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M2-F1 and M2-F2 lifting bodies on ramp M2-F1 and M2-F2 lifting bodies on ramp

Photo Number: ECN-1107

Photo Date: February 24, 1966

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Photo
Description:
After the M2-F1 (on the viewer's left) proved the lifting-body concept, NASA and the Air Force began work on a series of heavyweight, rocket-powered lifting bodies able to reach supersonic speeds and altitudes up to 90,000 feet. The M2-F2 (on the right) was the first of these heavyweights.

Although the two lifting bodies had similar shapes, there were differences. These included the "elephant ears" on the M2-F1, the change in cockpit location between the two vehicles, and the retractable landing gear on the M2-F2 versus the fixed gear on the M2-F1.


Project
Description:

The wingless, lifting body aircraft design was initially conceived as a means of landing an aircraft horizontally after atmospheric reentry. The absence of wings would make the extreme heat of re-entry less damaging to the vehicle. In 1962, Dryden management 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, the "M" referring to "manned" and "F" referring to "flight" version. It featured a plywood shell placed over a tubular steel frame crafted at Dryden. Construction was completed in 1963.

The first flight tests of the M2-F1 were over Rogers Dry Lake at the end of a tow rope attached to a hopped-up Pontiac convertible driven at speeds up to about 120 mph. This vehicle needed to be able to tow the M2-F1 on the Rogers Dry Lakebed adjacent to NASA's Flight Research Center (FRC) at a minimum speed of 100 miles per hour. To do that, it had to handle the 400-pound pull of the M2-F1. Walter "Whitey" Whiteside, who was a retired Air Force maintenance officer working in the FRC's Flight Operations Division, was a dirt-bike rider and hot-rodder. Together with Boyden "Bud" Bearce in the Procurement and Supply Branch of the FRC, Whitey acquired a Pontiac Catalina convertible with the largest engine available.

He took the car to Bill Straup's renowned hot-rod shop near Long Beach for modification. With a special gearbox and racing slicks, the Pontiac could tow the 1,000-pound M2-F1 110 miles per hour in 30 seconds. It proved adequate for the roughly 400 car tows that got the M2-F1 airborne to prove it could fly safely and to train pilots before they were towed behind a C-47 aircraft and released.

These initial car-tow tests produced enough flight data about the M2-F1 to proceed with flights behind the C-47 tow plane at greater altitudes. The C-47 took the craft to an altitude of 12,000 where free flights back to Rogers Dry Lake began. Pilot for the first series of flights of the M2-F1 was NASA research pilot Milt Thompson. Typical glide flights with the M2-F1 lasted about two minutes and reached speeds of 110 to 120 mph.

A small solid landing rocket, referred to as the "instant L/D rocket," was installed in the rear base of the M2-F1. This rocket, which could be ignited by the pilot, provided about 250 pounds of thrust for about 10 seconds. The rocket could be used to extend the flight time near landing if needed.

More than 400 ground tows and 77 aircraft tow flights were carried out with the M2-F1. 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's Ames and Langley research centers--the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation, and the U.S. Air Force's X-24 program, with an X-24A and -B built by Martin. The Lifting Body program also heavily influenced the Space Shuttle program.

The M2-F1 program demonstrated the feasibility of the lifting body concept for horizontal landings of atmospheric entry vehicles. It also demonstrated a procurement and management concept for prototype flight test vehicles that produced rapid results at very low cost (approximately $50,000, excluding salaries of government employees assigned to the project).

A fleet of lifting bodies flown at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California, from 1963 to 1975 demonstrated the ability of pilots to maneuver and safely land a wingless vehicle designed to fly back to Earth from space and be landed like an aircraft at a pre-determined site.

Aerodynamic lift--essential to flight in the atmosphere--was obtained from the shape of their bodies. The addition of fins and control surfaces allowed the pilots to stabilize and control the vehicles and regulate their flight paths.

The information the lifting body program generated contributed to the data base that led to development of today's space shuttle program.

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's Ames and Langley research centers--the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation. 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 "F1"--was on July 12, 1966. Milt Thompson was the pilot. By then, the same B-52s used to air launch the famed X-15 rocket research aircraft were modified to also carry the lifting bodies. Thompson was dropped from the B-52's wing pylon mount at an altitude of 45,000 feet on that maiden glide flight.

The M2-F2 weighed 4,620 pounds, was 22 feet long, and had a width of about 10 feet.

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.

NASA pilots and researchers realized the M2-F2 had lateral control problems, even though it had a stability augmentation (control) system. When the M2-F2 was rebuilt at Dryden and redesignated the M2-F3, it was modified with an additional third vertical fin--centered between the tip fins--to improve control characteristics.

The M2-F2/F3 was the first of the heavy-weight, entry-configuration (i.e., configured for re-entry to the atmosphere from space) lifting bodies. Its successful development as a research test vehicle answered many of the generic questions about these vehicles.

NASA donated the M2-F3 vehicle to the Smithsonian Institute in December 1973. It is currently hanging in the Air and Space Museum along with the X-15 aircraft number 1, which was its hangar partner at Dryden from 1965 to 1969.


NASA Photo by: NASA photo

Keywords: M2-F2; Lifting Body; re-entry; Milt Thompson; Bruce Peterson; M2-F1; M2-F3; heavy-weight; M2-F1; Pontiac; Catalina; convertible; Space Shuttle; Alfred J. Eggers; Ames Aeronautical Laboratory; Ames Research Center; NASA; Flight Research Center; Dryden Flight Research Center; Rogers Dry Lakebed; Walter Whiteside; Boyden Bearce; Bill Straup; Milt Thompson; Orion Billeter; John Orahood; Dale Reed; Dick Eldredge



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