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M2-F2 Lifting Body

DFRC Movie # Date Movie Description
EM-0021-01 late 1960s M2-F2 flight preparation and launch
EM-0021-02 circa 1966 M2-F2 drop from NB-52A Mothership
EM-0021-03 circa 1967 M2-F2 experiencing lateral oscillations in flight
EM-0021-04 circa 1967 M2-F2 test flight with F5D-1 and F-104N escort
EM-0021-05 circa 1966 Milt Thompson Prepares for M2-F2 Glide Fight

A fleet of lifting bodies flown at the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC), Edwards, California, from 1963 to 1975 demonstrated
the ability of pilots to maneuver (in the atmosphere) and safely land a wingless vehicle. These lifting bodies were basically designed so they could fly back to Earth from space and be landed like an aircraft at a pre-determined site. They served as precursors of today's Space Shuttle, the X-33, and the X-38, providing technical and operational engineering data that shaped
all three space vehicles. (In 1976 NASA renamed the FRC as the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) in honor of
Hugh L. Dryden.)

In 1962, FRC Director Paul Bikle approved a program to build a lightweight, unpowered lifting body as a prototype to flight test
the wingless concept. It would look like a "flying bathtub," and was designated the M2-F1. Built by Gus Briegleb, a sailplane
builder from El Mirage, California, it featured a plywood shell, placed over a tubular steel frame crafted at the FRC. Construction was completed in 1963.

The success of Dryden's M2-F1 program led to NASA's development and construction of two heavyweight lifting bodies based on studies at NASA Ames Research Center and NASA and Langley Research Center -- the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation, Los Angeles, California. The "M" refers to "manned" and "F" refers to "flight" version. "HL" comes from "horizontal landing" and "10" is for the tenth lifting body model to be investigated by Langley.

The first flight of the M2-F2 -- which looked much like the M2-F1 -- occurred on July 12, 1966. Thompson was the pilot. By then, the same B-52 used to air launch the famed X-15 rocket research aircraft had been modified to also carry the lifting bodies into the air and Thompson was dropped from the B-52 wing pylon mount at an altitude of 45,000 feet on that maiden glide flight.

On May 10, 1967, during the sixteenth glide flight leading up to powered flight, a landing accident severely damaged the vehicle and seriously injured the NASA pilot, Bruce Peterson. Following the mishap, the M2-F2 was redesigned with a center fin as the M2-F3, which flew from 1970 to 1972.

The M2-F2 weighed 4,620 pounds without ballast, was roughly 22 feet long, and had a width of about 10 feet.

Last Modified: October 10, 2003
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