How planes became spaceplanes - Aviation for Aviators
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How planes became spaceplanes



After the first manned flight of the Wright brothers, it did not take more than 20 years to consider space flight, with the concepts and dreams of two men interested in reaching outer space. Herman Oberth, one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics, and Wernher von Braun, his student, later known for helping Germany’s Rocket Development Program and The Space program of the United States. After Wernher’s studies, the ballistic missile V-2  became the first artificial object to reach space. Next, ideas of creating orbital and space transportation grew, and proposals of vehicles that combine propulsion engines, wings, and spacecraft control were emerging.

The V-2 rocket. Source:

Reaching outer space is no easy task, but considering re-entry to earth with the same vehicle is even more complex since it involves crossing several atmosphere layers in which the flight dynamics and atmospheric conditions change significantly. Therefore, designing a vehicle that overcomes all of these stages is challenging. One difficulty would be deciding the type of take-off or launching, some examples of launching systems include using a mothership (aircraft carrier), or rocket busters. Another challenge is the endurance to the space environment, and a notable one, the atmospheric re-entry.

One of the first concepts of spaceplane was the Silbervogel, a sub-orbital bomber invented by Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt in the late 1930s. This incorporated rocket technology and the principles of fixed-wing aircraft, performing flight at Mach 13 (approximately 12,348 km/h) and a cruize altitude of 160 km. The spaceplane was intended to take off utilizing a rail track using rockets and to have a range of 23,400 km. This project did not go beyond drawings, however, after the war, copies of the paper fell into the Americans and Russians.

Silbervogel concept. Source:

Numerous studies were appearing with variations of the Sänger and Bredt proposal, continuing with the idea in the United States. The hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft X-15, a spaceplane in the X-plane series. It was developed with a joint program by NASA, the Air Force, the Navy, and North American Aviation, and it is considered the most aeronautical successful research program in history.

The X-15 being launched from the mothership aircraft. Source:

Because of the large fuel consumption of its rocket engine, the X-15 needed a mothership aircraft, so it is launched from a B-52 aircraft at about 45,000 ft and speeds upward of 500 mph. The wonderful thing about this aircraft is the data collected for reaching the edge of outer space is important information for aircraft and spacecraft design. In addition to training for the promotion for pilots to astronauts, a well-known pilot was Neil Armstrong, later astronaut and the first man on the Moon.

The aircraft met some records of altitude and speed, the X-15 has exceeded a speed of 7,274 Km/h, a record that is still unbeatable. It also had reached an altitude of 107.8 Km, a record for a winged aircraft.


Thus, this program added important achievements such as the demonstration that pilots can control a rocket-powered aircraft beyond the atmosphere, pilot the aircraft in the edge of the earth without air, and re-enter in the atmosphere for landing on a runway. This is the main idea and concept of a Space Shuttle mission.

An X-15, with landing skids and nose wheel down, nears the dry lakebed at Edwards AFB following a research flight, while accompanied by a NASA F-104 chase aircraft. Source:

One important fact of this vehicle is that was the first to use reaction controls for the airless environment, and control in a place where conventional aerodynamic controls do not work, giving spacecraft capabilities. Thereby, the same control concept is used in space shuttles.

The United States led efforts to continue designing and developing these types of aircraft, but in the 60’s the scope was reduced and the efforts were directed to the Gemini Program. The Gemini program comprises usage of space capsules launched by a rocket and landed by a parachute, a different approach as it is with airplanes.

NASA and the Air Force continued collaborating on developing spaceplanes testing models based on fuselage sustentation or wingless. These singular vehicles with these shapes, were the M2-F1, M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, X-24A, and X-24B. They generated valuable information about aerodynamic lift without conventional wings and based on the idea of the aircraft reentry in the atmosphere. Thereby the program also led to the development of the Space Shuttle Program.

The wingless lifting body aircraft studied the feasibility of maneuvering and landing an aerodynamic craft designed for reentry from space. Source:
The X-24B. Source:

The X-24B as a research vehicle, helped to obtain the needed information for the reentry shapes, so the program contributed to writing the flight plan of the Space Shuttle landings.

