Lets say we have a huge cigar shaped habitat, filled with a breathable atmosphere, and rotating on one axis at the right speed to have about 1 'g' of acceleration on the inside surface.
To give the habitat some (rather tentative and flexible) dimensions we'll say it has a Diameter of 5km, and a Length of 60km.

What would it be like to fly an aircraft (not necessarily a Spitfire) inside the habitat? What would need to be considered when flying inside the habitat? (Other than the (relative) lack of room.)

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Just read Clarke's book Rendezvous with Rama $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jan 27 '16 at 1:35

The real issue for pilots will be Coriolis effect. Your aircraft will be flying in the atmosphere, but the ground will be rotating below you. If you are flying VFR and looking at a spot "ahead" of you, you will rapidly become disoriented as it will be moving relative to your craft rather than "fixed" as you would expect on Earth. When you come in for a landing, the ground is actually moving under your aircraft, and you will need to make some pretty quick adjustments to touch down safely.

This becomes even more difficult since the effect will vary depending on which way you are oriented in the cylinder. If you are parallel to the axis, the "ground" will be moving either left or right under your feet (depending on the direction of rotation and which way you are facing), while if you are moving with the spin axis, you could conceivably be flying at full speed and have the ground stationary below you, while flying anti spinward the ground races past at an amazing relative speed. Moving at an angle to the spin axis just makes it even more complicated.

Since the air in the cylinder will tend to be "dragged" with the rotating structure, you will also encounter winds which mover with the rotating cylinder. IF the structure is massive enough, there might also be convection cells as war air rises from the warm "ground" (or alternatively if there is a "sun tube" in the middle, hot air is flowing away towards the cooler ground below).

I really have no references to calculate exactly what a pilot will see in various situations, and a lot will depend on the exact size and mechanics of the structure. Have fun flying.


Well considering that there would be no gravity in the center of the ship, it changes the needs of the aircraft. The wings would only really be needed at take off and landing.

What you really need is a prop pulling you forward and some kind of steering, which could be wing like protrusions to cause drag on one side you want to steer toward.

With the center having no 'real' gravity the plane will continue in the direction it was set, until the drag of the spinning atmosphere starts causing it to have angular momentum and starts to 'fall'.

So in many ways it will be easier, but it will also have to train pilots for the sense of vertigo they will experience. Since EVERYWHERE will be DOWN. If they look up they will see the ground 'above' them and to the left and the right and below. Any pilot that learned to fly on a planet will be disoriented for a while.


Travel Counter-Spinward would be faster then Spinward as the rate of rotation on such a small diameter would be noticeable.

Plotting a course directly point to point through the middle of the centre axis would cause an acceleration effect as the pull of gravity reduced only to slow down again as you near the opposite side.

In most sci-fi where this kind of habitation has been used there is usually a light giving source down the central axis of the cylinder to act as a kind of "sun" lighting up the whole inner surface of the cylinder. This would negate the possibility of flying through the central axis.

The main danger is from effectively flying inside of a box with gravity, the ground is on every side of you. So at any one time you will be flying with a ground collision possibility should you maintain level flight and steer in any one direction for too long without initiating a correction spin and a fast climb can soon turn into a fast dive !

In reference to the ground there would be no way to fly a straight course from point A to point B axially, the course would end up being a curve as the terrain underneath you rotates away.

One interesting effect would be to fly straight up to the middle of the central axis, wait a few minutes and then drop straight back down again as the land below you has rotated away.

Instead of thinking of conventional aircraft from a planetary perspective of living on the outside of a ball with gravity and atmosphere think more along the lines of gyro-stabilised rotation.

you could have something like a quad copter with a central compartment and props that always stayed in relative horizontal reference to the "ground" but independently of each other. So whilst the prop assemblies rotate around the outside in a full 360 x 360 x 360 arc ( X,Y,Z or Pitch, Roll and Yaw) the cockpit can do the same in its own 360 x 360 x 360 arc. This would make flying far easer and much more aerobatic to counter the special needs within this kind of environment :o)


If you really need to fly then a v-tol craft, or helicopters make a lot more sense than a plane.

Remember that planes rely on their forward momentum to keep them airborne. This means that any pilot who becomes distracted for a few seconds runs a big, big risk of hitting the walls.

A helicopter can also do so, however in case of emergency it can simply hover while the pilot assesses the situation.

Building landing strips would also take up a lot of very prime real estate - helipads take up a lot less room, and they can also be located on top of buildings, etc.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While your point about real estate is valid, I'm primarily concerned by the effects of the rotating reference frame on regular flight. I think that this would effect VTOL aircraft in interesting ways as well. $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jan 26 '16 at 17:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.