William Brian Binnie was born on April 26, 1953, in West Lafayette, Indiana. From age 5 to his teenage years, though, he lived with his family in Scotland. After returning to the U.S., he earned his bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and a master's in fluid mechanics and thermodynamics from Brown University in Rhode Island.
Binnie also held a master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, which he earned at Princeton University in New Jersey. It was there that Binnie learned how to fly, first aboard a glider as a member of the school's Soaring Society and then testing experimental designs as a student in Princeton's flight research center. That experience led him to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1978. Binnie completed five operational tours, which
included 490 arrested landings on aircraft carriers, as well as seeing combat as part of operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Southern Watch.
He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1988 and served 13 years as a naval aviator, testing systems for the A-7 Corsair II, A-6 Intruder, and the F/A-18 Hornet.
He retired from the Navy with the rank of commander in 1998, having logged more than 4,300 flight hours.
In 1999 Brian joined Scaled Composites as a test pilot, the aerospace design firm founded by Burt Rutan (and today owned by Northrop Grumman), Binnie took off on board the SpaceShipOne rocket plane on Oct. 4, 2004. His 24-minute flight reached a peak altitude of 69.6 miles (112km), surpassing the internationally-recognized von Kármán line separating Earth's atmosphere from outer space and breaking the record for a winged craft set by the X-15 rocket plane in 1963.
Binnie was the 442nd person to fly into space.
"People called it the perfect flight. In leaving the atmosphere, as I kept the motor running to 215,000 feet, the ship had zero rolls, pitch [and] yaw rates. It was rock solid and continued on up past the X-15 altitude," Binnie told Space.com in a 2021 interview. "It was a wonderful experience."
Brian passed away suddenly of cardiovascular heart failure on September 15th, 2022. He is survived by his wife, Bub, and their three children, Justin, Jonathan, and Jennifer.
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