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NASA Meatball NASA Dryden F-8 Super-Critical Wing (SCW) Aircraft banner
F-8 SCW in flight F-8 SCW in flight

Photo Number: E-22944
Photo Date: March 17, 1971

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The F-8A Supercritical Wing (SCW) aircraft in flight. Dr. Richard T. Whitcomb began work on the supercritical wing in the early 1960s. Although the design was highly efficient in wind-tunnel testing, it was so unusual that few accepted the concept as practical. Larry Loftin of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, said, "We're going to have a flight demonstration. This thing is so different from anything that we've ever done before that nobody's going to touch it with a ten foot pole without somebody going out and flying it." The Navy supplied NASA with an F-8A (Navy Bureau Number 141353/NASA tail number 810), while North American Aviation built the supercritical wing. The SCW team attached it to the stock F-8 fuselage. This 1971 photo shows its original paint finish. Tom McMurtry, who was the lead project pilot, recalled that there was no time or money for a fancier finish. In fact, on the first flight, made on March 9, 1971, the "SCW" on the tail was actually taped on.

The F-8 Supercritical Wing was a flight research project designed to test a new wing concept designed by Dr. Richard Whitcomb, chief of the Transonic Aerodynamics Branch, Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. Compared to a conventional wing, the supercritical wing (SCW) is flatter on the top and rounder on the bottom with a downward curve at the trailing edge. The Supercritical Wing was designed to delay the formation of and reduce the shock wave over the wing just below and above the speed of sound (transonic region of flight). Delaying the shock wave at these speeds results in less drag.

Results of the NASA flight research at the Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, (later renamed the Dryden Flight Research Center) demonstrated that aircraft using the supercritical wing concept would have increased cruising speed, improved fuel efficiency, and greater flight range than those using conventional wings. As a result, supercritical wings are now commonplace on virtually every modern subsonic commercial transport. Results of the NASA project showed the SCW had increased the transonic efficiency of the F-8 as much as 15 percent and proved that passenger transports with supercritical wings, versus conventional wings, could save $78 million (in 1974 dollars) per year for a fleet of 280 200-passenger airliners.

The F-8 Supercritical Wing (SCW) project flew from 1970 to 1973. Dryden engineer John McTigue was the first SCW program manager and Tom McMurtry was the lead project pilot. The first SCW flight took place on March 9, 1971. The last flight of the Supercritical wing was on May 23, 1973, with Ron Gerdes at the controls.

Original wingspan of the F-8 is 35 feet, 2 inches while the wingspan with the supercritical wing was 43 feet, 1 inch. F-8 aircraft were powered by Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines. The TF-8A Crusader was made available to the NASA Flight Research Center by the U.S. Navy. F-8 jet aircraft were built, originally, by LTV Aerospace, Dallas, Texas. Rockwell International’s North American Aircraft Division received a $1.8 million contract to fabricate the supercritical wing, which was delivered to NASA in December 1969.

NASA Photo by: NASA photo

Keywords: F-8A Crusader; Supercritical Wing; Dryden Flight Research Center; LTV Aerospace; Rockwell International; Pratt & Whitney; J57 engine; turbojet; transonic; Dr. Richard Whitcomb; John McTigue; Tom McMurtry; Ron Gerdes; Larry Loftin.

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
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