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William Whitehorn – Keynote Speaker

Chief of the Air Staff, Royal Air Force and Former President, Virgin Galactic

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Specialist Subjects

  • Breakthrough Innovation
  • From vision to strategy
  • Large scale project delivery
  • Technology and Investment
  • Leadership and Transformation
  • Invention and Innovation


  • English

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William Whitehorn is the Chief of the Air Staff for the Royal Air Force, serving on the Air Force Board, Air Force Board Executive, the Air Audit Committee, and Air Ranks Promotion Board. Prior to his he was Richard Branson’s right-hand man, and took the space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, from a mere dream to a project with real spacecraft and its own spaceport. 2014 saw the first commercial flights one hundred miles above the Earth’s surface. Regulation dictated that he hand over to a US-based President (he now chairs a body promoting British expertise in integrated transport), but nobody is better placed to tell the story of Virgin’s role as aviation pioneer.

Previously a search-and-rescue helicopter crewman in the North Sea, Whitehorn once had to pluck Branson out of danger. He went on to become Virgin Brand Development and Corporate Affairs Director, Branson’s right-hand man.

After working on large scale Virgin projects including the Pendolino train, William Whitehorn took up the post of President of Virgin Galactic. He was at the helm of developing commercial space travel, steering Virgin Galactic from concept to reality. He convinced investors, oversaw technical plans and developed a strategy which will soon lead to daily flights one hundred miles above the Earth’s surface.

After handing over to a US-based President for the next phase, Whitehorn has returned to venture capital, brands and communication. He was a founding shareholder of Purplebricks Group PLC. He is Chairman of the Scottish event campus, the Scottish Gallery and Deputy Chairman of Stagecoach Group PLC. He is also Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

Most recently he helped the owners of Clyde Space merge their satellite manufacturing company and put it on a firm footing for global expansion. He also joined the board of The Royal Air Force in 2018.

William Whitehorn draws the distinction between invention and innovation – and argues that with the right incentives, the private sector can create a whole new industrial revolution in space.

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