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Pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and spacecraft Essay


The impact of pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and space aircraft since 1945 is one that cannot be ignored. Since the inception of space program in mid 20th century, pilots have been an integral part of space exploration programs in US and Europe.

This is demonstrated by the Project Mercury space program and it’s over-reliant on military test pilot as part of the mission.

The technical skills possessed by these pilots and their ability to fly sophisticated aircrafts both in space exploration missions and air combat has evolved since 1945 and undoubtedly continuous to play critical role in the modern age of space programs and air combat missions.

Compare and contrast Pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and space aircraft and how it has evolved since 1945

The civil aviation industry has constantly been making progress since the inception of commercial air travel in Florida in the early 20th century. Moreover, all divisions of aeronautical sciences and technology have recorded a magnificent evolution to maintain this progress.

The major input by aerodynamics, propulsion, structures and avionics have also been invaluable to the civil aviation industry such that the human perception of space, time and lifestyle has been altered completely (Martinez-Val, 2007, p.32).

The discourse presented in this paper will therefore trace the evolution of civil aviation with a special focus on the role of pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and space aircraft since 1945.

The history of the United State’s spaceflight can be traced back to some 50 years ago when the Soviet Union landed Sputnik successfully in the space.

The Soviet Union’s achievement compelled the Eisenhower government to initiate several space exploration programs to match and possibly, exceed the Soviet Union’s space technology.

For example, the Department of Defense provided additional resources to Wernher von Braun and his team to launch an American satellite in space. The deadline for launching the Army’s Explorer project was set on February 1st 1958, which was less than five months after the Sputnik mission.

Von Braun and his team went on to work on a crash program using a modified Jupiter C ballistic and successfully launched Explorer I in orbit on January 31, 1958 (Launius, 1995, p.355).

Later, the US Congress passed the National Aeronautic and Space Act (1958) that set up NASA which was mandated to carry out exploration on space for meaningful gain to all humankind (Launius, 1995, p.355).

The main component of NASA was derived from the previous Advisory Committee for Aeronautic that was made up of over 7000 workers and a yearly budget of over $ 90 million.

It later integrated a number of institutions such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, controlled by California Institute of Technology, Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland and some sections of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama.

These structural changes were responsible for the enormous accomplishments in space exploration in early 1960s. Specifically, the Apollo Moon landing was a critical success in the United States’ spaceflight exploration and served as the benchmark for the country’s future space exploration programs (Launius, 1995, p.356).

This viewpoint was aptly expressed by Richard Nixon after the Apollo II mission in July 1969 that the first lunar mission symbolized a major human achievement on earth since its inception (Launius, 1995, p.357). The discovery of novel technologies has significantly played a major role in pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and space aircraft.

After NASA was established in 1958, Robert R Gilruth, one of the foremost engineer in human space exploration program, was granted consent to work on Project Mercury. Under a presidential directive, NASA opted to train Mercury astronaut pilots that were selected from military service test pilot force.

These pilots were preferred due to their flying experience and other precious skills that NASA deemed important for its space mission. Test pilots possessed the ability to fly sophisticated aircrafts, identifying a problem, analyzing the source, and relaying it to the mechanics and engineers comprehensively.

Since military jet test pilots were highly disciplined, they would enable NASA to select a team of pilots who were extremely inspired and in possession of technical abilities needed in Project Mercury (Launius, 2005, p.1).

Moreover, given that majorly of the NASA staff in Project Mercury was derived from aeronautical research field, it made it easier for the agency to adopt test pilots in the project since they knew them well from their past encounters.

Thus, after a meticulous set of mental and physical examinations, including medical evaluations at the Lovelace Clinic in New Mexico, a team of six astronauts were finally selected for Project Mercury and disclosed in April 9th 1959.

These astronauts were: from the Air force, Capt. Virgil Grissom, Capt. Gordon Cooper and Capt. Slayton Donald; from the US Navy, Lt. Scott Carpenter, Lt. Cdr. Walter Schirra and Lt. Cdr. Alan Sheppard.

The main of the project was to establish if humans could endure the rigidity of takeoff and orbit in the ruthless environment of space (Launius, 2005, p.3).

The Mercury Seven astronauts were thus vital to the success of NASA’s future space exploration programs.

Since 1945, the account of aviation as from1945 has basically been characterized by the amalgamation of electronic technology and aeronautic advancement that was initially witnessed in electronic air combat in Europe.

