Stu Witt Era in Mojave Coming to an End

Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)
Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt (Credit: Bill Deaver)

After nearly 12 years at the helm of the Mojave Air and Space Port, CEO and General Manager Stu Witt plans to retire no later than the end of his current contract on July 1, 2015.

On Tuesday, the spaceport’s Board of Directors formed a three-person committee to begin the process of finding a replacement for the spaceport’s long-serving chief. Directors Jim Balentine and Marie Walker will serve on the group, which will develop requirements for the position but not a list of possible replacements, Board President JoAnn Painter said.

Asked if he might leave earlier than July 2015, Witt said he served at the pleasure of the board. He added that under his contract, he is required to give the board two notices, one at 24 months and another at 6 months.

Rumors have been floating around Mojave for several months now that Witt was planning his departure, possibly as early as the first half of 2014. There was no definitive confirmation of his plan to retire until today’s Board of Directors meeting.

As evidence that Witt’s departure could come sooner rather than later, the board agreed to his request to transfer $250,000 from other accounts to fund additional renovation work on the Pool Building on Poole Street during the current fiscal year that ends on June 30, 2014.

Witt told board members he wanted to complete work on the $1.65 million renovation project during his tenure. The facility, where the U.S. military once did water egress training for pilots, is being renovated to serve as an all–purpose community center.  Although three events have been held in the facility to date, additional work is needed on the structure.

Witt is generally viewed as being a strong CEO and general manager who has significantly improved the spaceport during his tenure and has positioned the facility as a leading test center for aviation and space research.

One of his signature accomplishments has been a 10-year deal to support the booming local wind industry. The airport serves as a staging ground for windmill components that are trucked into the nearby mountains. This deal has brought in a significant amount of funding to support and expand the airport’s operations.

During his tenure, The Spaceship Company and Stratolaunch have chosen to locate at the airport, constructing two new hangars and production facility. More construction is expected to occur along Taxiway B near The Spaceship Company hangar.

In addition to renovating the Pool Building, Witt also undertook the expansion of power, water and fiber optic cables to the test area on the north side of the airport. The project significantly improved conditions at the heretofore primitive test sites used by Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, XCOR and other airport tenants.

During Witt’s tenure, Scaled Composites built and tested SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded spaceship. The company won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by becoming the first private vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.

Scaled Composites is now test flying the successor, SpaceShipTwo, which it is building for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The suborbital space plane flew under power twice earlier this year.

Witt said he would be getting to bed early this evening so he can be at work bright and early on Wednesday morning. Although he didn’t say so, SpaceShipTwo’s third powered flight is scheduled then.

  • Jonathan A. Goff

    It’ll be sad to see Stu go. He’s been a key player in putting Mojave on the map as a sort of Mecca for commercial suborbital space development.