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M2-F1 under tow across lakebed by car

M2-F1 car tow test with 1963 Pontiac Catalina

Movie Number   EM-0020-02
Movie Date   Circa 1963
Formats   160x120 QuickTime Movie (1.2 MB)
320x240 QuickTime Movie (2.3 MB)
480x360 QuickTime Movie (3.5 MB)
640x480 QuickTime Movie (5.9 MB)
M2-F1 in flight Still photos of this aircraft are available in several resolutions at

This 32-second clip shows the M2-F1 being towed by a Pontiac across Rogers Dry Lakebed.

The M2-F1 lifting body, dubbed the "flying bathtub" by the media, was the precursor of a remarkable series of wingless flying vehicles that contributed data used in the Space Shuttles.

Based on the ideas and basic design of Alfred J. Eggers and others at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory (now the Ames Research Center), Mountain View, California, in the mid-1950's, the M2-F1 was built in 1962-63 over a four-month period for a cost of only about $30,000, plus an additional $8,000-$10,000 for an ejection seat. Engineers and technicians at the NASA Flight Research Center (now NASA Dryden) kept costs low by designing and fabricating it partly in-house, with the plywood shell constructed by a local sailplane builder. Someone at the time estimated that it would have cost a major aircraft company $150,000 to build the same vehicle.

Unlike the later lifting bodies, the M2-F1 was unpowered and was initially towed by a souped-up Pontiac convertible until it was airborne. Later a C-47 took over the towing duties. Flown by such famous research pilots as Milt Thompson, Bruce Peterson, Chuck Yeager, and Bill Dana, the lightweight flying bathtub demonstrated that a wingless vehicle shaped for reentry into the Earth's atmosphere from space could be flown and landed safely.

Flown from 1963 to 1966, the lightweight M2-F1 paved the way for the heavyweight M2-F2, M2-F3, HL-10, X-24A, and X-24B lifting bodies that flew under rocket power after launch from a B-52 mothership. The heavyweights flew from 1966 to 1975, demonstrating the viability and versatility of the wingless configuration and the ability of a vehicle with low lift-over-drag characteristics to fly to high altitudes and then to land precisely with their rocket engines no longer burning. Their unpowered approaches and landings showed that the Space Shuttles need not decrease their payloads by carrying fuel and engines that would have been required for conventional, powered landings. The lifting bodies also prepared the way for the later X-33 and X-38 programs that feature lifting-body shapes.

The entire lifting-body program was carried out at comparatively low cost in partnership with the Ames and Langley Research Centers, the Air Force, and their Northrop and Martin industrial partners. It was a harbinger of the later philosophy of, "faster, better, cheaper," and epitomized the innovation, technical agility, and discovery through flight research that have characterized the Dryden Flight Research Center for more than fifty years.

Keywords   M2-F1; "Flying Bathtub"; lifting body; Space Shuttle; X-33; X-38; Alfred J. Eggers; Ames Aeronautical Laboratory; Ames Research Center; NASA; Flight Research Center; Dryden Flight Research Center; Pontiac; C-47; Milt Thompson; Bruce Peterson; Chuck Yeager; Bill Dana; M2-F2; M2-F3; HL-10; X-24A; X-24B; Langley Research Center; Air Force; Northrop; Martin; technical agility; Dale Reed; Paul Bikle; Gus Briegleb; Ernie Lowder; Dick Eldredge; Ed Browne; Don Mallick; Donald Sorlie; Jerry Gentry
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