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M2-F1 Aircraft

Dale Reed with model in front of M2-F1

Photo Number: E-16475
Photo Date: March 6, 1967
Formats: 432x640 JPEG Image (114 KBytes)
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Dale Reed with a model of the M2-F1 in front of the actual lifting body. Reed used the model to show the potential of the lifting bodies. He first flew it into tall grass to test stability and trim, then hand-launched it from buildings for longer flights. Finally, he towed the lifting-body model aloft using a powered model airplane known as the "Mothership." A timer released the model and it glided to a landing. Dale's wife Donna used a 9 mm. camera to film the flights of the model. Its stability as it glided--despite its lack of wings--convinced Milt Thompson and some Flight Research Center engineers including the center director, Paul Bikle, that a piloted lifting body was possible.


The lifting body concept evolved in the mid-1950s as researchers considered alternatives to ballistic reentries of piloted space capsules. The designs for hypersonic, wingless vehicles were on the boards at NASA Ames and NASA Langley facilities, while the US Air Force was gearing up for its Dyna-Soar program, which defined the need for a spacecraft that would land like an airplane.

Despite favorable research on lifting bodies, there was little support for a flight program. Dryden engineer R. Dale Reed was intrigued with the lifting body concept, and reasoned that some sort of flight demonstration was needed before wingless aircraft could be taken seriously.

In February 1962, he built a model lifting body based upon the Ames M2 design, and air-launched it from a radio controlled "mothership." Home movies of these flights, plus the support of research pilot Milt Thompson, helped pursuade the facilities director, Paul Bikle, to give the go-ahead for the construction of a full-scale version, to be used as a wind-tunnel model and possibly flown as a glider. Comparing lifting bodies to space capsules, an unofficial motto of the project was, "Don't be Rescued from Outer Space--Fly Back in Style."

The construction of the M2-F1 was a joint effort by Dryden and a local glider manufacturer, the Briegleb Glider Company. The budget was $30,000. NASA craftsmen and engineers built the tubular steel interior frame. Its mahogany plywood shell was hand-made by Gus Briegleb and company. Ernie Lowder, a NASA craftsman who had worked on the Howard Hughes "Spruce Goose," was assigned to help Briegleb.

The prototype of a 21st Century spacecraft required the fabrication of hundreds of small wooden parts meticulously nailed and glued together. It was a product of craftsmanship that was nearly obsolete in the 1940s.

Final assembly of the remaining components (including aluminum tail surfaces, push rod controls, and landing gear from a Cessna 150) was done back at the NASA facility.

In the meantime, other NASA engineers devised a special M2-F1 flight simulator, and a hot rod shop near Long Beach souped-up a Pontiac convertible to be used as the lifting body ground-tow vehicle.

The M2-F1 did not have ailerons. Instead, it had elevons which were attached to each of the two rudders. A large flap on the trailing edge of the body acted as an elevator. This unconventional arrangement prompted the engineers to rethink the flight control system as well. They eventually devised two schemes. One system was fairly traditional. It used rudder pedal inputs to move the rudders for yaw control, and stick inputs to provide differential deflections of the elevons for roll. The other system used stick inputs to control the rudders for yaw, while rudder pedal deflections moved the elevons for roll.

Milt Thompson tried both systems in the simulator and surprised the design team when he said he preferred system number two. He reasoned that although sideslip delayed roll (which was a result of dihedral effect), the roll rate was twice as high using the rudders instead of the elevons. He said he would rather have the higher roll rates available to him if needed, while the slip could be overcome with proper piloting technique.

This was the system that Thompson practiced on the simulator, and he used it during the initial auto tows. Auto tows were done using a 1000 foot rope fastened to the NASA Pontiac. Rogers Dry Lake provided miles of unobstructed motoring.

On April 5, 1963, Thompson lifted the M2-F1's nose off of the ground for the first time on tow. Speed was 86 miles per hour. The little craft seemed to bounce uncontrollably back and forth on the main landing gear, and stopped when he lowered the nose to the ground. He tried again, but each time with the same results. He felt it was a landing gear problem that could have caused the aircraft to roll on its back if he had lifting the main gear off

NASA Photo by: unknown
Keywords: M2; M2-F1; Lifting Body; R. Dale Reed; Briegleb Glider Company; Ernie Lowder; Pontiac convertible; ground-tow; Milt Thompson; C-47; aero tows; proof-of-concept; Paul Bikle;Chuck Yeager; Bruce Peterson; Bill Dana; Jerry Gentry; James Wood; Don Sorlie; Fred Haise; Joe Engle; Don Mallick; Dick Eldredge; Ed Browne

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