From the more sophisticated night fighters planes combined with primal control and command nets, the world has experienced rapid technological advancement in aviation industry that has led to the development of jet aircrafts and space aircraft with modern navigation systems (Hallion, 2000, p.11).

Two major historical incidents contributed to these developments. To begin with, the nuclear face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union required unrivaled capacity to trace, track, and destroy enemy targets with precision and speed.

This was best epitomized by the US SAGE air defense system in 1950 and its combination with the F-101, F-106, F-102 and the Century series interceptors.

The use of systems technology for air to surface assault was the next phase, shown by the F-IIIA and A-6A, the first of smart aircrafts (Hallion, 2000, p.12).

The second phenomenon was the emergence of the United State’s space program that led to significant achievements in electronic flight control expertise.

Fly-by wire was a novel revolution of its kind. Given the need for high-speed flight, after 1945, the flight control technology gradually laid emphasis on hydro-mechanical structures sustained by emerging augmentation mechanisms.

It is worth to note that previous models of supersonic jet aircraft such as the F-4, the F-100 and the F-105 had periodic but serious handling traits and critical stability and control features that rendered them susceptible to enemy attack.

For example, hydraulic failures as a result of leakages could make them unmanageable by pilots in matters of seconds. This led to the inception of ‘fly by wire’ technology demonstrator and later, the development of F-6, the earliest fly-by wire military aircraft (Hallion, 2000, p.12).

The ability to make use of computer control flights and combining that capability with new patterns in aircraft design since 1980s has contributed immensely to the development of new types of aircrafts that possess incredible agility (such as the X-29 and X-31), low visibilities (B-2 and F-117 stealth fighter) or an amalgamation of these with system abilities, mainly with computer- run engine performance -examples include X-32 and X-35 Joint strike Fighter concept demonstrators and the current stealthF-22 Raptor- and system capacities.

The utilization of these abilities with new models of operation has contributed to extraordinary echelons of competence for aerospace power protrusion in air combat missions (Hallion, 2000, p.13).

For example, during the Second World War, the United States used more than 100 B-17s, delivering over 640 bombs to obliterate one German power plant. On the contrary, it took only one jet aircraft, delivering a single bomb to destroy power plant in the Gulf War.

Thus, the technological advancement in the aviation industry has led to the development of jet aircrafts with the ability to deliver payload with a high precision, from an average CEP of 3,100 ft for B-17 jet aircraft to less than nine feet for a laser guided missile.

Moreover, stealth technology proved to be valuable for future combat missions. For example, on a single attack against Shiba airfield, in Iraq, eight combat aircrafts (four Saudi Tornadoes and a similar number of A-6Es) were monitored by three drones, four F/A-18sused in combat air patrol, four F-4G Wild Weasels, and over 16 F/A-18 Harm antiradar missile shooters.

Meanwhile, the 21 F-117s attacked automatically over 39 greatly shielded aim-points all by themselves. Also, seven F-117 fighter jet aircraft could hit 16 different targets, guided by auto-pilots (Hallion, 2000, p.39).

Thus, the advent of stealth technology and use of drone planes to deliver payloads greatly reduced the number of pilots used in combat mission.

The modern age is dominated by the relationship between intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipments with high precision combat systems.

The successes achieved in military air combat over years, especially since the Gulf War undoubtedly demonstrate that the world has entered an age where the ground military combat is now heavily dependent and guided by intelligence gathered by pilots above the surface (Hallion, 2000, p.42).

Consequently, the role of pilots in flying jet aircraft and space aircraft since 1945 has immensely contributed to the major achievement witnessed in military combat and space exploration programs.


Hallion, RP. (2000). A short History of Aircraft Survivability. California: National Defense Industrial Association.

Launius, RD. (2005). Heroes in a Vacuum: The Apollo Astronaut as Cultural Icon. AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, 702, 1-12.

Launius, RD. (1995). American Spaceflight History’s Master Narrative and the Meaning of Memory. Journal of Monnon History, 21,353-387.

Martinez-Val, R. (2007). Flying Wings. A New Paradigm for Civil Aviation. Acta Polytechnica, 47, 32- 43.

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IvyPanda. "Pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and spacecraft." March 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pilots-mission-in-flying-jet-aircraft-and-spacecraft/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and spacecraft." March 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pilots-mission-in-flying-jet-aircraft-and-spacecraft/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Pilot’s mission in flying jet aircraft and spacecraft'. 28 March.

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