My Other Vehicle Was a Spacecraft

Now that the space shuttle has retired, astronauts are rediscovering the joys of flying airplanes

(Robert Seale)

Dan Brandenstein - Van’s RV-7

Dan Brandenstein
(Robert Seale)

Dan Brandenstein stepped down as United Space Alliance’s chief operating officer in February, but even before his departure, he was setting up his retirement so that the focus of it would be flying his own airplane. Brandenstein, who commanded three of his four space shuttle missions, moved with his wife from Houston to a gated aviation community outside of Austin. In front of his newly built house is a taxiway that leads to an airstrip. Best of all, Brandenstein has his own hangar, complete with an apartment and woodworking shop.

The sole occupant of the hangar is Brandenstein’s four-year-old RV-7, which gives him an affordable way to fly aerobatics. “The plane didn’t cost any more than a Porsche,” he says. “And not even a high-end Porsche. And it’s very economical: The fuel’s a little more expensive than car gas, but not a lot.”

Though Brandenstein was a Navy pilot with more than 400 carrier landings in A-6 Intruders before he joined NASA, he’s still getting used to the flight characteristics of his RV-7. “I have very little tail dragger time, and I still don’t consider myself the ace of the base in landing a tailwheel plane yet,” he says. But his landings are getting better, he adds. “I’m obviously enjoying it. Three mornings a week, I’ll get up while my wife’s still sleeping and go out and turn and burn for a half-hour and come back and probably clean the house or something.”


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