The Space Shuttle Program

Again the main idea arose, the vehicle that fulfilled many flight features. It is tagged partially reusable, using rocket boosters and an external tank, the last not reusable. the space shuttle orbiter is the spaceplane.

Space shuttle Columbia. Source:

The operational flight began in 1982, with the official program name of Space Transportation System (STS). The space shuttle program had 30 years of achievements in a space mission, many remarkable transportation missions as helping construct the International Space Station (ISS), and carrying the Hubble Space Telescope as well as repairing satellites.

Servicing mission to Hubble using the space shuttle Columbia. Source:

As many of us know that the space shuttle is exciting. When the first test STS-1, flying outer space in a two-day mission, the space shuttle orbited the earth 36 times. STS-1 was also the first U.S. crewed space vehicle launched without an uncrewed powered test flight.

Personally, looking back on it, I think the shuttle has been one of the most marvelous vehicles that has ever gone into space or done anything Bob Crippen, the iconic pilot on the first space shuttle mission in 1981.

So briefly, how it operates. The space shuttle is launched by rockets and used its integrated engines as well. After that, at an altitude of 46,000 meters, it releases the solid rocket boosters. Therefore, the flight continues with the spaceplane engines but with the external fuel tank still engaged. Finally, it released the external fuel tank and continue the trajectory to orbit.

The Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Boosters break away from Columbia’s External Tank. Source:

While in orbit and depending on the mission assigned, it reaches the orbit needed for the work, and the operations and services start in the space working as a spacecraft. An example of known missions entailed scientific payload as telescopes and docking with the Mir Space Station.

Space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian Mir space station. Source:

For the re-entry at the earth, the spaceplane maneuvers to an upside-down with the right orientation to re-enter the atmosphere, using the reaction control system jets. The reentry was defined at an altitude of 120 km and a travel speed of Mach 25. Thus, descending at a lower atmosphere where ailerons and control surfaces can be effective because of the air presence like an airplane. At the end of the flight, the spaceplane lands on an assigned runway.

space shuttle Discovery at landing. Source:


  • For Fiscal Year 2010, the average cost to prepare and launch a shuttle mission was approximately $775 million.
  • Shuttle Endeavour, the orbiter built to replace shuttle Challenger, cost approximately $1.7 billion to build.
  • The life of the shuttleprogram has cost $113.7 billion. (Not adjusted for inflation).

The retirement of this program type was announced in January 2004. Once the construction of the ISS was completed, it was planned the usage of this spaceplane. However other missions were approved. It was not until the 2011 that the final mission was performed with the Atlantis space shuttle.

Atlantis at landing, its final flight. July 21, 2011. Source:

Others Spaceplane design concepts

The Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) the Boeing X-37, a reusable robotic spacecraft, it has a launch vehicle and after its operation in space returns to earth as and spaceplane. The main purpose is served as test for the Reusable Space Technologies.

X-37. Source:

The Dream Chaser, a reusable spaceplane intended to operate for space transportation and supply the ISS with cargo. In the same way as all spaceplanes were created, this descended from a series of spaceplanes such as The wingless lifting body aircraft from NASA.

Dream chaser. Source:

Among others designs of spaceplanes, are the Spaceship one and Spaceship two, experimental air-launched rocket-powered aircraft. Being launched by a mothership aircraft. this project and its achievements are comparable to the X-15 explained before. It was the first private spacecraft and this company was owned by the Virgin group.

Spaceship One. Source:

There are many conceptual designs of spaceplane, but reaching outer space as a complex task also expensive, requires the actual researches to look for other variants and approaches, and we take for granted that next years will be many more models. The thing we can see is that these operations of reaching space was devised by the thoughts of rocket scientists, pilots, engineers and of course dreamers.




