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M2-F1 in flight M2-F1 in flight

Photo Number: ECN-225
Photo Date: October 15, 1963

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The M2-F1 Lifting Body is seen here under tow, high above Rogers Dry Lake near the Flight Research Center (later redesignated the Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California. R. Dale Reed effectively advocated the project with the support of NASA research pilot Milt Thompson. Together, they gained the support of Flight Research Center Director Paul Bikle. After a six-month feasibility study, Bikle gave approval in the fall of 1962 for the M2-F1 to be built.

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, Flight Research Center 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. These initial tests produced enough flight data about the M2-F1 to proceed with flights behind a NASA 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.

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. 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 research vehicles that produced rapid results at very low cost (approximately $50,000, excluding salaries of government employees assigned to the project).

NASA Photo by: NASA photo

Keywords: M2; M2-F1; Lifting Body; R. Dale Reed; Pontiac Catalina convertible; ground-tow; Milt Thompson; C-47; aero tows; proof-of-concept

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
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