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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
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
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.
There were 36 flights of the 3/8-scale F-15s by the end of 1978 and 53 flights by mid-July of 1981. These included some in which the vehicle -- redesignated the Spin Research Vehicle after it was modified from the basic F-15 configuration-evaluated the effects of an elongated nose and a wind-tunnel-designed nose strake (among other modifications) on the SRV stall/spin characteristics. Results of flight research with these modifications indicated that the addition of the nose strake increased the vehicle resistance to departure from the intended flight path, especially entrance into a spin. Large differential tail deflections, a tail chute, and a nose chute all proved effective as spin recovery techniques, although it was essential to release the nose chute once it had deflated in order to prevent an inadvertent reentry into a spin. Overall, remote piloting with the 3/8-scale F-15 provided high-quality data about spin.