  1. DawnSeeker / DawnHoof

    17/11/2020 at 06:45

    Wonderful. My personal story of the Space Shuttle involves a massive sonic boom, which spooked my horse and I while traversing a steep section of wilderness trail in our local forest. I thought the great sound to be an explosion from the valley below, but saw no flames. It was the next day that I learned the Shuttle had landed at Edwards Air Force Base, my area being on the incoming flight path. Good thing I was riding a well-behaved horse! Stay well :)) Dawn

    • edgarrm73

      17/11/2020 at 14:50

      A great anecdote i know that was fantastic! and yes, everything that has to do with a sonic boom, it is like an explosion that can be heard by a whole valley or city, confusing everyone. regards…

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The Story of the A220, how it Came About and How it’s Becoming Popular




Aside from the fact that the Airbus A220 is the only airbus aircraft to not have a 3 in its name, the A220 is special from the fact that it isn’t fully made by Airbus, but instead a joint venture between them and Bombardier. This is all because of what some might call a mistake made by Boeing, causing Airbus to acquire a 50.01% stake in the company. In this article I explore its controversial creation, and why it’s needed.


The Airbus A220 was first named the “CSeries” by Bombardier, and was meant to cater to the demand of small aircraft in between their current-sized fleet and those larger already made by Airbus and Boeing. The particular area where it was expected to boom were the US markets, given there is always demand to be flying from small airports as there is no lack of them in the large country. At first, things were running smoothly and it was expected to enter commercial service in 2014, just one year after its first flight. However, things turned out not to go as planned, and the CSeries encountered issues on one of its test flights, causing it to miss the Farnborough air show, the largest in the industry, and delay its release. This was not good for the aircraft, nearly causing the project and the company to go bust, until financial aid was provided by the Canadian government.

(Credit: Simple Flying)

Boeing’s crucial mistake

Eventually, these problems were fixed, and the first CSeries was delivered to SWISS on June 26, 2016. Eventually, more orders began to come for the new aircraft, including the critical ones in the US. In fact, Bombardier was offering Delta 75 of the aircraft at $20 million a piece, a price which was even lower than the cost to build them, and a cost which was just too good to refuse. However, this was contested and was seen to be Dumping, when a manufacturer essentially gives away its aircraft as sort-of “Samples”, and is illegal in the US and other countries. Boeing was quick to take action, claiming that it was stealing the market from its 737s, despite the fact that Delta had explicitly said that they weren’t looking to purchase the variants that Boeing were claiming to be losing out. It was then decided that, given Bombardier was a foreign company, the US government would impose a 300% import tariff, something near-destructible for the company.

(Credit: Aviation Week)

Airbus saves the day

However, Airbus decided to step in and acquire a 50% stake in the company, something beneficial for both parties concerned. This was good for Bombardier, as Airbus has its final assembly station situated in Alabama in the US, meaning that seen as the aircraft technically wasn’t foreign, the import tariff wouldn’t be imposed on it. This would also help Airbus, as it would mean that the company would now profit off of an aircraft which had no competitors at the time. This allowed the aircraft to be reintroduced to the US market, allowing it to thrive.

(Credit: Aviation Week)

Where it is now

Now, the CSeries has been re-branded to be the Airbus A220, a move which has knocked it out of the park for the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer. This has allowed airbus to spend absolutely no money on development, and come away with an excellent aircraft, which is dominating its playing field. As of April 2023, 251 aircraft have been delivered, with another 785 firm orders. The airlines operating the aircraft include Delta, JetBlue, SWISS and airBaltic, who operate a fleet solely made up of the A220. When Aviation for Aviators asked their CEO, Martin Gauss, about the aircraft, he said that “The aircraft has performed beyond the company’s expectations, delivering better overall performance, fuel efficiency, and convenience for both passengers and the staff.”

(Credit: Wikipedia)


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  • Simple Flying
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Airlines of the World

An interview with Helvetic Airways CEO, Tobias Pogorevc



Helvetic Airways is a Swiss airline which operates its fleet of Embraer aircraft to destinations such as Greek islands and the Egyptian Red sea coast from their hubs in Switzerland. Their CEO, Tobias Pogorevc, has been in charge of the company since 2018 and overseen major developments such as the introduction of the Embraer E195 E2 and E190 E2 to their fleet. I put some questions to the man himself about the environment and the pandemic.

