Dave Mackay accepted his honorary Doctor of Technology (Hon DTech) in The Music Hall, Aberdeen, on Wednesday 11 December.
As Chief Pilot for a commercial space-flight company, Dave flew the VSS Unity higher and faster than any of Virgin Galactic’s previous missions and crossed NASA’s official boundary for space on 22 February 2019.
Born in the north of Scotland, Dave regularly witnessed fighter jets from RAF Lossiemouth train over Helmsdale, the village where he was raised. It was these experiences of seeing the low, fast jets streak across the skies that ignited his excitement for adventure and would eventually lead to him becoming a test pilot, and later to the astronaut he is today.
Professor John Harper, Principal of RGU, said: “Dave’s renowned flight and decorated career show that courage, persistence and grabbing hold of opportunities when they present themselves are traits that often lead to an eventful and rewarding future. We are excited to welcome him on stage to share our appreciation of his accomplishments through this honorary award.”
Dave joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1979 where he gained 16 years of experience, flew the famous Harrier jump jets capable of vertical take-off and landing, and undertook test pilot training in 1987. In 1992 he became the commanding officer of fast-jet testing at the RAF test centre in Boscombe Down, and was later awarded the Air Force Cross for services to test flying. On leaving the RAF in 1995, Dave became a commercial pilot and Captain for Virgin Atlantic, flying both Boeing 747 and Airbus A340 aircraft.
In 2005, he saw an opportunity to fulfil his early ambitions of becoming an astronaut when Virgin Galactic was announced by Sir Richard Branson. Dave joined them as a test pilot, flying both the spaceship and the carrier aircraft that releases it.
Always driven by the experiences of his childhood in Scotland, Dave fulfilled his lifelong ambition in February of 2019. He manoeuvred his spacecraft and its rocket engine to three times the speed of sound, and to an eventual height of 294,900ft (55.85 miles). In that moment, high above our Earth, he realised he had crossed the official NASA boundary for space. Dave Mackay became the 569th person to do so, and the first who was born and bred in Scotland.