Tag Archives: Edwards Air Force Base

18 February 1977

Space Shuttle Enterprise captive flight test, 18 February 197718 February 1977: The prototype space shuttle orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) made its first captive flight aboard NASA 905, the Boeing 747-123 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On this flight, no one was aboard Enterprise. NASA 905 was flown by Aircraft Commander Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Pilot Thomas C. McMurty, and Flight Engineers Louis E. Guidry, Jr. and Victor W. Horton.

This photograph shows the crew of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, in 1981: From left, they are, Tom McMurty, pilot; Vic Horton, flight engineer; Fitz Fulton, command pilot; and Ray Young, flight engineer (replacing Guidry). The Space Shuttle Columbia is attached to NASA 905. (NASA)
This photograph shows the crew of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, in 1981: From left, they are, Tom McMurty, pilot; Vic Horton, flight engineer; Fitz Fulton, command pilot; and Ray Young, flight engineer (replacing Guidry). The Space Shuttle Columbia is attached to NASA 905. (NASA)

The duration of the first captive flight was 2 hours, 5 minutes. The Enterprise/SCA combination reached a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour (462 kilometers per hour) and altitude of 16,000 feet (4,877 meters).

NASA describes the photograph above:

The Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise rides smoothly atop NASA’s first Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA 905, during the first of the shuttle program’s Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, in 1977. During the nearly one year-long series of tests, Enterprise was taken aloft on the SCA to study the aerodynamics of the mated vehicles and, in a series of five free flights, tested the glide and landing characteristics of the orbiter prototype.

In this photo, the main engine area on the aft end of Enterprise is covered with a tail cone to reduce aerodynamic drag that affects the horizontal tail of the SCA, on which tip fins have been installed to increase stability when the aircraft carries an orbiter.

Boeing 747-123, N905NA, during wake vortex studies, 20 September 1974. The other aircraft in the photograph are a Cessna T-37B, N807NA and a Learjet 24, N701NA. (NASA)
Boeing 747-123, N905NA, during wake vortex studies, 20 September 1974. The other aircraft in the photograph are a Cessna T-37B, N807NA, and a Learjet 24, N701NA. (NASA)

NASA 905 (the airplane’s call sign is based on its FAA registration, N905NA) was originally built by Boeing for American Airlines as a 747-123 airliner, serial number 20107. It was delivered to American 29 October 1970 with the registration N9668. NASA acquired the airliner 18 July 1974 for use in wake vortex studies.

Modification to the SCA configuration began in 1976. Most of the interior was stripped and the fuselage was strengthened. Mounting struts for the space shuttle were added and end plates for additional stability were attached to the horizontal tail plane. The 747 retained the red, white and blue horizontal stripes of American Airlines’ livery until the early 1980s.

The standard Pratt & Whitney JT95-3A high bypass ratio turbofan engines were upgraded to JT9D-7J turbofans. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

This image shows NASA 905 as configured for wake vortex studies and as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Artwork courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging.
This image shows NASA 905 as configured for wake vortex studies and as a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Artwork courtesy of Tim Bradley Imaging.

NASA 905 is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 318,053 pounds (144,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (443 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

NASA 905 is displayed at Independence Park at Space Center Houston, a science and space learning center in Houston, Texas.

35 years, 2 months, 10 days after their first combination flight, the prototype Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) and Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905, touch down together for the last time, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 11;23 a.m., EST, 27 April 2012. (AP)
35 years, 2 months, 10 days after their first combination flight, the prototype Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) and Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905, touch down together for the last time, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 11:23 a.m., EST, 27 April 2012. (AP)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 February 1962

Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Edwards AFB after setting four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

17–18 February 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Major Walter Fletcher Daniel set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude records with a Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, serial number 61-0849.