What do you see as the biggest challenge to the aviation industry at the moment?

One of the biggest challenges in the entire aviation industry is the staff situation. The pandemic
disrupted the entire aviation ecosystem and the situation is still very tense in the personnel area – both
on the ground and in the air. Helvetic Airways was able to counteract the natural fluctuation in the
cabin through early recruitment measures. In addition, as of the beginning of 2023, Helvetic Airways
has significantly expanded its existing and very popular part-time models for cabin crews, and now
offers various innovative models with “Fly your way”, in which cabin attendants can determine their
own assignments on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. Today, we employ over 240 flight attendants
and senior flight attendants in the cabin crew – more than ever before in the history of Helvetic
In the cockpit, we benefit from the good and long-standing cooperation with our sister company
Horizon Swiss Flight Academy. From this pool, we were able to recruit 24 pilots this year.
Another challenge relates to supply chains, from carpet suppliers to engine manufacturers. This will
keep the industry busy for a long time to come.

(Image credit: Aviator Newsroom)

How are you lessening the impact of Helvetic’s aircraft?

Helvetic Airways has renewed almost its entire fleet between 2019 and 2021 and now has 12 state-of-
the-art Embraer E2s – eight E190-E2s with 110 seats and four E195-E2s with 134 seats – and four
Embraer E190s. Helvetic Airways thus operates one of the most modern regional jet fleets in Europe
and the most modern fleet in Switzerland. The Embraer-E2 is currently the most environmentally
friendly regional aircraft on the market. Compared to the E1, the E190-E2 consumes 20 to 23% less
fuel per seat on European routes and the E195-E2 up to 30% less. Our own measured values are
even higher than Embraer’s factory specifications.

The E2 also sets new standards in terms of noise emissions, impressing in particular with its low noise
levels both inside the cabin and outside. The noise diagrams for departures from Zurich Airport show:
The noise contour of the Embraer E195-E2 is 28% lower than for the Airbus A319 and 60% lower than
for the Airbus A320. Particularly for airports near densely populated areas, the ability to reduce the
noise impact on people is an important factor.


What lessons did you learn from the pandemic?

In aviation, crisis situations are regularly trained for, but no one was prepared for a global crisis like the
Corona pandemic. We kept all our crews current during the pandemic so that we would be ready when
business picked up again. In retrospect, that was absolutely the right decision. But then the restart
happened faster than expected. On the one hand, we all had to get back to the “old normal” as quickly
as possible; on the other hand, the pandemic was not yet over – a balancing act that placed enormous
demands on the entire industry.
The pandemic showed us that even when things are at a standstill, you always have to keep moving.
As an airline with lean structures, we have the opportunity to implement new ideas and innovations
quickly, which proved its worth during the restart after the pandemic.

(Image credit: Aviation24be)

How is the Russo-Ukrainian war affecting Helvetic Airways’ business?

The Ukraine war and the fates associated with it are terrible but have no immediate impact on us as a
regional airline from an operational point of view. Our routes do not pass over Russian or Ukrainian
territory, which may not be flown over at present. What we do feel, however, are the indirect effects of
the war, for example on the fuel prices.

You have been CEO of the company since 2018, what has been the biggest change you have seen in the company since you became in charge?

On the one hand, as a small, private company, the fleet renewal to an E2 fleet has been very busy for
us. It is something special that we, as a niche player, can rely on the most modern fleet. But this is
only possible thanks to the financial strength of our owner, which got us through the Covid crisis even
without government aid. Today, we are financially strong, with no liabilities.
On the other hand, there was the biggest difference in the area of human resources: the needs that
applied in 2018 are outdated today. Today, we need to offer innovative and flexible working models to
recruit the best young talent. Work-life balance, diversity, inclusion must not just be buzzwords, they
must be lived.

Mr Pogorevc has been CEO of the company since 2018 (Image credit: Helvetic Airways)

Helvetic airways operates a fleet solely made up of Embraer aircraft, why was the decision made to do this?

