The team at Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic passed a milestone today with the first feathered flight of SpaceShipTwo. The flight is the first test of the re-entry configuration for the spaceship and comes as Scaled is in the middle of a busy month of flight testing for the spacecraft.
Test pilot Pete Siebold was at the controls of SS2 during the flight with Clint Nichols sitting in right seat. They were carried to 51,500 feet by WhiteKnightTwo and released. After establishing a stable glide, SS2 was put into the feather configuration which was developed by Burt Rutan with the SpaceShipOne program as a way to simplify reentry into the atmosphere after achieving sub-orbital flight.
Siebold said the spaceship flew well and there were no surprises on the flight , “this morning’s flight was a test pilot’s dream.”
In the feather position, the tail of SS2 is folded 65 degrees upwards with reference to the fuselage (pictured above). This allows the space craft to descend nearly vertically back into the atmosphere while maintaining an airspeed slow enough to prevent extreme heating on the fuselage.