Yes, I am absolutely convinced that I had the absolute best seat in the house for the Space Ship One launch, other than the one in the cockpit (and yes, I am bragging).
Went to see the launch late last night, with about 20 cadets and a few senior members from our Civil Air Patrol squadron. I had been pushing to get our squadron up to see it since the launch had been announced, and we finally made it up there.
Arrived about 2:15AM, and promptly went to our mission base for the event. Things were quite hectic, nobody had a chance for any rest (especially those of us who drove!), and we had to improvise a bit to get all areas covered.
After I had spent a couple of hours solving some of the inevitable problems we had getting our cadets settled in, the commander of the mission offered me a 'job' -- I could go and assist the cadets in the press media area. All thoughts of sleep quickly vanished!!!
I grabbed my binoculars, video camera, and digital camera, and hitched a ride over to the media area. Of course, I managed to forget my scanner, but that ended up being a minor glitch.
It turned out better than I could have imagined -- my job was to essentially make sure the cadets didn't run out of water, take their photos for our publication, and spend any free time taking pictures and looking at things myself. The good news is that I am absolutely convinced no one there had a better seat--as I had the free run of the entire media area, which even the media didn't have. Since the CAP was actually providing the perimeter security (along with the sheriff), I was able to get farther along into some parts in order to see the launch.
Now for the bad news -- I don't think I got too much in the way of photos/videos. However, I'll post whatever turns out reasonably well. The reasons are many, and none are really excusable, but that's just the way it turned out. For example, in some parts I was trying to take a still photo and a video at the same time, with the result that I probably got neither. Other times, I would 'find' Space Ship One visually, then end up getting the chase plane in my viewfinder and not realizing it. I did, I think, get a few good frames from a binocular/camera, but I'm still trying to get everything downloaded.
The entire day was beyond description. During the night, the winds were up to 45MPH, and there was quite a bit of consternation from the crowd that they would not be able to launch. When dawn broke (an absolutely beautiful, clear day), the winds began to calm, and by about 6:15 were 'calmer', but still a little brisk. Shortly thereafter, the roar of the White Knight's engines broke the morning calm, and the entire contraption came around the corner towards us, and sped down the taxiway. The two ships took off very quickly (there was no moss growing on any of the aircraft this morning). There were also a couple of chase planes to follow the mission up to launch altitude.
The aircraft/spacecraft combo continued to climb over about an hour, and crossed back and forth over the airport several times. They turned some smoke generators on a couple of times to help the spectators track everything, which helped enormously. The strange nature of both the spacecraft and the chase planes was absolutely beautiful. There was an electric tension in the atmosphere the whole morning, as folks knew history was being made (no matter WHAT the outcome).
Several folks had aircraft scanners on speakers, so it was easy to hear what was going on. When the spacecraft finally launched, it took me a few moments to spot it (due to my vision problems), but I managed to catch a could part of the rocket streaking skyward, until it disappeared from view. The crowd was visibly excited during the boost phase, and then the tension grew once it went solely ballistic. This was heightened by the callout from the spacecraft that the engine had shut down itself, that it hadn't been shut down early by Mike Melvill. Listening to the voice broadcasts then became the only way to know what was going on, and folks were visibly worried about whether he'd make the62 mile limit.
After he peaked and began his reentry procedure, there were many tense minutes with everyone trying to spot the aircraft as it descended back to the airport. Suddenly, it appeared over the airport, being 'herded' by the mother ship and the chase planes. It came down to an absolutely astonishing landing, DIRECTLY in front of me (touchdown, that is). Shortly after landing, they announced the preliminary findings that the flight had been successful (in regards to altitude), and another big cheer rose up from the crowd (there were MANY such cheers today).
It was the experience of a lifetime, just to be there and witness this century's equivalent of the Gagarin/Shepard flights. There wasn't a person in our Civil Air Patrol squadron who didn't feel the same way. I honestly can't find the words to express how fantastic this day has been.
Will add to this at some point, but right now, after driving back down from Mojave, I haven't slept in over 36 hours, and am nearing collapse (but jazzed!!!).