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F-15A RPRV Remotely Piloted Flight and Landing

Movie Number   EM-0011-07
Movie Date   Circa 1975
Formats: 160x120 QuickTime Movie (1.2 MB)
320x240 QuickTime Movie (2.4 MB)
480x360 QuickTime Movie (3.7 MB)
640x480 QuickTime Movie (6.1 MB)
F-15A Still photos of this aircraft are available in several resolutions at

This 34 second movie clip shows a F-15 RPRV remotely piloted flight and landing. The RPRV was designed to test spin recovery techniques at a lower cost than using a real F-15, and without the risk to the pilot. The vehicle was carried aloft by the B-52B, then released to fly the spin test. It was controlled by a research pilot on the ground, using standard instruments and video from a nose-mounted television camera.

In April of 1971, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development Grant Hanson sent a memorandum notingthe comparatively small amount of research being conducted on stalls (losses of lift) and spins despite the yearly losses that they caused (especially of fighter aircraft). In the spring and summer of that year, the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC redesignated in 1976 the Dryden Flight Research Center) studied the feasibility of conducting flight research with a sub-scale fighter-type Remotely Piloted Research Vehicle (RPRV) in the stall-spin regime. In November, NASA Headquarters approved flight research for a 3/8-scale F-15 RPRV. It would measure aerodynamic derivatives of the aircraft throughout its angle-of-attack range and compare them with those from wind tunnels and full-scale flight. (Angle of attack refers to the angle of the wings or fuselage with respect to the prevailing wind.)

The McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co., builder of the full-size F-15, designed and constructed three, mostly fiberglass, unpowered F-15 RPRV's for little more than $250,000 apiece (compared with $6.8 million for a full-size F-15). The FRC set up a dedicated RPRV control facility in a room on the first floor next to the hangar for the RPRV aircraft and set up a sophisticated control system. It featured a digital uplink capability, a ground computer, a television monitor, and a telemetry system.

Launched from one of the B-52s used to launch the X-15 and the lifting bodies, the first F-15 RPRV flew its initial flight on October 12, 1973. The initial flights were recovered in mid-air by helicopters, but later flights employed horizontal landings by the remote research pilot. Chosen because of the risks involved in spin-testing a full-scale fighter aircraft, the remotely piloted research technique enabled the pilot to interact with the vehicle as he did in normal flight. It also allowed the flight envelope to be expanded more rapidly than conventional flight research methods permitted for piloted vehicles. Flight research over an angle-of-attack range of -20 degrees to +53 degrees with the 3/8-scale vehicle (during its first 27 flights through the end of 1975 in the basic F-15 configuration) allowed FRC engineers to test the mathematical model of the aircraft in an angle-of-attack range not previously examined in flight research. The basic airplane configuration proved to be resistant to departure from straight and level flight, hence to spins. The vehicle could be flown into a spin using techniques developed in the simulator, however. Data obtained during the first 27 flights gave researchers a better understanding of the spin characteristics of the full-scale fighter. Researchers later obtained spin data with the vehicle in other configurations at angles of attack as large as -70 degrees and +88 degrees.

Keywords   F-15, F-15A, SRV, RPRV, remotely piloted
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