I have been fascinated with the thought of flying all kind of aircraft on Mars. To begin, I don't know much about the fundamental things or requistes for flying. Is it possible with the the things we currently have? What kind of infrastructure would be needed to fly there? Assuming GPS navigation is already set up there. What would be the design of the aircraft and the runways? Would it be like we have on Earth or completely revolutionised Idea? Kindly not mention the costs of flying there.


2 Answers 2


you're in luck, somebody did the calculation/ simulation.

Mars: To see what happens to aircraft on Mars, we turn to X-Plane.

X-Plane is the most advanced flight simulator in the world. The product of 20 years of obsessive labor by a hardcore aeronautics enthusiast who uses capslock a lot when talking about planes, it actually simulates the flow of air over every piece of an aircraft’s body as it flies. This makes it a valuable research tool, since it can accurately simulate entirely new aircraft designs—and new environments.

In particular, if you change the X-Plane config file to reduce gravity, thin the atmosphere, and shrink the radius of the planet it can simulate flight on Mars. (Note: Thank you to Tom J and the folks in the X-Plane community for their help with aerodynamic calculations in different atmospheres.)

X-Plane tells us that flight on Mars is difficult, but not impossible. NASA knows this, and has considered surveying Mars by airplane. The tricky thing is that with so little atmosphere, to get any lift, you have to go fast. You need to approach Mach 1 just to get off the ground, and once you get moving, you have so much inertia that it’s hard to change course—if you turn, your plane rotates, but keeps moving in the original direction. The X-Plane author compared piloting Martian aircraft to flying a supersonic ocean liner.

Our Cessna 172 isn’t up to the challenge. Launched from 1 km, it doesn’t build up enough speed to pull out of a dive, and plows into the Martian terrain at over 60 m/s (135 mph). If dropped from four or five kilometers, it could gain enough speed to pull up into a glide—at over half the speed of sound. The landing would not be survivable.

so, you would need runways that look at each other, as turning is almost unfeasible, and these runways will have to be really long, as you have to get to Mach 1 to take off and you have to decelerate from that same speed once you touch down.

GPS would not be really needed.


I think the fundamental issue you'd face on Mars is the lack of an atmosphere. Atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than 1% of that on Earth. Most of our machines for flight on this planet rely on atmospheric pressure under the wings or rotors which wouldn't work on Mars.

The other issue we'd have to overcome would be a fuel source. Petrolium based fuels such as Gasoline, Diesel and Kerosine in both piston and jet engines again rely on a certain amount of oxygen pulled in from the atmosphere. Take this away and you'd be looking to replace the oxygen element of fuel with some type of liquid oxygen.

Maintaining a habitable cabin pressure may also be difficult which may mean it was easier to have flight crew and passengers wear "space suits" like those worn by Blackbird pilots.

It's fair to say, the only real kind of flying machine we have tried and tested here on Earth that would work on Mars is a rocket. Launching would be fairly simple as you can launch from a pad. Therefore you'd be looking at launchpads rather than runways. You'd also had a problem landing as most rockets either splash down in an ocean or land on a landing drone ship in the ocean. Obviously there are no liquid oceans as you'd be looking at landing on the surface. You would also find you couldn't glide in like the shuttle used to as the really depends on an atmosphere.

I think navigation and traffic control would be the least of your worries but if you could find a craft that could take of and land predictably, you'd obviously need to implement some sort of airspace control network. Equipment such as radios and radar would likely work much as they do on this planet.

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    $\begingroup$ NASA has just a couple of weeks ago launched a helicopter to Mars. It's only a test mission, but they seem to think that rockets are not the only thing that works. Also, I don't get the problem with the drone ships. The only reason SpaceX lands some of their rockets on drone ships is that there is no land where they are landing. The lack of an ocean wouldn't be a problem in this case, it would be a benefit. There is no need to have a drone ship with complex computers that allow it to hold position with centimeter accuracy, if you could just land on land. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2020 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ SpaceX doesn't need an ocean because of the drone ships, they need the drone ships because of the ocean. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2020 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ A drone ship on the ocean will no doubt provide more “give” in the landing platform than solid rock. Not insurmountable I agree. I suspect the NASA helicopter was nothing like anything many of the pilots here fly. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2020 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ SpaceX does very much prefer to land their rockets on land. They only use the drone ships when they don't have enough fuel for the boost back burn and can't get back to land. The landing on the drone ship is much, much harder because you have to make sure your landing pad stays put. That's not a problem you have on land. Another problem they have is the vertical movement of the drone ship. $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2020 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ All the successful Mars landers to date have landed on the surface, using rockets (sometimes in conjunction with parachutes & airbags): space.com/… FWIW, I fly around much of the western US, only rarely interacting with any sort of airspace control network. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 14, 2020 at 18:22

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