been your most memorable flight to date?

A: "Definitely the space shuttle mission I commanded. It was the most complex and arguably the most productive research mission to date, and incredibly rewarding. This Neurolab mission involved very specialized and challenging experiments. It remains the only Space Shuttle mission to have an entire book published of peer-reviewed scientific papers from its experimental results."

Q: What has been your favorite vehicle to fly to date?

A: "Well the Columbia was a very unique vehicle to fly, but based on pure fun, I would have to say the P-51 Mustang!"

Q: Do you have a nickname at XCOR?

A: "I don’t really have a nick-name specific to XCOR. I had call sign in test pilot school that developed because I was one of the oldest guys in the class, and already married with children, so they called me ‘Pops" and it stuck," he laughs.

Q: Who are your role models?

A: "I do not necessarily have a professional role model; however, the technology behind the flight, rockets, engines, etc has always intrigued me. Yet I do have a very strong personal role model – my father. He sets a great example as a man of character, integrity, and patriotism."

Q: Do you have a favorite quote/saying?

A: "I do. It is a quote by Teddy Roosevelt.

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never tasted victory or defeat."

"The quote illustrates the attitude of taking risks, mixing it up and understanding that visions can be challenging but to push past the challenge and go for it. The team at XCOR has the same attitude shared among coworkers. I love working with other people who want to take on great challenges to accomplish new things," says Col. Searfoss.

Firehole Technologies supplies innovative computer-aided simulation software and services for composite materials to the aerospace, defense, automotive and energy industries. Firehole’s Helius:MCT software enables the design of composite structures without the numerous expensive testing cycles traditionally deployed, allowing for a faster time-to-market and more reliable designs. The company’s mission is to enable wide-spread use of composite materials leading to lighter, stronger and more fuel efficient applications. For more information, visit

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About Firehole Technologies Inc.


Jason Gies
Firehole Technologies Inc.

Read more about the Lynx suborbital vehicle.

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