12 August 1977: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the prototype Space Shuttle Oriter, Enterprise, (OV-101) was mated to the Boeing 747-100 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, N905NA, call sign NASA 905, for the first of five approach and landing test flights. On Enterprise‘ flight deck were astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton. The crew of NASA 905 were NASA test pilots Fitz Fulton and Tom McMurty with Vic Horton and Skip Guidry as flight engineers.
An estimated 65,000 people had come to Edwards to watch and at 8:00, Fitz Fulton began the take off roll down Runway 22. For the next 38 minutes the spacecraft/aircraft combination climbed together into the desert sky. After reaching an altitude of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters), Fulton put the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft into a shallow dive. At 8:48 a.m., Fred Haise fired the seven explosive bolts holding the two craft together. The 747 entered a descending left turn while Haise banked Enterprise away to the right.
As Enterprise made its gliding descent, Haise and Fullerton experimented with the prototype’s flight characterisics and handling. The Shuttle Orbiter touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour), and rolled for two miles (3.22 kilometers) before coming to a complete stop.
The first free flight of Enterprise lasted 5 minutes, 21 seconds.
31 March 1982: Space Shuttle Columbia (OV-102) completed its third space flight (STS-3) by landing at White Sands Space Harbor, the auxiliary space shuttle landing area at the White Sands Test Facility, west of Alamogordo, New Mexico. This was the only time that a space shuttle landed there.
During STS-116 (9–22 December 2006) WSSH was activated due to adverse weather conditions at both Kennedy and Edwards. However, Discovery (OV-103) was able to land at the Kennedy SLF.
WSSH was also used as a training facility for shuttle pilots to practice approaches while flying NASA’s Grumman C-11A Shuttle Training Aircraft (a modified Gulfstream II). One of these STAs, NASA 946 (N946NA), is in the collection of the Texas Air & Space Museum, Amarillo, Texas.
Located at an elevation of 3,913 feet (1,193 meters) above Sea Level near the northwest edge of a very large dry lakebed of gypsum sand, WSSH has two 15,000 foot (4,572 meters) runways, Runway 23/05 and Runway 17/35, each with 10,000 foot (3,048 meters) overuns at either end. A third runway, Runway 2/20, has a length of 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), with no overruns.
Runway 17/35 replicates the runway at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida, and 23/05 matches the dry lake runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The runways are constructed of compacted natural gypsum with markings of asphalt. Lighting for night operations is provided by portable xenon light trailers positioned 1,000 feet (305 meters) into the overruns. Pads for eight helicopters are located close to the runway intersection. There is a control tower and modern visual and electronic landing aids.
Crash/Rescue personnel and equipment was provided by Hollomon Air Force Base.
Columbia was returned to Cape Canaveral 6 April 1982 aboard NASA 905, one of two Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
18 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.
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 (94,877 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.
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).
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.