Virgin Galactic just keeps on ticking off the milestones on its way to becoming the first commercial company to take tourists on high-altitude flights to suborbital space and return them safely through the atmosphere to Earth. In the video below, we actually get to see Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo (aka VSS Enterprise) making its first “feathered” flight.
“Feathering,” as it is known, is probably the biggest innovation integrated into SpaceShipTwo’s design. In the feathered position, the entire tail section of the plane rotates upward about 65 degrees, creating a different aerodynamic shape that is highly stable yet creates tremendous drag to slow the aircraft down during re-entry. Though that drag is pretty significant, the light weight of the aircraft keeps the skin temperature from rising too high, circumventing the need for heat shields and other thermal protection.