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M2-F2 on lakebed after crash M2-F2 on lakebed after crash

Photo Number: E-16731
Photo Date: 10 May 1967

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The M2-F2 made its 16th glide flight on May 10, 1967. This was to have been the last flight before igniting the XLR-11 rocket engine for powered flight. As pilot Bruce Peterson neared the lakebed, the M2-F2 suffered a pilot induced oscillation (PIO). Peterson recovered but then was distracted by a rescue helicopter that seemed to pose a risk of collision. Distracted, Peterson drifted in a cross-wind to an unmarked area of the lakebed where it was very difficult to judge the height over the lakebed because of a lack of the guidance the markers provided on the lakebed runway. Although Peterson fired the landing rockets to provide additional lift, he hit the lakebed before the landing gear was fully down and locked. He rolled over six times. Pulled from the vehicle by Jay King and Joseph Huxman, Peterson was rushed to the base hospital, transferred to March Air Force Base and then the UCLA Hospital. He recovered but lost vision in his right eye due to a staph infection.

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; Smithsonian Institution; National Air and Space Museum; Jay King; Joseph Huxman

Last Modified: February 6, 2002
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