The supersonic trainer reached 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 35.624 seconds; ¹ 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in 51.429 seconds; ² 9,000 meters (29,528 feet) in 1 minute, 04.758 seconds; ³ and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 1 minute, 35.610 seconds. ⁴

Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Walter F. Daniel flew this Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, 61-0849, to four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world records at Edwards AFB, 18 February 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. The Northrop T-38A Talon is a pressurized, two-place, twin-engine, jet trainer. Its fuselage is very aerodynamically clean and uses the “area-rule” (“coked”) to improve its supersonic capability. It is 46 feet, 4.5 inches (14.135 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10.5 inches (3.924 meters). The one-piece wing has an area of 170 square feet (15.79 square meters). The leading edge is swept 32°. The airplane’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is approximately 12,700 pounds (5,761 kilograms).

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 at Dannelly Field, Montgomery, Alabama, 1993. (Photograph courtesy of Gary Chambers. Used with permission.)

The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms)

The T-38A has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour/1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and Mach 1.3 (882 miles per hour/1,419 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). It has a rate of climb of 33,600 feet per minute (171 meters per second) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters). Its range is 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers).

Between 1959 and 1972, 1,187 T-38s were built at Northrop’s Hawthorne, California, factory. As of 4 September 2018, 546 T-38s remained in the U.S. Air Force active inventory. The U.S. Navy has 10, and as of 30 October 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration reports 29 T-38s registered to NASA.

The record-setting T-38, 61-0849, was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, in 1993. It was later removed from storage and assigned to the 415th Flight Test Flight, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where it remained until March 2007. It is now on display at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon 61-0849 being towed from the restoration hangar to display site at the Air Force Flight Test Museum. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

Walter Fletcher Daniel was born in 1925. He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 and was trained as a fighter pilot. He was assigned to fly North American P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in post-war Germany. During the Korean War he served as a reconnaissance pilot of RF-51s and RF-80 Shooting Stars.

Walter Daniel graduated from the U.S. Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School in 1954 and was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and later Edwards Air Force Base, where he was involved in flight testing all of the Century-series fighters. (F-100–F-106) It was while at Edwards that he flew the T-38A to set the time-to-altitude records.

By 1965, Colonel Daniel was the Chief of Flight Test Operations for the Lockheed YF-12A and SR-71A Blackbird Mach 3 aircraft. On 1 May 1965, he set five world speed records and an altitude record and was awarded the Mackay Trophy.

After attending the Air War College, Daniel entered combat crew training in the McDonnell F-4 and RF-4 Phantom II, and was appointed Deputy Commander for Operations of the 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn RTAFB. He flew 70 combat missions over North Vietnam.

In 1971 Colonel Daniel assumed command of the 75th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (soon redesignated 67th TRW). He was promoted to brigadier general in 1972 and served as Inspector General, Air Force Systems Command.

Walter Fletcher Daniel was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. A command pilot, he had flown over 6,000 hours in more than 75 different aircraft types. General Daniel died 13 September 1974 at the age of 49 years. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at teh outdorr dsiplay area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)
A team of volunteers place Northrop T-38A Talon 61-0849 in position at the outdoor display area of the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Rebecca Amber/U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8718

² FAI Record File Number 8604 (17 February 1962)

³ FAI Record File Number 8599

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8719

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 February 2012

Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A, 00-0001, Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, departing Edwards AFB, 14 February 2012. (U.S. Air Force)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)
Terrier Black Brant IX two-stage sounding rocket. (NASA)

14 February 2012: Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Bed, serial number 00-0001, departed Edwards AFB for the last time as it headed for The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona.

The Boeing YAL-1A was built from a 747-4G4F, a converted 747-400F freighter, serial number 30201, formerly operated by Japan Air Lines and registered JA402J. It carried two solid state lasers and a megawatt-class oxygen iodine directed energy weapon system (COIL).

On 3 February 2010, it destroyed a Terrier Black Brant two-stage sounding rocket in the boost phase as it was launched from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of Southern California.