Before unifying to an all Embraer fleet, Helvetic Airways operated Fokker100 aircraft, an Airbus A319
and Embraer E1 aircraft, four of which are still in our fleet today. The cooperation with Embraer was
excellent from the beginning and the development of the E2 series progressed well also due to our
experience and input from Switzerland. So the decision was also obvious to carry out the planned fleet
renewal in 2019 to 2021 with the new Embraer E2 models. The Embraer E2 is an aircraft of the latest
generation and therefore the right aircraft for the future. The E2 consumes significantly less fuel than
the E1 and, especially in times of high kerosene prices, it makes economic sense to operate an
aircraft that saves 20 to 30% fuel on certain routes at high load factors.
Another key reason for choosing the E2 jet was the commonalities, which is particularly advantageous
in the areas of training and maintenance.
All our pilots are certified for both the E1 and the E2, and the maintenance in our hangar is also
certified for both types of aircraft. We operate the aircraft, we maintain it and we have our own flight
school, the Horizon Swiss Flight Academy, where we train our pilots and engineers – all from Zurich.
In other words, we have specialists for all areas: training, operations and maintenance – in effect we
have become the Embraer competence center in Europe.

(Image credit: Flickr)

And Finally, what can we see in the near future for Helvetic airways?

First and foremost, our goal is to continue to offer our partners, customers and passengers reliable
flight operations with top service. In doing so, we will continue to rely on our three main pillars of
wetlease, charter and scheduled flights. Furthermore, we want to remain a good and modern employer
for our employees. Due to our manageable size, we remain agile and score with innovation and a
family atmosphere with flat hierarchies. We will continue to promote this spirit. From April, for example,
the first “Helvetic shared apartments” will be ready for occupancy – apartments rented by Helvetic
Airways and sublet to employees who do not have their main place of residence in Zurich. These
colleagues should immediately feel at home in our Helvetic family!

(Credit: Helvetic Airways)

Cover image credit: Flikr

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Brussels Airlines’ Female Crew on International Women’s Day 2023



Brussels Airlines Airbus 320, painted with the Bruegel Livery. Taken at Ben Gurion airport.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day 2023, Brussels Airlines made history by operating a flight from Brussels to Marseille with an all-female cockpit crew. This milestone marks the first time that the airline had ever flown with an all-female cockpit crew, and it sends a powerful message of support for gender equality in the aviation industry.

Brussels Airlines is the flag carrier airline of Belgium and operates flights to over 120 destinations, with a fleet of more than 50 aircraft offering both economy and business class seating. The airline is also committed to sustainability and supports social initiatives through its charity program, for Africa. Its subsidiary, Brussels Airlines Cargo, provides cargo services.

Captain Anne-Sophie Godart, First Officer Charlotte Verstraete, and Flight Engineer Virginie Dupon, all highly experienced pilots with a combined total of more than 25,000 flight hours, were the crew who operated the special flight. The three women were honored to be part of this historic event, with Captain Godart stating, “It’s an honor to be part of this flight and to be able to make a statement about gender equality in the aviation industry. We are proud to be able to show that women can do the same job as men, and that we can do it just as well.”

The flight was a success, and the crew received cheers and applause upon arrival in Marseille. It was a powerful statement of support for gender equality in the aviation industry, and a reminder that women are capable of anything men can do.

Brussels Airlines has been actively recruiting more female pilots and creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all of its employees. This flight was a proud moment for the airline, which is committed to promoting gender equality in the aviation industry and providing equal opportunities for all.


As International Women’s Day 2023 is celebrated, it is a time to acknowledge the progress made in the fight for gender equality, but also recognize the work that still needs to be done. Brussels Airlines‘ all-female cockpit crew serves as a beacon of hope for aspiring female pilots and a symbol of progress for the aviation industry as a whole.

Let us soar higher on this International Women’s Day 2023, celebrating the fearless women who have conquered the skies and shattered stereotypes in aviation, inspiring generations to come.

Captain Anne-Sophie Godart, pilot of Brussels Airlines’ all-female crew, celebrates International Women’s Day 2023 in the cockpit
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