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M2-F3 with test pilot John A. Manke M2-F3 with test pilot John A. Manke

Photo Number: ECN-3448
Photo Date: December 20, 1972

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NASA research pilot John A. Manke is seen here in front of the M2-F3 Lifting Body. Manke was hired by NASA on May 25, 1962, as a flight research engineer. He was later assigned to the pilot's office and flew various support aircraft including the F-104, F5D, F-111 and C-47. After leaving the Marine Corps in 1960, Manke worked for Honeywell Corporation as a test engineer for two years before coming to NASA. He was project pilot on the X-24B and also flew the HL-10, M2-F3, and X-24A lifting bodies. John made the first supersonic flight of a lifting body and the first landing of a lifting body on a hard surface runway.

Manke served as Director of the Flight Operations and Support Directorate at the Dryden Flight Research Center prior to its integration with Ames Research Center in October 1981. After this date John was named to head the joint Ames-Dryden Directorate of Flight Operations. He also served as site manager of the NASA Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility.

John is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He retired on April 27, 1984.

A fleet of lifting bodies flown at the NASA Flight Research Center (FRC--later the 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 the FRC'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 by the Northrop Corporation with the help and cooperation of the FRC 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-F3; heavy-weight lifting body; re-entry configuration; M2-F2; side arm control stick; third vertical fin; Milt Thompson; Bruce Peterson; John A. Manke; flight research engineer; NASA; Flight Research Center; Dryden Flight Research Center; Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility

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