Boeing YAL-1A 00-0001, Airborne Laser test aircraft, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, 00-0001, in flight. The laser aiming turret is directed toward the photo aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

The 747-400 was a major development of the 747 series. It had many structural and electronics improvements over the earlier models, which had debuted 18 years earlier. New systems, such as a “glass cockpit”, flight management computers, and new engines allowed it to be flown with a crew of just two pilots, and the position of Flight Engineer became unnecessary.

The most visible features of the –400 are its longer upper deck and the six-foot tall “winglets” at the end of each wing, which improve aerodynamic efficiency be limiting the formation of wing-tip vortices.

Japan Air Lines’ Boeing 747-400F, JA402J. (Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikimedia)

The Boeing 747-400F is the freighter version of the 747-400 airliner. It has a shorter upper deck, no passenger windows and the nose can swing upward to allow cargo pallets or containers to be loaded. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.663 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.440 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.406 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,761 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,893 kilograms).

Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Aircraft, 00-0001, in flight. (U.S. Air Force)

The YAL-1A was powered by four General Electric CF6-80C2B5F turbofan engines, producing 62,100 pounds of thrust (276.235 kilonewtons), each. The CF6-80C2B5F is a two-spool, high-bypass-ratio turbofan engine. It has a single-stage fan section, 18-stage compressor (4 low- and 14 high-pressure stages) and 7-stage turbine section (2 high- and 5 low-pressure stages). The fan diameter is 7 feet, 9.0 inches (2.362 meters). The engine is 13 feet, 4.9 inches (4.087 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 8 feet, 10.0 inches (2.692 meters). It weighs 9,760 pounds (4,427 kilograms).

It had a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (608 miles per hour, 978 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,446 kilometers).

Boeing YAL-1A in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, 27 August 2014. The airframe was disassembled and finally broken up 25 September 2014. (Soracat)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 February 2012

Boeing 747-100SR, N911NA, NASA 911, Space Shuttle Carrier makes its last landing, at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)
NASA 911, a modified Boeing 747-146 transport, FAA registration N911NA, one of two NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, makes its final landing at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 8 February 2012. (NASA)

8 February 2012: End of an era. NASA 911, the Boeing 747-146 that has been used as a space shuttle carrier, made its last flight on Wednesday, 8 February 2012, a 20-minute hop from Edwards Air Force Base to Palmdale Plant 42. In 38 years, this airplane accumulated 33,004.1 flight hours, which is relatively low time for an airliner. It will be cannibalized for parts to keep another NASA 747 flying.

NASA 911 (Boeing serial number 20781) made its first flight 31 August 1973, registered as JA8817, and flew in commercial service with Japan Air Lines for fifteen years. It was obtained by NASA in 1989 and turned over to Boeing for modification as the second Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.

Japan Air Lines’ Boeing 747-146 JA8112, sister ship of NASA 911. (Michael Gilliland/Wikimedia)

The 747-146 SR is a short-range, high-capacity airliner variant produced by Boeing for Japan Air Lines. It was strengthened to handle the additional takeoffs and landings of short-duration flights. Additional structural support was built into the fuselage, wings and landing gear, while the fuel capacity was reduced 20% from that of the standard 747-100. Seven were built between 1973 and 1975.

It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). Its empty weight is 323,034 pounds (146,526 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight 710,000 pounds (322,050 kilograms).

NASA's fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911, (background). NASA)
NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905 (foreground) and NASA 911. (NASA)

NASA 911 was equipped with more powerful JT9D-7J engines in place of the standard airplane’s JT9D-7A engines. This increased thrust from 46,950 pounds to 50,000 pounds (222.41 kilonewtons) each. The JT9D-7J is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single stage fan section, 14-stage compressor section and 4-stage turbine. This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).

While carrying a space shuttle, the SCA maximum speed is 0.6 Mach (432 miles per hour, or 695  kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and its range is 1,150 miles (1,850.75 kilometers).

