PERFECTING THE SPACE SHUTTLE RECOVERY
This story is a bit of aviation/space history and a part of the story about the development of the Space Shuttle that has been basically untold to this day. The idea of actually putting the orbiter on the back of a 747 and separating the two in flight, to determine the glide and landing performance of the Orbiter as well as providing a ferry capability for the Orbiter had an invaluable effect on the development and success of the near earth operational requirements of the Orbiter. The original thinking was to put on and take off jet engines, to change it back and forth, from a space craft to an airplane. In the very beginning it was planned to always land the Orbiter at Edwards, AFB in Calif. when returning from space, then convert it to an airplane (by adding 4 to 6 jet engines on it) and fly it to the Cape; where the engines were to be taken off and returning it to a space craft. The ferry legs would have been only 400 miles a hop, as an airplane. I had nothing to do with the Piggy Back concept, but you did not have to be too bright to recognize it as a good idea, in view of the above. I WAS in a position, however, to have some influence over the decision to use a 747 as the Carrier Aircraft as opposed to using an Air Force C-5.
Great pictures Don; thanks.----- I hate (apparently not really) to get in the act all of the time, but that picture in the group you sent, of the orbiter Enterprise separating from the 747 Carrier Aircraft brought back some very VIVID memories.---- I was on that ALT (Approach And Landing Test) program at Edwards AFB in Calif. working for Rockwell International for about 5 years and there were many interesting days involved, but the day we let the Orbiter go, from the back of that 747 for the first time, was certainly the most memorable of all. WHY---- Well, GUESS who signed off for all of ROCKWELL that the Obiter ENTERPRISE was going to lift off the back of the 747 Carrier in an orderly manner; ME. ===== Rockwell was the company that built the Orbiter and the Company that managed the Boeing modification of the 747 to haul it with. See attached flight release form below, on that morning of 12 Aug. 1977 at 5:30 AM for it's first free flight ( FF).------- We had flown the mated pair on a number of flights prior to this first free flight and all had gone well but SEPARATION, and having all of the Orbiter systems work properly during the glide and landing was a great big TBD---------- I had this horrible dream the night before this first free flight; dreaming that the Orbiter just peeled back, hitting the tail, and the whole thing went up in a big Orange ball of fire. I found out two things; MY dreams mean NOTHING and that I dream in COLOR.---- What a relief when that ugly looking Orbiter, like a caterpillar, "morphed" into a beautiful flying bird.------ We later went through a doubtful period about flying and dropping the Orbiter with the tail cone OFF; Boeing did not want to do it because they were afraid the air flow, around the big blunt end of the Orbiter, would disturb the air flow over the tail surfaces of the 747 Carrier, but NASA and Rockwell prevailed because 'Tail Cone OFF" was necessary to get the true data on how the orbiter was going to perform in the actual landing configuration, upon returning and landing from space. Fortunately, that test worked out just fine also. All drops were made without the tail cone on, after that.------- It was on one of these later drops that Prince Charles had come out to Edwards to observe one of the flights, which was tail cone off and using the Edwards' runway for the first time, (we had used the Lake Bed for landings previously).----- Fred Haise (of Apollo 13 Fame) was the Orbiter Commander on that drop flight and almost let it get away from him on landing. I do not know whether Haise got stage fright because Prince Charles was watching, but he got the Orbiter into a Lateral JC maneuver of some kind, just prior to or at touch down, and was all over the place on landing. Fortunately his co pilot, Gordon Fullerton, said something like "get off of the controls" and the Orbiter recovered by itself. That one landing incident just about screwed up a perfect flight test program and could have ended the Shuttle right then. That was because there were many people that were not for spending all of that money on the Space Shuttle in the first place.
I picked this old girl (pictured below) out of about 18 other 747s that had been temporarily moth balled during the Fuel Crisis in the 1973-1974 time period (not many people get to shop for a 747). This particular 747 belonged to American Airlines and was parked in the desert at Roswell, New Mexico at the time. The Rockwell head man, Mr. George Jeffs, took my recommendation and had Rockwell pay American Airlines $15.6 million, of NASA money, for it. For once I got a bargain.
Notice below who signed the flight release for Rockwell. These sort of papers are forgotten if the flight is a success but are needed to hang people if something goes wrong. I was always sort of proud that I signed it, however. I actually signed for all of the drops, to the best of my recollections, but I saved this one. ---- Notice Fitz Fulton, my old boss, when we were test pilots at Edwards AFB (Fitz is now in the National Aviation Hall of fame), was the Carrier Aircraft Commander on this flight, as well as the first flight of the mated pair( and basically all of the mated flights). Fred Haise, of Apollo 13 fame, was the Orbiter Commander on this flight and also made the first flight of the mated pair and, I would say was the main astronaut on the test program. A little astronaut by the name Richard Truly and another by the name of Joe Engel were the other team that flew the drop flights. Joe Engel was the Commander of the second ( I think it was ) actual Space Shuttle flight and went on to become a 2 or 3 star General. Truly flew as commander on one of the subsequent actual Shuttle missions and later became the Administrator of all of NASA. Gordon Fullerton flew as Commander of one of the early actual Space Shuttle flights also. The last I heard of him he was still flying as a test pilot for NASA, at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB. Oddly enough, Fred Haise never flew an actual Shuttle Mission. Maybe it was because of the show he put on for Prince Charles, but I hope not.
My Signature on the First Test Flight Release