A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)
A NASA Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour. (NASA)

NASA 911 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 February 1995: 05:22:03.994 UTC

Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-63) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B, Kennedy Space Center, 05:22:04 UTC, 3 February 1995. (NASA)

3 February 1995: At 12:22:03.994 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, STS-63, was a rendezvous with the Russian space station, Mir.

Commander James Donald Wetherbee, United States Navy, on his second space flight, was the mission commander. Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, United States Air Force, on her first space flight, was Discovery’s pilot. This was the first time in the NASA Space Shuttle Program that a woman had been assigned as pilot of a space shuttle.

Astronaut Eileen Collins aboard Discovery (STS-63). (NASA)

Also on board were Mission Specialists Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D.; Colin Michael Foale, Ph.D.; Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D.; and Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, of the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities.

Flight crew of Space Shuttle Discovery, Mission STS-63. Seated, left to right: Janice Elaine Voss, Sc.D., Mission Specialist; Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Marie Collins, U.S. Air Force, Pilot; Commander James Donald Weatherbee, U.S. Navy, Mission Commander; Colonel Vladimir Georgiyevich Titov, Russian Air Force, Cosmonaut. Standing, Dr. Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., M.D., Mission Spcialist; C. Michael Foale, Mission Spcialist. (NASA MSFC-9414225)

The primary purpose of the mission was to conduct a close approach and fly-around of Mir to demonstrate techniques prior to an actual docking, scheduled for a later flight. A number of scientific experiments and a space walk were carried out by the crew.

Space Station Mir imaged from Space Shuttle Discovery during Mission STS-63. Souz TM-20 is docked with the space station. (NASA)

Discovery landed at the Kennedy Space Shuttle Landing Facility at 11:50:19 UTC, 11 February, after completing 129 orbits. The total mission duration was 8 days, 6 hours, 28 minutes, 15 seconds.

Eileen Collins was born at Elmira, New York, 19 November 1956, a daughter of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. She graduated from high school in 1974 then attended Corning Community College, Corning, New York, where she earned an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, 1976. She went on to Syracuse University at Syracuse, New York, graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in math and exonomics. In 1986 Collins earned a master of science degree in Operations Research from Stanford University, and three years later, received a second master’s degree in Space Systems Management from Webster University.

2nd Lieutenant Eileen M. Collins, USAF, with a Northrop T-38A Talon trainer at Vance AFB, September 1979. (U.S. Air Force)

Eileen Collins had expressed an interest in aviation and space flight from an early age. After graduating from Syracuse University, she was one of four women selected to attend U.S. Air Force pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. She graduated in 1979, earning her pilot’s wings and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. She remained at Vance AFB as a pilot instructor, flying the Northrop T-38A Talon supersonic trainer.

Collins was next sent for pilot transition training in the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine transport. She served as a pilot at Travis Air Force Base, California.

From 1986–1989, Captain Collins was assigned as Assistant Professor in Mathematics at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Next, she became only the second woman to attend the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating with Class 89B.

Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, with McDonnell F-4E-31-MC Phantom II 66-0289, at Edwards AFB, 1990. (U.S. Air Force)
Eileen Collins (Irish America Magazine)

In 1990, Major Collins was accepted for the NASA astronaut program, and was selected as an astronaut in 1992.

Eileen Marie Collins was awarded the Harmon Trophy for her flight aboard Discovery (STS-63). In 1997, she flew as pilot for Atlantis (STS-84). She commanded Columbia (STS-93) in 1999, and Discovery (STS-114) in 2005.

Colonel Collins retired from the Air Force in January 2005, and from NASA in May 2006. With a remarkable record of four shuttle flights, she has logged 38 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes of space flight. During her career, she flew more than 30 aircraft types, and logged a total of 6,751 hours.

Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)
Colonel Eileen M. Collins, U.S. Air Force, NASA Astronaut. (Annie Liebovitz)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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